Will Maryland Voters be the First to Approve Same-Sex Marriage?

Voters in four states will voice their opinion on same-sex marriage ballot initiatives where recent polls show the public closely split on the issue with Maryland appearing to have the greatest chance of approving the unions.

According to the Associated Press (AP), Marylanders may be the first to approve same-sex marriage at the ballot box. Although this distinction is mostly due to the fact that polls close in Maryland before the other three states considering similar measures, recent polls show a lead for supporters of same-sex marriage in in that state.

However, similar leads have been known to evaporate in the weeks leading up to the election.

This is why Josh Levin, manager of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, says his side is not taking anything for granted.

“We cannot take it for granted,” Levin told the AP. “That being said, if we make it happen in Maryland, the lessons learned here can be applied across the country.”

If Marylanders approve the unions, it would break the 32-state losing streak suffered by proponents since the measure first went before the public in 1998.

The divide among Catholics, the state’s largest denomination, is very obvious with Archbishop William Lori and the Maryland Catholic Conference actively campaigning against same marriage while the state’s Catholic Governor, Martin O’Malley, the man who spearheaded the legalization of the unions in the Maryland legislature, pushing hard for its passage. Joining him is the former Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy.

Aligned with Archbishop Lori’s contingent is the Maryland Marriage Alliance, an organization of black pastors who are also playing a key role in fighting the law. The Rev. Derek McCoy, campaign chairman, told the AP he’s keenly aware of the high stakes.

“Eyes are on us from around the country,” he said. “We have a gargantuan task ahead of us.”

Blacks comprise about 25 percent of Maryland’s electorate and even though polls show an increase in support of same-sex marriage among this demographic, black Christians are predominantly opposed to anything but traditional marriage.

Like Maryland, Maine and Washington are also conducting an up-or-down vote on legalizing same-sex marriage, but in Minnesota, citizens will vote on amending the constitution to ban gay marriage. A recent poll found 49 percent of likely voters supporting the amendment with 47 percent opposing it. But even if the amendment was defeated, it would still require a legislative act, court ruling or future popular vote to legalize same-sex marriage in that state.

Maine’s ballot measure is historic in that it marks the first time same-sex marriage supporters – rather than opponents – chose to bring the issue before voters. This was after opponents managed to stop legislation passed in 2009 that legalized the unions by gathering enough signatures to put the issue on the 2010 ballot where it was ultimately defeated.  Proponents decided to give the voters a second chance in 2012 by arranging for yet another vote on the measure. Recent polls show support for the unions outweighing opposition but both sides agree that turnout will ultimately decide the outcome.

Public polling on Washington state’s measure is also leaning toward approval of the unions, although neither side has a safe margin of victory.

Not surprisingly, millions are pouring into the fight in all four states from both sides of the issue. Groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay activist organization, say they want at least one win so that they can change the very effective dialogue of opponents that same-sex marriage has never prevailed at the ballot box.

“Our opposition uses this talking point with elected officials and in courtrooms,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, to the AP. “If we’re able to win one of these four, it will be a narrative change — proof that the public has moved our way dramatically.”

However, opponents of gay marriage say they expect to be outspent in the four states but are still hopeful that they’ll win.

“We definitely can win all four if we can increase the fundraising,” said Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, which has invested more than $2 million into the campaigns against same-sex marriage in the four states.

“We do have a big hill to climb to be able to effectively communicate our message,” Brown said. “But we don’t need to match the other side – we win repeatedly while being outspent.”

Even if voters in one state do approve the unions, however, opponents will simply craft a new dialogue to assert in the public square.

Strategist Frank Schubert, whose ads supporting traditional marriage were credited as playing a key role in California’s passage of the Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage in 2008, said the upcoming votes will be important because the Supreme Court is expected to take up the question of same-sex marriage soon.

“We don’t want to lose anywhere,” Schubert said. “If one state does go the wrong way, we’ll argue that this is just one of out of 36 … But we’d rather be arguing we’ve won every time it has gone before voters.”

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