Same-sex couples in Maryland were greeted with cheers and noisemakers held over from New Year’s Eve parties, as gay marriage became legal in the first southern state on New Year’s Day yesterday.
James Scales, 68, who has worked for the Baltimore mayor’s office for 25 years, was married to William Tasker, 60, yesterday shortly after midnight by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake inside City Hall.
“It’s just so hard to believe it’s happening,” Scales said before marrying his partner of 35 years.
Six other same-sex couples also were being married at City Hall. Ceremonies were taking place in other parts of the state as well.
The ceremonies follow a legislative fight that pitted Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley against leaders of his Catholic faith. Voters in the state, founded by Catholics in the 17th century, sealed the change by approving a November ballot question.
“There is no human institution more sacred than that of the one that you are about to form,” Rawlings-Blake said during the brief ceremony. “True marriage, true marriage, is the dearest of all earthly relationships.”
Same-sex couples in Maryland have been able to get marriage licenses since Dec. 6, but they did not take effect until yesterday.
Last year, same-sex marriage legislation passed in the state Senate, but stalled in the House of Delegates. O’Malley hadn’t made the issue a key part of his 2011 legislative agenda, but indicated that summer that he was considering backing a measure similar to New York’s law, which includes exemptions for religious organizations.
He held a news conference in July 2011 to announce that he would make same-sex marriage a priority in last year’s legislative session.
The measure, with exemptions for religious organizations that choose not to marry gay couples, passed the House of Delegates in February in a close vote. O’Malley signed it in March. Opponents then gathered enough signatures to put the bill to a statewide vote and it passed with 52 percent in favor.
Voters in Maine and Washington State also approved same-sex marriage at the ballot box in November. In total, nine states and the District of Columbia have approved same-sex marriage. The other states are Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.