Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks during a television interview on the opening day of the 2012 legislative session in Annapolis. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

The hearing will be the first airing in the General Assembly of O’Malley’s bill, which he has sought to portray as balancing marital rights for gay couples with religious freedoms.

Spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said O’Malley made the request to appear in person to speak about the legislation.

“He’s done this before on bills that are important to him,” Guillory said.

The Senate passed a similar same-sex marriage bill last year that fell short in the House of Delegates. Bill supporters say they are hopeful that a more direct role by O’Malley this year will make a difference.

Tuesday’s hearing comes as a new Washington Post poll shows half of Marylanders now support same-sex marriage, but support varies significantly along the sensitive lines of race, religion and age.