ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O'Malley says this year’s failed attempts to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland are just part of a long-term challenge and that his renewed effort next year will build on last month’s successful effort in New York.
“I would like to think that in New York they learned from our experience here, and we will learn from their experience,” Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, said. “This is an evolution in the progress of our state, to be able to perfect our laws so that they more fully protect the rights of every individual.”
The governor made the observation Friday when vowing to sponsor a bill in the 2012 General Assembly to legalize same-sex marriage and two days before hundreds of gay and lesbian couples legally exchanged vows Sunday in New York for the first time.
A similar bill appeared poised for passage in this year in Maryland’s Democrat-controlled assembly after clearing the Senate with little opposition. However, the bill died in the House when at least two Democrats withdrew key votes, which resulted in calls that Mr. O'Malley was too quiet and perhaps too confident on the issue.
Such criticism was magnified when New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, took a more vocal role on the issue and the state legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill last month.
Mr. O'Malley’s support is expected to bolster efforts to make Maryland the seventh state to legalize gay marriage, after Republicans and socially conservative Democrats narrowly fought off a bill in March.
“It’s very important to have the governor get behind this, just to lead the charge,” said Delegate Maggie McIntosh, Baltimore Democrat, who is openly gay. “But it is going to take all of us working together.”
The District of Columbia also issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Mr. O'Malley - who before becoming governor said he favored civil unions and believed marriage was intended for a man and woman - said Friday his views have evolved beyond those initially instilled by his Catholic upbringing.
He said he now considers government-recognized marriage a fundamental right.
Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said her organization greeted the governor’s announcement with “great disappointment” and said the group would lobby against such a bill.
“We continue to urge members of the Maryland General Assembly not to allow this issue to be driven by partisan politics, and to give full and fair consideration to the legitimate reasons why our state should maintain its recognition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” she said.
Mr. O'Malley emphasized that his bill would protect religious organizations that oppose gay marriage from having to honor or accommodate weddings or provide certain services to gay couples.
New York’s law had a similar religious exemption that proved crucial to its passage. It was a major selling point for Mr. Cuomo, who received credit for gathering heavy Democratic support and rounding up four crucial Republican votes in the state’s Republican-controlled Senate.
The bill passed the Senate, 33-29, after passing the heavily Democratic assembly, 80-53.
Seeking to take a similar leadership role, Mr. O'Malley hinted to attendees at a Democratic conference this month in Utah that he could sponsor a Maryland bill if it had the same religious protections.
Maryland’s failed bill this year included similar protections. But the governor and legislators said they will make it a greater priority to emphasize that aspect of the legislation next year, when asking support from other assembly members, residents and even religious groups.
Miss McIntosh said lobbying efforts also could take on a more passionate, personal tone. She felt supporters were too subtle in this year’s assembly session and relied too much on behind-the-scenes work rather than personal testimony.
She said she expects activists and legislators now to speak more openly about the importance of gay marriage to their gay friends, colleagues and family members.
“We’re coming out, and we want to be out front with a large, incredible coalition,” Miss McIntosh said. “That’s what gets this over the hump. That’s when we can put a more visible face on the importance of marriage equality.”