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Celebrating the signing of same-sex marriage law as referendum looms

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The marble lobby of the State House reverberated with cheers and applause Thursday evening for a highly unusual signing ceremony that made Maryland the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage in the nation.

“The bill is signed,” Gov. Martin O’Malley declared shortly after 5 p.m. He was flanked by House Speaker Michael Busch broadly smiling and stony-faced Senate President Mike Miller, the only one on the temporary dais at the foot of the grand staircase who had voted against the Civil Marriage Protection Act.

Miller was one of the few at the ceremony who opposed the measure, but he is hardly alone in seeing it as destruction not protection. A petition drive to give voters a chance to reject the bill by referendum is already underway, and opponents had enough muscle in the House this year to postpone any nuptials until January.

But for the moment, supporters beamed with excitement at the historic signing, including the openly gay delegates and senator standing around the table.

Judge Catherine Curran O’Malley kisses her husband, Gov. Martin O’Malley at signing ceremony for same-sex marriage bill.

Directly behind O’Malley was his wife Katie, a Baltimore district court judge who gave her husband a kiss and appeared to tell him “Good job.” The judge had caused a major bump in the march to passage when she called those who had opposed the measure last year “cowards,” a comment that was used to whip up the already inflamed adversaries. Both she and the governor profusely apologized for the remark, and he had to sooth hurt feelings in a legislature where every vote was at stake.

But Del. Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, lead some in the crowd in chanting “Katie, Katie” for Judge O’Malley’s ardent support of the measure.

Long and winding road to passage

The signing was a formal conclusion to a long process that began after the bill was withdrawn from the House floor almost a year ago when it was clear it was a few votes shy. The drive picked up momentum in July when O’Malley announced he would make it part of his legislative package and work for its passage, which he had not done before.

The Senate committee that last year had sent the measure to the floor, where the full Senate gave its blessing, held up action until the House gave its approval. After a marathon hearing and immense pressure on both sides, with e-mails and phone calls flooding legislators’ office, the House of Delegates narrowly passed the bill 72-67 two weeks ago and the Senate enacted it  last Thursday 25-22.

Many supporters thought this day would never come.

Carrie Evans, the executive director of Equality Maryland, expressed disbelief at how much things had changed.

In 2007, Evans said their “hearts were broken” after the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled against a lawsuit filed by several same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses.

“There was no space in my mind to even envision that not even five years later we’d be standing behind the governor signing a marriage bill,” said Evans.

After the ceremony, O’Malley invited supporters across the street to the Governor’s Mansion for a reception that lasted into the night. Despite the celebratory atmosphere, supporters seemed well aware of the challenges ahead.

Preparing for the battle ahead

As O’Malley signed the bill, Del. Emmett Burns, D-Baltimore County, a clergyman adamant in his opposition to same-sex marriage, stood perched against a column looking out at the ceremony as a visible reminder of the referendum process ahead. For anyone who asked, he’d display a pencil, a campaign giveaway bearing the name of a delegate who supported the bill. What’s at the end of this pencil? he asked. An eraser. “And that’s what we’re going to do to this bill.”

Both sides have been preparing for a multi-million dollar election campaign.

Attorney General Douglas Gansler, who has been a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage, noted that recent polls show supporters have a slight edge across the state, but said it will ultimately come down to who votes in November.

Gansler added that at the same time Marylanders go to the polls, another process will be playing out in state and federal courts.

“I believe, as has happened most recently, that the courts will find that in fact the prohibition against same-sex marriage violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution,” Gansler said.

Supporters showed confidence that the success in the legislature would translate at the ballot box as well.

“I see gay and straight Marylanders alike taking great pride in what our state has done,” said Mizeur. “And I see people across the state pledging their best efforts to stand up and defend this in the referendum.”

By Justin Snow and Len Lazarick. Originally published by MarylandReporter.com.

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