Maryland has become the eighth state in the union to agree to allow gay couples to marry.

Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley signed the equal marriage bill into law last night saying “We are one Maryland”.

It will take effect in 2013. Washington state’s equal marriage laws passed earlier this year are scheduled to come into effect this summer.

O’Malley said: “For a free and diverse people, for a people of many faiths, for a people committed to the principle of religious freedom, the way forward is always found for the greater respect of the equal rights of all, for the human dignity of all.”

He added: “We are one Maryland and all of us, at the end of the day, want the same thing for our children. We want them to live in a loving, caring and committed home that is protected equally under the law.”

Efforts are, however, being made to collect over 50,000 signatures necessary to put the issue to a public vote in a similar manner to California’s Proposition 8 in the hope that the law could be reversed.

Proposition 8 was the result of a court ruling that a ban on same-sex marriages was illegal, rather than a proactive legislative effort as was the case in Maryland.

The bill passed narrowly in a 25-22 vote in the state senate last week. It was approved by the House of Delegates by 71 votes to 67.

It is reported to contain protection for religious bodies who do not want to conduct marriage ceremonies between gay couples.

Maryland and Washington join Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York and the District of Columbia in allowing gays to marry.

One of the more unusual elements of the gay marriage debate in Maryland’s state legislature was 14-year-old Sarah Crank’s birthday wish. She appeared before a legislative committee and asked them to maintain the ban on gay marriages as a present to her.

Crank told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee: “I really feel bad for the kids who have two parents of the same gender. Even though some kids feel like it’s fine, they have no idea what kind of wonderful experiences they miss out on.

“I don’t want any more kids to get confused about what’s right and OK.

“I really don’t want to grow up in a world where marriage isn’t such a special thing any more. It’s rather scary to think that when I grow up the legislator or the court can change the definition of any word they want.”

The young girl’s request was not granted.