Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley signed into law Thursday a bill recognizing same-sex marriage, making Maryland the eighth state to do so.
O'Malley, formerly a vocal opponent of gay marriage, signed the bill at 5:00 p.m. local time in a ceremony.
"For a free and diverse people, for a people of many faiths, for a people committed to the principle of religious freedom," O'Malley said, "The way forward is always found with greater respect for the rights of all."
Although the bill is now officially law, it stipulates that no marriage licenses may be issued to same-sex couples until 2013.
The bill also states that religious officials cannot be forced to perform any marriage ceremonies that would be "in violation of the Constitutional right to free exercise of religion."
At the same time, groups who oppose the bill have proposed a ballot measure that would overturn the law.
The Maryland Marriage Alliance, the Maryland Catholic Conference, and the Maryland Family Alliance have joined with others to officially sponsor a referendum next November that would maintain the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
For the referendum to make the ballot, these groups will need to collect 56,000 voter signatures, or about three percent of the number of voters in Maryland's 2010 gubernatorial election.
"Every time this issue has been brought to a statewide vote, the people have upheld traditional marriage," said the Maryland Catholic Conference in a statement on its website. "When this issue reaches the November ballot, we are confident that the citizens of Maryland will join voters in 31 other states in upholding marriage between one man and one woman."
Maryland joins Washington, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont, plus Washington, D.C. in recognizing same-sex marriage.