The Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has joined the effort to legalize gay marriage in Maryland.

Marylanders for Marriage Equality announced on Friday that the group had joined its steering committee.

“Having the NAACP on board is a welcome addition to the coalition to win marriage equality in the Free State,” said Sultan Shakir, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality. “The NAACP's long history of working for equality and fairness for all will be instrumental in harnessing the supportive voices in the African-American community and throughout Maryland.”

Baltimore branch NAACP President Tessa Hill-Alston added: “We believe gay and lesbian couples have the same values as everyone else. They want to make a lifetime commitment to the person they love and build a loving, stable family. So it is only right that committed gay and lesbian couples be given the same opportunity to marry as everyone else.”

The announcement comes 2 days after Governor Martin O'Malley was recognized at a fundraiser for his support of marriage equality. O'Malley has pledged to sponsor a gay marriage bill during next year's legislative session, which begins in January.

While NAACP officials are increasingly supportive of gay rights, the issue of marriage has deeply divided the civil rights group. A vocal opponent of marriage equality in Iowa is the Rev. Keith Ratliff, the pastor of Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church in Des Moines and the president of the Iowa-Nebraska chapter of the NAACP.

In March, Ratliff claimed that gay rights advocates had “hijacked” the civil rights debate.

“For deviant behavior is not the same thing as being denied the right to vote because of the color of one's skin,” Ratliff said. “For deviant behavior is not the same thing as being denied where one may sit on a bus.”

“What an insult to the civil rights movement.”