This past week, Maryland’s legislature passed a bill, the Civil Marriage Protection Act, legalizing same-sex marriage in that state. The Bill was sponsored by Governor Martin O’Malley and he is expected to sign the Bill into law this week, making Maryland the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage. However, the narrow passage of the bill, 72-67 in the House of Delegates and 25-22 in the state Senate, emphasizes the divide between supporters and opponents of the issue. Opponents have now vowed to bring the issue to the voters.

The Bill was amended to take effect on January 1, 2013, allowing opponents the time required to bring the Bill to a vote through a referendum in November. In a statement, Maryland Catholic Conference spokeswoman Kathy Dempsey said, “Every time this issue has been brought to a statewide vote, the people have upheld traditional marriage.” Opponents are confident that they will obtain the roughly 55,000 signatures needed to place it on the ballot.

The passage of the Civil Marriage Protection Act came on the heels of Governor Chris Christie’s February 17, 2012 veto of New Jersey’s marriage equality bill. Governor Christie’s veto came despite the recent repeal of California’s Proposition 8. Like the opponents in Maryland, Christie is calling for a referendum to bring the issue of same-sex marriage to the voters. Maryland Democrats have likened the fight for same-sex marriage to the issue of racial integration.

Issues such as these make it difficult for same sex couples, even in states that recognize their status and allow civil unions or gay marriage, to actually enjoy the rights and benefits to which they are entitled.   Gay couples should be sure to take steps to secure their benefits legally, especially when faced with visiting or even traveling through a state that does not recognize their status and rights. You should seek legal counsel if you are not sure if you have the documents necessary to protect yourself and your partner or spouse in such a situation.