Washington — On the heels of the historic House of Delegates vote last week, the Maryland Senate today approved marriage equality legislation introduced by Governor Martin O'Malley (D) that would allow committed gay and lesbian couples to marry. With the bill successfully passing through the state legislature, Governor O'Malley is expected to sign it.
Equality Maryland stated to supporters: "We have cleared another marriage hurdle in our fight for the freedom to marry in Maryland! Today the Senate passed the Civil Marriage Protection Act. This follows the historic vote in the House of Delegates last Friday!"
"We could not be more grateful to the senators who today voted to make all Maryland families stronger," said Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign. "Today, we took another giant step toward marriage equality becoming law — and we are in this position due to the unwavering leadership and resolve of Governor O'Malley and our legislative allies, particularly Sens. Rich Madaleno, Jamie Raskin, Rob Garagiola, and Brian Frosh."
The Civil Marriage Protection Act allows committed gay and lesbian couples to obtain a marriage license while providing religious exemptions for churches and other religious institutions. Clergy, for example, do not have to perform any marriage they do not agree with.
Virtually any piece of legislation, according to Maryland law, can be subject to a referendum where voters cast a ballot supporting or opposing the legislation. Opponents of marriage equality are expected to begin obtaining the requisite signatures necessary to refer the Civil Marriage Protection Act to the general election ballot.
"There remains a lot of work to do between now and November to make marriage equality a reality in Maryland," added Solmonese. "Along with coalition partners, we look forward to educating and engaging voters about what this bill does: It strengthens all Maryland families and protects religious liberty."
A January poll by the Washington Post indicated a majority of Marylanders support marriage equality.
The Human Rights Campaign committed resources to the legislative effort in the Free State, including helping to create Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the broad-based coalition made up of labor, faith, civil liberties, and LGBT organizations. HRC provided the campaign's senior staff and spearheaded the field, communications, and faith components of the coalition effort. Learn more about HRC's engagement.
Today's legislative win for marriage equality comes at a historic moment: in the past three weeks, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled California's discriminatory Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional; Governor Christine Gregoire signed marriage equality into law in Washington State; and a marriage bill passed the New Jersey legislature this month. Six states and the District of Columbia recognize marriage equality, with Washington State's law set to go into effect in three months.