Marylanders made history Tuesday as they voted to make same-sex marriage legal — a question that had been defeated each of the 32 times it had been on the ballot in other states.
"To Maryland's children – please know that you and your families matter to the people of our state," Gov. Martin O'Malley, who pushed for the law, said early Wednesday in a statement declaring victory. "Whether your parents happen to be gay or straight, Democratic, Republican or Independent, your families are equal before the eyes of the law."
The Free State joins six others and the District of Columbia, which have allowed same-sex marriage. Local courts can begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples in January.
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Voting on Question 6 came after a campaign in which supporters argued that gay marriage is a civil right and that the children of gay couples deserve to be raised by parents who are married. Opponents said same-sex couples could achieve the legal benefits without changing the definition of marriage.
Same-sex marriage also was on the ballot Tuesday in Maine — which approved it — and in Washington state and Minnesota.
The results in Maryland and the other states will reverberate nationally. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take up a same-sex marriage case this term, and advocates on both sides want to cite popular support when arguing before the justices.
"We were well outspent," said the Rev. Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, the main group working against Question 6. "No matter how it turns out, there have been thousands of people who are engaged in the process."
Voters around the state waited in long lines Tuesday to cast their ballots — with many expressing strong opinions about same-sex marriage.
"We should treat everybody equally," said Josh Waxman, 39, of Howard County as he walked into his polling place. "We should give couples the same rights no matter who they love."
Similar passion came from the other side. "As a Christian, I am against it," said Stephen Wise of Baltimore. "If you were gay years ago, you used to keep it away from children out of respect for their innocence."
Gay marriage supporters tried to get the law passed last year but failed to line up enough votes in the state House of Delegates. This year, O'Malley made passage a top priority, and the measure squeaked through the General Assembly in February.
After the governor signed the bill into law, opponents began collecting signatures to trigger a referendum. They turned in roughly 160,000, three times the number needed.
The law's supporters immediately installed a professional campaign apparatus that sent out daily fundraising emails and news releases. Their cause attracted A-list celebrities including Brad Pitt, Susan Sarandon and Josh Charles.
O'Malley became fundraiser-in-chief, organizing a star-filled soiree in Manhattan, holding events in San Francisco, Arizona and Colorado, and leaning on top donors.
The governor also forged alliances with key figures like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who wrote a $250,000 check, and former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, who helped with strategy and national GOP fundraising.
Opponents didn't have the Hollywood wattage or legions of seasoned campaigners, though they garnered six-figure checks from national groups and borrowed well-connected volunteers from many churches in the state.
Both sides reached out to African-American voters — who were expected to make up 25 percent of the state electorate Tuesday.
Propelled by endorsements from President Barack Obama and the national board of the NAACP, supporters launched an aggressive campaign to win over blacks — or at least give them pause about opposing the measure.
Their campaign opened with a pair of television commercials featuring African-American Baptist ministers from Baltimore and Prince George's County. Both said they supported legalizing gay marriage, regardless of whether they would perform one in their sanctuary.
"I would not want someone to deny my rights based on their religious views," the Rev. Delman Coates of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Prince George's County said in one ad. "Therefore I should not deny others based upon mine."