Gay rights groups on Thursday cheered Maryland becoming the eighth state to legalize gay marriage.

Governor Martin O'Malley signed a gay marriage bill into law during a signing ceremony surrounded by supporters in Annapolis.

O'Malley, who championed the bill as it made its way through the General Assembly, said that “the way forward is always greater respect for equal rights for all” and reiterated that all Marylanders want their children to be “protected equally under the law.”

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, noted increasing gains for marriage equality in applauding Maryland.

“There is no doubt that 2012 is off to a firecracker start when it comes to tipping the scales in favor of full equality for our relationships and a future where the promise of justice for all is realized. Governor Martin O'Malley, like Washington Governor Chris Gregoire last month, has distinguished himself as a political leader who takes seriously his oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. We know we have farther to go before every LGBT person can live fully and freely, but today in Maryland our brothers and sisters can rest easier, knowing that their families are recognized and secure under the law.”

“Step by step, we continue to draw closer to full equality for every American,” said Mike Thompson, Acting President of GLAAD. “Today's historic bill signing reflects the opinion of a growing majority of Americans who – regardless of race, political affiliation and religion – believe that every committed couple should be able to marry the person they love.”

Thompson also made reference to an effort to repeal the law: “Though opponents have already taken measures to deprive gay and lesbian Marylanders of the vital protections that only marriage can afford, we remain confident that, if asked, voters will echo Governor O'Malley's support for full equality”