Gay rights groups on Thursday cheered passage of a gay marriage bill in the Maryland Senate.

State senators approved Governor Martin O'Malley's plan to make Maryland the eighth state to legalize gay marriage after debating the bill for roughly two hours. The measure now heads to the governor's desk for his signature.

Joe Solmonese, the outgoing president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), called the vote a giant step forward.

“We are in this position due to the unwavering leadership and resolve of Governor O’Malley and our legislative allies, particularly Sens. Rich Madaleno, Jamie Raskin, Rob Garagiola, and Brian Frosh,” Solmonese said.

“Since Governor O'Malley has championed this bill and already said he will sign the bill into law, today's historic vote means marriage equality in Maryland!” said Stuart Gaffney, Marriage Equality USA Media Director. “We are encouraged by reports that former Vice President Dick Cheney made calls to lobby Maryland legislators to support the bill. Supporting his lesbian daughter Mary illustrates the true meaning of family values across party lines.”

The American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the group challenging the constitutionality of California's gay marriage ban, Proposition 8, also applauded the move.

“Today's vote by the Maryland General Assembly shows that the momentum toward marriage equality is unstoppable. Generations of Americans will applaud Governor Martin O’Malley and the bipartisan coalition of Maryland lawmakers for joining the courts and legislatures nationwide in defending the fundamental freedom to marry for all.”