Maryland's governor signed into law Thursday a bill to legalize gay marriage, although opponents vowed to rally voters to reverse the change this fall in a referendum that's even anticipated by advocates of the new law.
"Religious freedom was the very reason for our state's founding and at the heart of religious freedom is the freedom of individual conscience," Gov. Martin O'Malley said before signing the legislation that made Maryland the eighth state in the U.S. to legalize gay marriage. The law takes effect in 2013.
Six states and the District of Columbia currently recognize gay marriages. The state of Washington also has legalized gay marriage — its law takes effect in June. Voters there also are expected to petition the measure to referendum this fall.
Maine legalized the unions for same-sex couples in 2009, but later that year became the only state overturn a such a law passed by a legislature. About 30 states have constitutional amendments that seek to prohibit gay marriage, most by defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
In order to put the measure on the November ballot, opponents of the new Maryland law will need to collect nearly 56,000 valid voter signatures, equivalent to 3 percent of the people who cast ballots in the 2010 gubernatorial election. Last week, opponents submitted draft language for a ballot referendum to overturn the gay marriage measure after it passed in the state legislature.