Sally Wall and Pat Montley

Sally Wall, left, and Pat Montley, who have been together for 33 years, were married in Canada. They can now legally wed in Maryland after voters upheld the Civil Marriage Protection Act. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun / November 6, 2012)

Amid the cheers of President Barack Obama's victory rally in Chicago, Keesha Patterson reached into her bag for a tiny box, dropped to one knee, turned to her girlfriend of 11 years and told her, in front of everyone, how much she loved her and wanted to marry her.

Word that Maryland's Question 6 had passed had just flashed on the screen, and Patterson, who grew up in Baltimore's McCulloh Homes and now lives in Prince George's County, knew the moment was right.

"I just took a deep breath, and I looked at her and I said, 'I'm going to do it,'" Patterson said.

Patterson, a community college instructor, and her fiancee, Rowan Ha, a network engineer, haven't yet had a chance to dream through the details of their wedding. Just that it will be next year and, thanks to the passage of a ballot measure that makes same-sex unions legal in Maryland, that it will take place in their home state.

If Tuesday was a day of white-knuckled worry for gay and lesbian Marylanders and their friends and relatives as they waited to see whether the voters would approve same-sex marriage, Wednesday was a day to celebrate — and to plan.

"It's real now," said Andy Wolt, 26, a NASA employee. "I've been ecstatic all day. I feel like I just got engaged again."

On the first of the year, Maryland will extend the benefits of marriage to the state's estimated 12,500 same-sex couples. Voters in Maine approved a similar law Tuesday, joining the District of Columbia and six other states that already offer full marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Making arrangements

Wolt and his fiance, Leslie Somerville, 30, have been thinking about a wedding since Somerville proposed to Wolt in the couple's Mount Vernon apartment last December.

Somerville, an author, was laid up with a winter cold, when Wolt asked him if there was anything he could do to make him feel better. Somerville handed him a small box and said, "It would totally make me feel better if you married me."

Since then, the couple has been looking at potential wedding sites in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriage has been legal for more than two years.

"If it wasn't going to pass in Maryland, we would have moved to D.C.," Wolt said. "We want to get married where we live, and we didn't want to get married in a place that didn't treat us equally."

Now the couple is prepared to put a deposit on their dream venue — the mansion at Druid Hill Park. But, if they are unable to secure the date of their choice, they have no shortage of options in the Baltimore area.

Visit Baltimore, the city's tourism wing, lost no time in posting a guide to venues and hotels eager to help gay and lesbian couples plan their weddings. A private company has set up a directory of florists, caterers and officiants who want to work on same same-sex ceremonies, an industry with potential — New York City, for instance, reported $259 million in economic impact from its first year of gay nuptials.

Some couples from neighboring states are already making plans to wed in Maryland. Stephen Smith, 34, and his partner of 15 years, Matt Conner, 42, live in Arlington, Va., but hope to marry in Maryland in June.

The couple, both actors, met at an audition for a musical while in college.

"That moment when you tingle all over and you feel, 'I'm supposed to be with this person'" said Smith, describing the meeting. "It's real."

Smith and Conner had been planning to marry in Washington. But they would rather celebrate in the country, with their pug, Buddha, in attendance, so they are now hoping to have the ceremony at a friend's home in the Maryland countryside. Friends contacted them after the votes were totaled, offering to host the wedding celebration.

'A profound feeling'