The Senate in the U.S. state of Maryland on Thursday approved a legislation that allows same sex-marriage, taking the state closer to becoming the eight U.S. state to legalize gay marriage.
The measure, adopted by the Senate with 25 to 22 votes, will now be forwarded to Governor Martin O'Malley for signing it into law as both Houses of the state legislature have approved its adoption. The State House had cleared the measure with a slim majority less than a week ago.
Adoption of the measure is now seen as a mere formality as the Governor, who sponsored the measure, has said that he will sign the measure as soon as it reaches him after clearing both Houses of the state legislature.
"This issue has taken a lot of energy, as well it should, and I'm very proud of the House of Delegates and also the Senate for resolving this issue on the side of human dignity, and I look forward to signing the bill," O'Malley said after the Senate approved the measure.
"The common thread running through our efforts together in Maryland is the thread of human dignity. Maryland will now be able to protect individual civil marriage rights and religious freedom equally," he added.
Once O'Malley signs the measure, Maryland will join seven other U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia in allowing same-sex marriages. The other U.S. states which legalized the practice are Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Washington.
However, opponents of the measure said they would challenge it in a referendum in November. They said efforts would be initiated soon to collect the minimum required 55,726 valid signatures of Maryland voters for calling the referendum.
Although the state legislature of Maryland has one of the largest Democrat majorities, the controversial same-sex marriage bill had evoked stiff resistance from African-American Catholic and evangelical lawmakers, as well as several religious groups.
"The enormous public outcry that this legislation has generated - voiced by Marylanders that span political, racial, social and religious backgrounds - demonstrates a clear need to take this issue to a vote of the people," Kathy Dempsey, spokeswoman for the Maryland Catholic Conference, said in a statement.
Nevertheless, the Human Rights Campaign that had advocated for the bill said: "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."
The development in Maryland comes just just weeks after a U.S. federal appeals court ruled earlier this month that the ban imposed on same-sex marriages in California was unconstitutional, paving the way for a show-down on the issue in the Supreme Court.
On February 7, the three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco had overturned the referendum-approved Proposition 8 measure that banned gay marriages in California in a 2-1 decision. The panel found the ban to be in direct violation of the equal protection rights of two same-sex couples that brought the suit. But lawyers for the ban's supporters have indicated that they plan to move the nation's highest court to resolve the issue.
The California ban on same sex marriages, known as Proposition 8, was approved by voters in a 2008 referendum on the issue. Voters in California approved the ban in the November 2008 referendum by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.
by RTT Staff Writer
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