The ruling Tuesday by an appeals panel in San Francisco has no immediate bearing on Maryland law, but it comes as O’Malley is pushing a bill during the 90-day legislative session to legalize gay nuptials in his state.
“I think there are some who, even given their opposition today, understand that over the long term, the principle of equality, of civil rights, will ultimately prevail,” O’Malley said of Maryland lawmakers.
The ruling could be “further evidence of that understanding,” he said.
By most accounts, O’Malley remains several votes short of what he needs to pass a bill in the Maryland House of Delegates.
O’Malley was addressing a group of students at the University of Baltimore School of Law when news broke Tuesday of the 2-to-1 ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Well, that’s an important ruling,” O’Malley said after a student informed him it had been made public.
Tuesday’s ruling overturned California’s Proposition 8, which was approved by 52 percent of the state’s voters in 2008 and amended the state’s constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman.
Opponents of same-sex marriage have the option of appealing Tuesday’s decision to the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit or taking it directly to the Supreme Court, which has never ruled on the matter.
Maryland passed a law in 1973 limiting marriage to a man and a woman.
Former Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran (D), who is O’Malley’s father-in-law and appeared with him at the law school Tuesday, told students that Maryland’s marriage statute was hardly controversial when it was adopted.
Curran was a state senator at the time and served as chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which had jurisdiction over the bill.
Curran said he had no recollection of the hearing on the bill, while he “remembers vividly” debates over hot-button issues such as abortion, civil rights and gun rights.
“That was the climate then,” Curran said.
O’Malley shared with students that his view of the issue had evolved in recent years from backing civil unions as a compromise to supporting “civil marriage.”
O’Malley said public acceptance of same-sex marriage has grown faster than he envisioned and that he came to conclude that offering civil unions to gay couples amounts to a “separate-but-equal” system.
That, he told students, is “an approach that in our fullness of history has never stood the test of time.”
Staff writer Robert Barnes contributed to this report.