The Maryland House of Delegates has passed a bill legalising same-sex marriage that is widely expected to be passed by the state senate and already has the support of the governor Martin O’Malley.

The measure was passed 71-67 in the Democrat led House. “This is the civil rights issue of our generation,” said Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a Democrat from Baltimore. “I’m overwhelmed,” Luke Clippinger is one of the seven openly gay members of the Maryland House quoted by the New York Times. “My voice is still breaking.”

Anthony O’Donnell, the Republican minority leader said the vote is just the “beginning a process, not ending a process. The citizens of Maryland will have the final say.”

Earlier this month, a 14-year-old girl pleaded for gay marriage to be banned “for my birthday”.

Earlier this week, Washington state’s governor signed gay marriage into law.

Maryland’s Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley actually introduced a gay marriage bill himself. He had campaigned in 2010 to secure his second term promise to work toward enacting marriage equality while in office.

A similar attempt in 2011 failed to pass through the state legislature, but attempts to introduce a constitutional ban on gay marriage have also failed.

The new bill is reported to contain carefully-worded protections for religious bodies who do not want to conduct marriage ceremonies between gay couples.

In September of last year, warned that it will be a long fight to win full gay marriage rights with the same legal status as straight married couples but that it is achievable.

Speaking at a fund-raiser for Equality Maryland he said: “This is about making sure that every family in Maryland is able to raise their children in a loving and stable home, a home that is respected equally under the law.”

He added that he is “committed to expanding that circle of inclusion into those core fundamental beliefs that unite us as a people.”

“Even people that do not yet agree with us on this issue, there’s a lot of goodness in each and every individual, and we need to engage in that goodness. We need to call people to that goodness. We need to call people together in the centre of that circle that makes us a great state — that makes us a great country — because we believe in the dignity of every individual, and we believe in the advancement of the greater good.”