It’s nice to pass along such good news…from HRC’s release:

On the heels of the historic House of Delegates vote last week, the Maryland Senate today approved marriage equality legislation introduced by Governor Martin O’Malley (D) that would allow committed gay and lesbian couples to marry. With the bill successfully passing through the state legislature, Governor O’Malley is expected to sign it.

“We could not be more grateful to the senators who today voted to make all Maryland families stronger,” said Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign. “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.”

The Civil Marriage Protection Act allows committed gay and lesbian couples to obtain a marriage license while providing religious exemptions for churches and other religious institutions. Clergy, for example, do not have to perform any marriage they do not agree with.

Virtually any piece of legislation, according to Maryland law, can be subject to a referendum where voters cast a ballot supporting or opposing the legislation.  Opponents of marriage equality are expected to begin obtaining the requisite signatures necessary to refer the Civil Marriage Protection Act to the general election ballot. “There remains a lot of work to do between now and November to make marriage equality a reality in Maryland,” added Solmonese. “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.” A January poll by the Washington Post indicated a majority of Marylanders support marriage equality.

More reactions are below the fold

Rea Carey, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

“Maryland and marriage equality will certainly make a lovely couple. Maryland is the Free State, after all. To be able to share and celebrate one’s love and commitment both publicly and legally is a lifelong dream for thousands of same-sex couples and their families. It’s thrilling that Maryland is poised to make this a reality by becoming the latest state to treat its families fairly. This has been a long journey of changing hearts and minds, of breaking down walls, of shining a spotlight on our common humanity. Congratulations to Equality Maryland, Marylanders for Marriage Equality and all those who have been part of the journey leading to this victory.”

National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq.:

“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.”

ACLU:

“We’re one step closer today to full equality for all families,” said Melissa Goemann, legislative director of ACLU of Maryland. “Legislators have voted to protect religious liberty while allowing for equal protection under the law for same-sex couples and their families.”

“Three legislatures in one month granting marriage protection to all couples is a significant sign that America has turned a corner in ensuring fairness and dignity for all families,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Marylanders should be proud that their state recognizes that no family should be denied the kind of protection that can only come with marriage.”

Catholics for Equality:

Catholics for Equality applauds the Maryland State Senate for passing marriage equality legislation today by a margin of 25-22.
We especially applaud the leadership and determination of our Catholic brother and bill lead sponsor, Maryland State Senator Robert Garagiola, for fighting so hard to pass this bill. Today, is not just a victory for same-sex couples in Maryland, for Catholic families across the country, but a victory for this rising star in Maryland politics.

We are also heartened that this bill is now being sent  for signing to the desk of our Catholic brother, Governor Martin O’Malley, who has led this important battle this year. Without your pro-equality Catholic leadership, Governor O’Malley, today’s victory would not have been possible.applauds the Maryland State Senate for passing marriage equality legislation today by a margin of 25-22.

We especially applaud the leadership and determination of our Catholic brother and bill lead sponsor, Maryland State Senator Robert Garagiola, for fighting so hard to pass this bill. Today, is not just a victory for same-sex couples in Maryland, for Catholic families across the country, but a victory for this rising star in Maryland politics.

We are also heartened that this bill is now being sent  for signing to the desk of our Catholic brother, Governor Martin O’Malley, who has led this important battle this year. Without your pro-equality Catholic leadership, Governor O’Malley, today’s victory would not have been possible.

Jennifer Chrisler, Executive Director of Family Equality Council, said marriage will strengthen Maryland families:

“Maryland is home to more than 2,500 LGBT parents who are raising more than 5,000 children,” said Chrisler.  “These moms and dads want the same things for their children that all parents do –  respect, protection and a bright future. Now they can tell their children the state respects their commitment to one another, the law will protect their families, and that they will grow up in state that will give their family every opportunity to have that bright future.”

“Maryland now joins seven other states and the District of Columbia on the leading edge of a national movement to allow all committed and loving couples the freedom to marry. We look forward to the day when all Americans can enjoy that freedom.”