Gov. Martin O'Malley signed a law legalizing same-sex marriages Thursday at a ceremony in the state capital, Annapolis, attended by more than 50 gay-rights activists and clergy members, The Washington Post reported.
"For a free and diverse people, for a people of many faiths, for a people committed to the principle of religious freedom, the way forward is always found through greater respect for the equal rights of all, for the human dignity of all," O'Malley said. "Religious freedom was the very reason for our state's founding, and at the heart of religious freedom is the freedom of individual conscience."
Opponents of same-sex marriage -- including an alliance of Republicans, African-American Democrats and an organization called the Maryland Marriage Alliance -- have said they will try to gather enough signatures on a petition to put the issue before voters in November. Marylanders for Marriage Equality said it will wage a grassroots campaign to defend the law in a referendum, the Post said.
As written, the law will not permit same-sex marriage in Maryland until Jan. 1, 2013.
Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont, along with the District of Columbia, issue same-sex marriage licenses. Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island allow civil unions that provide rights similar to marriage.
New Jersey lawmakers approved same-sex marriage this month, but Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, vetoed the legislation, saying the matter should be decided in a statewide referendum.
Voters in Minnesota and North Carolina will be asked to consider proposals that would outlaw same-sex marriages in their states in November.