The Maryland Senate approved a legislation allowing same-sex marriages in the state on Thursday.
In a 25 to 21 vote, state senators passed the bill with only one Republican, Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-Howard), joining 24 Democrats to support passage of the legislation. Only 24 votes were required to pass the gay marriage bill.
The bill was amended to include protection for religious groups and institutions so they would not be forced to be involved in same-sex wedding ceremonies.
Maryland's Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley has already stated that he will sign the bill into law if it passes the House of Delegates.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) and opponents of the bill, however, vowed that if the bill becomes law then the issue will appear on the 2012 ballot as a referendum question for residents to vote on.
A recent poll found that the majority of Maryland voters are against gay marriage, with 54 percent in support of marriage between one man and one woman compared to 37 percent that say marriage should be available to same-sex couples.
During the debate, Sen. Joanne Benson (D-Prince George's) noted that although her father was a "civil rights warrior," he also talked about the importance of marriage.
"One thing he said to us was you get married because one of the most important reasons for marriage is to have children," said Benson, who was absent during the vote, according to The Associated Press.
The Maryland same-sex marriage bill passed the state Senate just a day after Hawaii recognized gay civil unions and President Obama ordered the Department of Justice to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as between a man and woman, in lawsuits.
Maryland's gay marriage bill will next go to the House of Delegates, where its supporters predict it will pass. If it is approve in the House and is signed by the governor, then Maryland would be the sixth U.S. state to recognize gay marriage.
The current states that legally recognize same-sex marriages are: Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire. The nation's capital of Washington, D.C., also recognizes gay marriages.