The comment by O'Malley on WTOP went slightly further than he had previously, and was his most direct public comment on gay marriage during his reelection bid. During his first term, O'Malley has consistently stopped short of endorsing same-sex marriage and said he favors civil unions.
O'Malley's remark came in response to a question from a caller on the station's "Ask the Governor" program about the future of gay marriage in Maryland.
"I don't have a crystal ball to predict how this goes," O'Malley said, "but I do know this: I know the people of our state well enough that for all of the differences and diversities of backgrounds and opinions, that all of us want to find a way to craft our laws in such a way that it treats people equally under the law."
O'Malley said he personally believes that allowing for civil unions would be the best way to reach a compromise in the legislature. But he added that "should the legislature find a way to reach that compromise in another way, I would sign a bill like that ... we need to find a way to support equal rights, and that is true when it comes to committed gay and lesbian couples and the unions in which they choose to enter and raise children and all the issues that go with that."
O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec cast the governor's comments as consistent with previous statements, saying the governor had said he would sign a gay marriage bill if and when it passes.
This year, there were enough votes on the House Judiciary Committee to send the question to the floor for a vote, but the committee chairman, Del. Joseph F. Vallario (D-Prince George's), did not bring the measure up for a vote. House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) does not support it. He favors civil unions and considers marriage the purview of the church. In the Senate, led by longtime President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), lawmakers are traditionally more socially conservative than in the House.
Vallario faces a tough reelection battle, and Busch faces challengers but is widely expected to return as speaker.
O'Malley gave a nod to the changing legislature and recent polling that shows increasing acceptance of gay marriage among Maryland voters.
"I believe the civil unions was the way to go. It could be that public opinion and the opinion of a newly elected legislature will move beyond that and have another bill."
In February, Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler told state agencies to begin granting married same-sex couples from elsewhere the same rights as Maryland's heterosexual couples.
That move touched off a heated debate in the legislature, spawning bills to both legalize gay marriage and to ban it. Several evangelical pastors from predominantly black churches in Baltimore and Prince George's lobbied lawmakers to support a ban, which was never brought to a vote.
A Washington Post poll in May found that Maryland residents are shifting toward a more positive opinion of same-sex marriage. Registered voters now narrowly support a law to allow it.
The poll found that 46 percent overall favored legal same-sex marriage, 44 percent oppose it, and 10 percent have no opinion. Among registered voters, 48 percent are in favor and 43 percent are opposed.
In late 2007, an identical Post poll question found 44 percent in favor overall and 51 percent opposed.
Maryland's move away from a clear majority opposition to same-sex marriage -- and into a nearly equally split electorate -- mirrors national trends. The state's few openly gay lawmakers have said that they would push for a same-sex marriage bill next year.
Former governor Robert L. Ehrlich (R), O'Malley's likely opponent in the November election, has said he considers marriage as solely between a man and a woman.
Oh please please please let O'Malley beat that asshole Ehrlich.