Gov. Martin O'Malley says he will sign Maryland's same-sex marriage bill into law on Thursday, reversing the stance on traditional marriage he has held for most of his political career.
O'Malley, a Democrat, publicly opposed same-sex marriage until about a year ago. Last month, he introduced the same-sex marriage bill as part of his legislative package.
"I think good leaders, who are progressive leaders, always try to be a force for building consensus that moves us forward," O'Malley said. "For a long time, I thought that consensus point was civil unions. I was mistaken, I misjudged, the public moved forward more quickly on this issue than I had thought we would as a people."
Under the legislation, marriage licenses in Maryland could be distributed to same-sex couples. However, the bill also states that religious officials cannot be required to perform marriages that "violate their constitutional right to free exercise of religion."
Supporters of the bill have lauded the legislation as a suitable compromise between both sides of the same-sex marriage debate.
"Delegates protected religious liberty while allowing for equal protection under the law for same-sex couples and their families," said Melissa Goemann, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.
However, those who oppose the legislation, which redefines marriage, worry that the exemptions provided by the bill extend only to religious officials, rather than anyone in opposition of the law.
According to the Maryland Marriage Alliance website, "Nonprofit groups are faced with abandoning their historic mission principles in order to maintain governmental contracts… wedding professionals have been fined for refusing to take part in a same-sex ceremony."
Although the bill will most likely be a law before the end of the week, that does not mean the debate over same-sex marriage in Maryland is over.
Opponents of the bill have been circulating a petition to get a referendum on the November 2012 ballot that would repeal the law.
On Feb. 24, the Maryland Marriage Alliance partnered with the Maryland Catholic Conference to become official sponsors of the referendum.
In order for the referendum to reach November's ballot, the petition will need 56,000 signatures. One-third of those signatures will need to be submitted to the Maryland Board of Elections by May 31 and the remainder will need to be submitted by June 30.