Opponents and supporters of a gay marriage bill on Tuesday packed a Maryland Senate committee hearing on Tuesday.

The Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing held this year's first public debate on the measure which seeks to make Maryland the seventh state to legalize gay marriage.

The committee's first speaker was Governor Martin O'Malley, who introduced the bill last week.

O'Malley argued that his bill was necessary to ensure the children of gay couples are protected.

“We all want the same thing for our children – the opportunity to live in loving, caring, committed and stable homes protected equally under the law,” O'Malley testified. “It's not right and it is not just that the children of gay couples should have lesser protections than the children of other families in our state.”

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake told the panel that the measure was about civil rights: “All couples, regardless of sexual orientation, deserve the same legal protection and rights under the law.

The measure is expected to face few obstacles clearing the committee or the full Senate, which approved a similar bill last year. However, the bill lost in the House of Delegates – a loss which supporters hope not to repeat this year.

One opponent of the measure testified that its religious exemptions were flawed because they did not extend to private businesses and individuals. Another objected to marriage equality because science has yet to determine whether sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic and used recent comments by actress Cynthia Nixon to back up her claim.

A vote on the measure is expected within the next two weeks.