Gov. Martin O’Malley, joined by House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach, signed the Civil Marriage Protection Act into law Thursday evening.
“All of us, at the end of the day, want the same thing for our children,” O’Malley (D) said before putting pen to paper. “We want them to live in a loving, caring, and committed home that is protected equally under the law.”
Opponents of the bill, led by Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Dist. 2B) of Hagerstown, have pledged to put the new law before voters this November, and are preparing a petition drive to get the measure on the ballot.
“Constituents in my district … are saying they don’t want this, and it will not happen,” Del. Emmett Burns (D-Dist. 10) of Woodlawn told reporters Wednesday as he and other opponents of same-sex marriage announced the impending petition drive.
But the mood at Thursday’s signing was celebratory.
A tightly packed crowd filled the State House lobby to witness the signing, and the appearance on the small stage of lawmakers who had supported the legislation drew cheers and applause.
Supporters are optimistic about the new law’s chances of surviving a referendum.
“I think the longer we [debated], the more we proved that this law is going to meet not only the needs of our population but the values of the population,” Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park told The Gazette on Tuesday.
Similar legislation passed the Senate last year but died in the House. The bill that passed this year included additional language exempting religious organizations from having to provide services to same-sex couples and carried O’Malley’s name for the first time.
Marylanders remain split on same-sex marriage, with 49 percent supporting it and 47 percent opposed, according to a poll conducted in January by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies.
In the General Assembly, the division in the two chambers, especially in the House, mirrored that in the general public.
Seventy-two delegates voted in favor of the bill, with 67 voting against. Among senators, 25 supported the bill and 22 voted against it.
Same-sex marriage has a history of failing at the ballot box in other states, but experts say Maryland’s referendum outcome is difficult to predict and is likely to be influenced by several factors, including the Republican presidential nominee and black voter turnout.