Earlier Friday night, the Maryland House of Delegates approved the legal recognition of gay marriage. Next week, the measure moves to the Senate, where it cleared the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee late last month. It’s expected to be signed into law by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. Once this happens, Maryland will go down in history for being the eighth state in the United States to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

It was a close vote, with the final tally finishing at 71-67, with the minimum number of votes needed for passage.

The Los Angeles Times reports that “in debate before the vote, Delegate Anne Kaiser, one of seven openly gay members of the House, said that she wanted, ‘Marriage. Nothing more. Nothing less.’”

“Today’s vote is a huge step forward for all of us working to make marriage equality a reality in Maryland,” said Sultan Shakir, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition. “There’s a lot of work left to do, but momentum continues to grow–and quickly.”

If enacted, the law would come into force in January 2013. But opponents of the bill have until June 1 to collect 55,736 signatures to trigger a referendum on it. Voters would then get to have their say in November.

“History was made today,” said Melissa Goemann, legislative director of ACLU of Maryland. “Delegates protected religious liberty while allowing for equal protection under the law for same-sex couples and their families.”

“Committed gay and lesbian couples and their children are on the road to being protected equally under the law due to the efforts of the House today,” said Kate Planco-Waybright, interim executive director of Progressive Maryland.