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Maryland is poised to become the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage after the measure narrowly cleared the Senate late Thursday by a vote of 25 to 22. The legislation previously passed the state's lower chamber, 72-67, and Gov. Martin O'Malley has promised to sign the bill into law.
Opponents of the effort, however, are expected to make one last-ditch effort to prevent gays and lesbians from walking down the aisle, the Los Angeles Times reports. If they can collect roughly 58,000 signatures by the end of June they can put a voter referendum that would block the law on the November ballot. Sound familiar? Washington state legalized same-sex marriage weeks ago, and is also facing a likely voter referendum on the issue on Election Day.
Maryland is the latest of a handful of states to pass legislation allowing same-sex marriages, and would become the first East Coast state south of the Mason-Dixon line to let gay couples wed. In addition to Washington, New Jersey also passed a similar measure this month, which was then vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie. Currently, six states grant same-sex marriage licenses: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. A federal court recently overturned California's ban on gay marriage, although that decision is on hold while the rest of the appeals process plays out.
In Maryland, voters are more or less evenly split on the issue of same-sex marriage, which could mean a hotly-contested fight if opponents succeed on getting the referendum on the ballot. According to the Washington Post, the measure faces wide-spread opposition from the state's African-American community (which makes up about 30 percent of the population in the state), especially those who are evangelical Christian. Leaders of African-American mega-churches, along with conservative Catholic leaders, have posed formidable opposition to the bill and are likely to mount a significant challenge come November.