After a lengthy battle over same-sex marriage in the US state of Maryland, Governor Martin O’Malley today signed into law the right for same-sex couples to marry.

Clerks can accept applications for marriage licenses from today, however they will not become valid until 1 January 2013, reported The Washington Post. 

Governor O’Malley, who signed the paperwork legalising equal marriage for the second time, today, wrote on his Facebook:

“It’s official! Courthouses can now issue licenses to same-sex couples for January weddings… Today is a big step forward for the dignity of every child’s home.”

A bill to legalise same-sex marriage in Maryland was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in February 2012 and signed into law on 1 March 2012, by Governor Martin O’Malley.

However, opponents of marriage equality successfully gathered signatures to force a referendum on the decision. Question 6, which passed on 6 November, asked voters in the state to either keep or remove the law.

Kim Hinken, 52, the first person to be issued a marriage license at Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, said:

“I never thought that this would happen,” she said. “I really imagined my life as being just with a partner and never having a wife, so to have this day come about and to be a part of it, it means everything to me. It means that finally I can say that I live with my wife and that I’m married. It makes me feel really a part of society.”

Heather Ware and Tiffany DeVore, were the first couple to be issued a license in Allegany County, and Ms Ware said:

“This is more exciting than Christmas… It’s kind of like going Black Friday shopping. We want to be the first.”

Scott Bowling, 41, from Annapolis, was second to Ms Hinken at the Anne Arundel Court to be issued a marriage certificate, and he thanked Governor O’Malley, and lawmakers involved in passing the measure.

“It’s just heart-warming that we stand here today in this chapel where one year ago we would not have been welcomed,” he said.

A lot of couples wanted their certificates in advance, so they could plan New Year’s Eve weddings, and if the licenses are issued far enough in advance to satisfy the state’s 48-hour waiting period, many couples will be eligible to marry at 12:01am on 1 January.

A county in Washington held a lottery earlier this week in order to decide the first ten couples who would be issued marriage licenses at 12.01am this morning, after Governor Chris Gregoire signed equal marriage into law in that state. Extended opening hours were in operation to cope with the extra demand.