The Maryland Senate on Wednesday gave a gay marriage bill its preliminary okay.

After a short and highly focused debate, senators voted 25 to 22 to advance the bill. A final vote could come as early as Thursday. The House has scheduled a hearing on its version of the bill for Friday.

Republicans offered 11 amendments aimed mostly at strengthening the bill's protections for religious institutions.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who voted against the bill, had scheduled a full day for debate but the vote came shortly before 1PM.

Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs, a Republican, said she expects an anticipated filibuster attempt to fail. Governor Martin O'Malley has pledged to sign the bill into law, which would make Maryland the sixth state to legalize the institution.

Opponents of marriage equality have promised to mount a campaign to repeal the law, if approved by lawmakers.

Over the weekend, the chairman of the Maryland Republican Party mounted a campaign against gay marriage by targeting Democrats who favor its legalization. Alex Mooney's rallying cry, however, excluded Senator Allan H. Kittleman, a Republican from Howard, who has stated he'll vote in favor of the bill.

Also on Wednesday, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed a bill into law that recognizes gay and lesbian couples with civil unions, and President Obama announced he believes the federal gay marriage ban is unconstitutional.