Gay Marriage is on the agenda as Maryland's 2011 legislative session opened on Wednesday.

The odds that Maryland will become the next state to legalize gay marriage have increased significantly with the Democratic pickup of two Senate seats on November 2 and a shift in committee memberships.

Previous attempts to legalize gay unions have suffered setbacks in the Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee, but new assignments have boosted the number of supporters on the 11-member panel to six, paving the way for such a bill to reach the Democrat-controlled Senate floor.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat who opposes gay marriage, signed off on the committee assignments.

“I believe every important issue should be voted on by the full chamber at least once,” he told the Washington Post.

Senator Richard S. Madaleno, an openly gay Democrat who has sponsored gay marriage legislation and plans to push for its approval in this session, hailed the changes.

“I could not have hoped for a better result,” he told the paper. “You can see a real path to enacting this legislation.”

Governor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, has pledged to sign a gay marriage bill into law if approved by lawmakers.

National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown suggested that backers were feeling the heat from a recent string of GOP gains that have ushered new talk of banning – or repealing – gay marriage in New Hampshire, New Mexico, Iowa, Minnesota and Wyoming.

“I think supporters of redefining marriage are looking [at] any place they can gain ground,” he told the Christian Post.

Brown also vowed to work to repeal the law if approved.

“In every state where the people had the chance to vote, in both deep blue and deep red states, they have voted against same-sex marriage,” he said.

Gay marriage is legal in five states – Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont – and the District of Columbia.

Legislation that would legalize gay marriage has already been introduced in Rhode Island. Hawaii lawmakers are set to consider civil unions.