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The best argument for marriage equality is always on display whenever a new state legalizes same-sex marriage. Teary-eyed, long-term couples wait in line to receive what many heterosexuals take for granted — state sanction of the relationship, a public recognition of their commitment, the right to be a family.

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, Maryland became the first state south of the Mason-Dixon line to legalize gay marriage. Across the state, couples who have often have spent decades together took their first opportunity to wed.

Baltimore’s mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spent her the first midnight of 2013 officiating at the wedding of her office manager James Scales, who married William  Tasker, his partner of 35 years.

“It just means a lot to be able to spend the rest of our lives together, and legally,” Scales said.

Despite its legacy of connection with the Catholic Church, which still vigorously opposes same-sex marriage, Maryland become one of the first three states to approve marriage equality on November 6. That vote came after a long legislative battle that saw the equality law signed by Governor Martin O’Malley challenged by opponents demanding a ballot measure.

Nine states now allow same-sex marriage, though the Defense of Marriage Act still prohibits same-sex couples from enjoying many of the federal benefits of marriage. The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to DOMA along with a challenge to California’s ballot measure Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage in the state, in its next session.

“I think it’s a great sign when you see that popular opinion is now in favor of this,” said Brigitte Ronnett, 51, who married Lisa Walther, 51, at City Hall.

Public opinion about same-sex unions has changed rapidly since 2004, when Republicans used opposition to it as way to draw fundamentalists to the polls with a series of ballot measures. A majority of Americans say they approve of the unions and among young people, support for expanding the definition of marriage is well over 60 percent.

When President Obama spoke out in favor of same-sex marriage early in 2012, the decision seemed controversial, especially as a measure banning the institution had just easily passed in swing state North Carolina. Now it seems his “evolution” closely tracks that of the American public.

“Twenty years ago, we probably would have said, ‘No, it will never happen,'” said Walther.

“We already took a 20-year anniversary before we ever took a honeymoon,” Ronnett said. “We’ll have to think of another trip.”

Photo credit: Patrick Semansky

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