Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley on Wednesday called on lawmakers to approve a gay marriage bill.

The measure, which O'Malley introduced last month, had its first public hearing on Tuesday.

In his sixth State of the State address on Wednesday afternoon at the Maryland State House in Annapolis, O'Malley reiterated his support for making Maryland the seventh state to legalize gay marriage.

“The very reason our state was founded was for religious freedom – and at the heart of religious freedom is respect for the freedom of individual conscience,” O'Malley told colleagues.

“The way forward, the way to sustain and enhance our common life together, is equal respect for the freedom of all. We all want the same thing for our children; we want our children to live in a loving, caring, committed, and stable home protected equally under the law.”

“It is not right or just that the children of gay couples should have lesser protections than the children of other families in our State. Nor would it be right to force religious institutions to conduct marriages that conflict with their own religious beliefs and teachings.”

“In Maryland, we already recognize civil marriages performed in other states and just over our border in the District of Columbia. It is time to join with clergy, faith-based organizations, civil rights organizations, community leaders, and individuals across our State to pass a civil marriage law that protects religious freedom and civil marriage rights equally.”