ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) â€“ Maryland’s governor signed a measure legalizing gay marriage Thursday, joining seven other states.
Gov.Â Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed the bill a week after its final passage in the Legislature. The law is scheduled to take effect in January 2013.
However, opponents â€” backed by many churches â€” are expected to petition the law to a referendum on the November ballot.
“Religious freedom was the very reason for our state’s founding and at the heart of religious freedom is the freedom of individual conscience,” O’Malley said just before adding his signature to the legislation, referring to the state’s origins as a British colony that was a haven for Catholics.
Referendum organizers need to collect almost 56,000 signatures to put the measure before voters and are expected to rely heavily on churchgoers who oppose same-sex marriage as a matter of faith, to reach that goal. Even gay marriage advocates expect the referendum to end up on the ballot.
Six states and the Washington capital district already recognize gay marriages. The state of Washington has also legalized gay marriage, and its law takes effect in June. Voters there are expected to petition the measure to referendum this November.
Maine legalized the unions for same-sex couples in 2009, but later that year became the only state overturn a such a law passed by a legislature.
Meanwhile, about 30 states have constitutional amendments that seek to prohibit gay marriage, most by defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
In Maryland, many African American church leaders oppose gay marriage in the liberal-leaning state that’s nearly one-third black, andÂ President Barack Obama‘s re-election campaign is expected to drive many of their congregants to the polls.
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