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Gay marriage becomes legal in Maryland

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 law takes effect at 12:01 a.m. and follows a legislative fight that pitted 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 backing a November ballot question.

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‘‘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, planned to be married at a ceremony at Baltimore City Hall by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake 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.’’

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.

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