Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch speaks in front of Gov. Martin O'Malley at a news conference before the opening of a special session on congressional redistricting in Annapolis in October. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Busch (D-Anne Arundel) came to support that position during last year’s debate on the issue, but Tuesday’s prayer breakfast in Annapolis marked the first time he has spoken out as forcefully in such a setting.

This year’s debate over legalizing same-sex marriage is set to begin in earnest Tuesday afternoon at a Senate hearing. Same-sex marriage legislation passed that chamber last year but fell short in the House of Delegates. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is sponsoring a reworked bill this year.

“I think I reflect a lot of people who have come a long way on the issue,” Busch said, referring to his previous support of existing Maryland law, which later gave way to favoring civil unions as a middle ground.

Busch told the crowd of about 100 that several colleagues convinced him last year that civil unions “do not provide equal rights under the law.”

“Our government is based on equity and equality for everyone,” he told the gathering, organized by Marylanders for Marriage Equality.

Speaking of gay couples who want to marry, Busch said: “They should have the same rights — and let me say this, responsibilities — as everyone else.”

Busch relayed his experiences growing up in a segregated Annapolis and later championing civil rights while a student at Temple University in Philadelphia.

“I was a child of the ‘60s,” he said, drawing a parallel between issues of racial and gender equality then with same-sex marriage now.

“This is clearly an issue of civil rights,” Busch said. “I firmly believe that.”

He asked the clergy for their help in convincing delegates that the same-sex marriage bill does not infringe on the rights of religious groups that oppose gay unions.

Busch predicted the vote in his chamber would be “very, very close.”

This post has been updated since it was first published.