Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) said Sunday that his wife feels “very badly” for having characterized same-sex marriage opponents as “cowards” and said that both he and the first lady plan to engage offended lawmakers on the issue in coming days.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) walks through a doorway to an outdoor news conference to announce his support of a same-sex marriage bill in Annapolis last week. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The governor spoke to reporters following an address to more than 1,000 attendees at the 24th National Conference on LGBT Equality, a gathering of gay-rights advocates in Baltimore.

Catherine Curran O’Malley’s controversial comment came at the same conference, during welcoming remarks on Thursday. The first lady, who is a district court judge in Baltimore, blamed the demise of a same-sex marriage bill in the General Assembly last year on “some cowards that prevented it from passing.”

During his speech Sunday, the governor vowed to work to pass a similar bill during the legislature’s current 90-day session, as well as to support separate legislation that provides additional anti-discrimination protections for transgender people. Both issues, he said, advance “the dignity of every individual.”

In his remarks, O’Malley made a veiled reference to the episode involving his wife, cautioning against using “words of hurt rather than words of healing” when advocating for issues such as same-sex marriage.

“We must choose laws and we choose words of compassion, understanding and justice,” the governor said.

Afterward, he confirmed to reporters that he was alluding to his wife’s comments from a few days before.

“I love my wife very, very much, and for the last 20 years, she has done the very difficult job of balancing a host of responsibilities and done it very, very well,” O’Malley said.

The controversy over the first lady’s remarks comes at a delicate time for the governor’s attempt to pass a same-sex marriage bill.

A Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday. Monday night, a group of lawmakers and religious leaders opposed to the bill plan to rally in Annapolis outside the State House.