ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Gay couples are preparing for New Year's Day weddings in the first state south of the Mason-Dixon Line to allow same-sex marriage, which will become legal in Maryland on Tuesday.
The new law takes effect at 12:01 a.m. and follows a legislative fight that pitted Gov. 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.
"It's been a long time coming," said Jim Scales, who made a Christmas present of his marriage license to William Tasker, his partner of 35 years. Scales, 68, and Tasker, 60, plan to be married at a ceremony at Baltimore City Hall by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake shortly after midnight.
Same-sex couples in Maryland have been able to get marriage licenses since Dec. 6, but they do not take effect until Tuesday.
In 2011, 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.
Shortly after, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore wrote to O'Malley that same-sex marriage went against the governor's faith.
"As advocates for the truths we are compelled to uphold, we speak with equal intensity and urgency in opposition to your promoting a goal that so deeply conflicts with your faith, not to mention the best interests of our society," wrote O'Brien, who served as archbishop of the nation's first diocese from October 2007 to August 2011.
The governor was not persuaded. He held a news conference in July 2011 to announce that he would make same-sex marriage a priority in the next legislative session. He wrote back to the archbishop that "when shortcomings in our laws bring about a result that is unjust, I have a public obligation to try to change that injustice."
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.
Scales and Tasker, as well as other same-sex couples, are now thanking the governor and lawmakers who supported the legislation. Ceremonies are scheduled across Maryland. On Tilghman Island in the Chesapeake Bay, six couples plan to get married at the Black Walnut Point Inn on Tuesday, two couples after midnight and four in the afternoon. Owners and same-sex couple Bob Zuber and Tracy Stables also plan to marry in a separate ceremony.
"The entire island decided to join behind us in this event," Stables said.