Watching the Democratic National Convention, one might think same-sex couples are just an election away from securing civil marriage equality. Almost every speaker positively referred to the right of all Americans to “marry the person they love.” Meanwhile, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is on the U.S. Supreme Court docket this October, and many LGBT politicos expect LGBT equality to be a subject of the presidential debates.
The partisan divide is clear: President Obama supports marriage rights, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney signed the National Organization for Marriage’s pledge to promote a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. But neither candidate has made a strong statement about the marriage initiatives on four state ballots this November. And while a 2011 Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans favor marriage equality, marriage is still considered a matter for states to decide.
Some pundits and LGBT activists are cautiously optimistic that the LGBT community might finally break the long ballot initiative losing streak and win one this November.
“There’s tremendous momentum now for the freedom to marry,” Evan Wolfson, Founder of Freedom to Marry, told Frontiers in August. “The last barrier left is to show that we can win at the ballot in an up or down vote by the majority on the rights of a minority. We’ve come closer and closer to being able to do that, and Freedom to Marry’s top goal for the remainder of 2012 is to win one or more of the ballot measures and overcome that final barrier, take away that last talking point. And that will powerfully say to the [Supreme] Court and to other decision-makers next year—whether in Congress or more state Legislature to come—that the momentum is really in the direction of the freedom to marry, and they need to be on the right side of history and the right side of politics.”
In Maryland (Question 6) and Washington State (R-74), voters are being asked to ratify or reject a law already passed by the state legislatures and signed by the governors. Maine, which had and then repealed marriage equality, faces Question 1, asking voters, "Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?" Minnesota voters are being asked if they want to codify the current marriage ban into a constitutional amendment. The hitch with Minnesota is that the measure must pass by at least 50 percent to win.
Many eyes are focused on Maryland’s Question 6—the state is considered Democratic, Gov. Martin O'Malley has been a strong public advocate and because of NOM’s blatant attempts to pit religious African-Americans against gays. Both sides have held widely covered news conferences with black clergy—the MD4Equality campaign featured MSNBC TV host Rev. Al Sharpton.
“NOM is engaged in a dangerous, divisive strategy to turn oppressed groups against each other,” NAACP President Ben Jealous told The Advocate. “They will ultimately fail, but it’s going to be a fight. They’re taking a playbook from George W. Bush in 2004 and seeking to use marriage equality as a wedge issue. What they’re not counting on is that both black and LGBT organizations learned lessons from 2004 that we’re simply not going to allow to be repeated easily.”
NOM is working hard to win. For instance, they recently gave $250,000 to Preserve Marriage Washington for their “Reject 74” campaign.
Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. O’Malley is among those working hard to raise money for equality—including speaking at an MD4Equality fundraiser in New York featuring pro-equality Republicans. On a recent conference call with LGBT reporters, he said the campaign urgently needs $2 million for ads in October.
“[Question 6] is keeping with the character of our state. It will protect rights equally under the law while protecting religious liberty,” O’Malley said. “That’s why our state was founded to begin with, but we do need to raise money here. We do need to raise another couple of million dollars, and if we’re able to do that, I believe that we will pass this. And raising those dollars is critically important for our ability to be able to defend this at the ballot.”
On Oct. 7, Freedom to Marry is holding its National Engagement Party fundraiser in Los Angeles to benefit its Win More States campaign—a fund to provide money and resources to the four state initiatives. (For more information, contact Laura Booth at (315) 207-3984 or email@example.com.)
Additionally, Freedom to Marry, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Equality California have a “United for Marriage” campaign encouraging people to take a “volunteer vacation” to help win marriage in these states—or help from home by contributing frequent flier miles (go to unitedformarriage.org/our-friends/eqca). Could a win be a tipping point for equality?
Marylanders for Marriage Equality Update
Minnesotans United for all Families Update
Washington United for Marriage Update
Mainers United for Marriage Update