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BREAKING NEWS: Maryland Senate approves marriage equality, governor to sign bill into law

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Maryland Senate voted 25-22 today to approve a bill that legalizes marriage equality.

The Maryland House of Delegates last Friday voted 72-67 to approve the bill.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, proposed this bill and has pledged to sign it into law, probably early next week. Gay and lesbian couples in Maryland would be able to marry starting in January 2013.

However, opponents of marriage equality are still expected to launch an effort to put a referendum on the November ballot, despite recent polling showing that a majority of Marylanders support marriage for straight as well as gay and lesbian couples.

Today, opponents tried to tack on a number of "poison pill" amendments to the bill, but failed on all counts.

The most egregious example was by Sen. David Brinkley. The Republican senator slowly read a lengthy letter in support of an amendment to the bill, droning on and on, spouting faulty science, lies, half-truths and alleged incidents of discrimination against people of faith who oppose the rights of LGBT Americans. He claimed marriage equality would compromise religious freedom in Maryland; nevermind that the bill offers protection from that.

Several senators interrupted Brinkley, asking if he were on point, and Senate President Mike Miller eventually urged Brinkley to "speed read" the rest of the letter, provoking laughter in the chamber.

Witnesses in the chamber tweeted that some members of the gallery, weary of the long interruption by Brinkley, began giving each other massages. One senator shared a box of chocolates with other colleagues, most of whom seemed disinterested in Brinkley's brinkmanship.

The amendment that Brinkley supported was overwhelmingly rejected, 34-11.

Sen. Allan Kittleman, a Republican, stood up and explained his vote for marriage equality. He called it the "civil rights issue of our generation."

Sen. Dolores Kelley, a Democrat, gave a wonderful speech rebutting the argument that marriage is for procreation. She humorously asked if those too old to procreate will have to give up their marriages, under that argument.

Sen. Rob Garagiola said the bill would outlaw state-sanctioned discrimination against gay and lesbian families, calling it a civil rights issue.

The openly gay Sen. Rich Madaleno gave a heart-felt speech on making history in Maryland, and he wished his husband, Mark, who was caught up in traffic, were there in the Senate chamber. The couple have two children.

The Senate's public galleries were packed for the historic vote, and marriage-equality supporters erupted into sustained applause and cheers when the bill passed.

Update on marriage equality

Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont, along with the District of Columbia, currently provide marriage equality.

Washington became the seventh state to legalize marriage equality, but opponents are trying to qualify a referendum for the November ballot. Current polls show that Washington voters approve of marriage equality.

On Feb. 17, New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that approved marriage equality in the Garden State. The legislature has about a year to try to overturn the governor's veto.

Marriage-equality supporters in Hawaii, Illinois and Rhode Island – states that provide civil unions – are pushing for marriage equality.

The reaction to the Maryland vote

John Lewis, Marriage Equality USA Legal Director:

"We are seeing unstoppable momentum for equal marriage rights from every avenue. Yesterday, yet another federal court struck down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, saying the law 'treats gay men and lesbians differently on the basis of their sexual orientation' without any legal basis... The imposition of subjective moral beliefs of a majority on a minority cannot provide a justification.'"

Stuart Gaffney, Marriage Equality USA Media Director:

"Since Governor O'Malley has championed this bill and already said he will sign the bill into law, today's historic vote means marriage equality in Maryland! We are encouraged by reports that former Vice President Dick Cheney made calls to lobby Maryland legislators to support the bill. Supporting his lesbian daughter Mary illustrates the true meaning of family values across party lines.

"The Maryland legislature now joins Washington State and New Jersey in passing marriage equality bills in just the last few weeks. Loving, committed couples stand to benefit from these bills from coast to coast."

Kate Kendell, executive director of National Center for Lesbian Rights:

“Today, Marylanders won a key victory in the quest for equality under the law for same-sex couples and their children. Enormous thanks are due to Governor O’Malley, our legislative champions in the House and Senate, and all those who came forward to explain why discrimination against families in Maryland’s marriage law is just plain wrong. This fight is not yet over in the Free State, but today, we celebrate this fantastic achievement.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign"

“We could not be more grateful to the senators who today voted to make all Maryland families stronger. Today, we took another giant step toward marriage equality becoming law – and we are in this position due to the unwavering leadership and resolve of Governor O’Malley and our legislative allies, particularly Sens. Rich Madaleno, Jamie Raskin, Rob Garagiola, and Brian Frosh.

“There remains a lot of work to do between now and November to make marriage equality a reality in Maryland. 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.”

Chad Griffin, American Foundation for Equal Rights board president:

“Today’s vote by the Maryland General Assembly shows that the momentum toward marriage equality is unstoppable. Generations of Americans will applaud Governor Martin O’Malley and the bipartisan coalition of Maryland lawmakers for joining the courts and legislatures nationwide in defending the fundamental freedom to marry for all.”