Debate on Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's plan to make Maryland the next state to legalize gay marriage began in the House on Friday.

Two panels were expected to hold a public hearing on the measure starting at 1PM.

The joint session includes members of the Judiciary Committee and the Health and Government Relations Committee.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch's decision to have the bill heard in two committees could boost its chances of reaching the House floor. The measure last year narrowly managed to clear the Judiciary Committee before it fizzled in the House.

With two panels voting on the bill, a positive outcome in either could be used as justification to send the legislation to the floor.

Also on the agenda is a competing measure that would ban gay marriage in the state. The measure, introduced by Delegate Don Dwyer and titled the Maryland Marriage Protection Act, would define marriage as a heterosexual union in the Maryland Constitution. It has attracted 46 co-sponsors.

Both bills have been jointly assigned to the House.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held a public hearing on the bill on Tuesday, February 1.