Maryland state senate passes gay marriage bill

A gay couple get married on Valentines Day on the 61st floor of the Empire State Building in New York City, 14 February 2012 The issue of same-sex marriage has been in the national spotlight during an election year

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A bill that would legalise gay marriage in the US state of Maryland has been approved in the state Senate, less than a week after it passed the state House.

The bill, which will become law when signed by Governor Martin O'Malley, who sponsored it, will make Maryland the eighth US state to permit gay marriage.

But opponents have vowed to challenge the measure by putting it on the state ballot in November's election.

Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed such a bill last week.

Mr O'Malley has said he will sign the Maryland law, which passed in the Senate 25-22.

"This issue has taken a lot of energy, as well it should, and I'm very proud of the House of Delegates and also the Senate for resolving this issue on the side of human dignity, and I look forward to signing the bill," he said.

Although Maryland has one of the largest Democratic majorities in any state legislature, the measure encountered resistance from African-American Catholic and evangelical lawmakers.

Some religious groups have said they will push for a referendum on the issue in November, in an effort to repeal it.

"The enormous public outcry that this legislation has generated - voiced by Marylanders that span political, racial, social and religious backgrounds - demonstrates a clear need to take this issue to a vote of the people," said Kathy Dempsey, spokeswoman for the Maryland Catholic Conference.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign, which advocated for the bill said: "Along with coalition partners, we look forward to educating and engaging voters about what this bill does. It strengthens all Maryland families and protects religious liberty."

The organisation added that they expect opponents of the measure will be able to secure the required number of signatures to get the issue onto November's ballot.

Maryland would join Iowa, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia, which have already legalised same-sex marriage.

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