[JURIST] The Maryland Senate on Thursday approved the Civil Marriage Protection Act [SB241, PDF], which would legalize same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] in the state. The legislation passed by a 25-22 margin in the Senate, having already been approved by the lower house [JURIST report] earlier in the week. The bill goes next to Governor Martin O’Malley (D) [official website] who has promised to sign it into law. In the build up to the Senate considering the act, O’Malley encouraged [official statement] the Senate to pass the bill:
Clergy and faith-based leaders, community leaders, civic organizations, civil rights groups, and citizens from across our State have reached the same conclusion that Americans in seven other states have reached—it is possible to protect individual civil marriage rights and religious freedom equally.
Though the bill is positioned to become law, hurdles remain which might derail the legislation from taking effect. The bill will not take effect until 2013 and may be subject to a popular approval if the groups who are currently fighting the bill are able to obtain 56,000 signatures to force a ballot referendum in November. To date, no state which has put same-sex marriage as a referendum for popular approval has had a majority of its citizens affirm the action.
Maryland joins a number of other states working to pass legislation that would allow same-sex couples to marry. Earlier this week, Washington state legalized same-sex marriage [JURIST report] after Governor Christine Gregoire signed the legislation. New Jersey is also considering legalizing same-sex marriage soon, although it currently has a civil union system in place. Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a same-sex marriage bill [JURIST report] last week and called for a voter referendum to decide the issue, rather than the state legislature. In November, a lawsuit [JURIST report] was allowed to continue in New Jersey, which seeks declaratory and injunctive relief against the state civil union law as a contravention of both the Fourteenth Amendment and the New Jersey State Constitution. Same-sex marriage has also been legalized in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia [JURIST reports].