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, reports BBC.
The state Senate voted 25-22 for the law. The vote comes less than a week after the House of Delegates barely passed the measure.
Maryland will become the eighth state to allow gay marriage when O’Malley – who sponsored the bill – signs the legislation. According to The Huff Post, the Democrat made the measure a priority this session after it stalled last year.
“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.
Opponents, though, have vowed to bring the measure to referendum in November. They will need to gather at least 55,726 valid signatures of Maryland voters to put it on the ballot and can begin collecting names now that the bill has passed both chambers.
Although Maryland has one of the largest Democratic majorities in any state legislature, the measure encountered resistance from African-American Catholic and evangelical lawmakers.
Since 2004, increasing numbers of Maryland residents have told pollsters that they support gay marriage, and in the most recent poll, 50% of respondents said they favored passing the law while 44% were opposed.
Support is weaker, though, among African Americans, who make up almost 30% of the state’s population, says Los Angeles Times.
Some religious groups have said they will push for a referendum on the issue in November, in an effort to repeal it.
The Rev. John Lunn, pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Baltimore and head of the area’s conference of Baptist ministers, is confident the law will be rejected on a popular vote.
“African Americans view marriage as between and a man and a woman; that’s all we know,” he said. “That’s because of the strong religious background that is involved in our nature. African Americans have a strong faith — it was all we had to hold on to.”
“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,” Maryland Catholic Conference spokeswoman Kathy Dempsey said in a statement. “Every time this issue has been brought to a statewide vote, the people have upheld traditional marriage.”
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.”
Sen. Allan Kittleman, the only Senate Republican to vote in favor of the legislation, said he is proud of his decision and not concerned about political consequences down the road.
“You don’t worry about politics when you’re dealing with the civil rights issue of your generation,” said Kittleman, R-Howard, the son of the late Sen. Robert Kittleman, who was known for civil rights advocacy.
Maryland would join Iowa, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia, which have already legalised same-sex marriage.
Last year senators passed a similar measure by 25-21, but the bill died in the House after delegates rescinded their initial support citing concerns that it could violate religious liberties of churches and business owners who do not support same-sex unions.