Maryland Gov offers insight on marriage campaign

Marylanders for Marriage Equality held a briefing last night with Governor Martin O’Malley on the state of the marriage equality race in Maryland.  Question 6, which is a yes vote for marriage, is polling favorably for marriage equality. The latest public polling putting the state at 54% in favor of marriage equality and 40% opposed.  The opposition, however, claims a much closer race.

On the call, Governor O’Malley and the campaign pointed to the three expected attacks from the opposition – all of which we’ve seen before.

  1. Exploiting racial lines to trying to pit African American voters against gay rights
  2. Creating uncertainty around the true meaning of the ballot language
  3. Using the fear tactic that this means kids will be taught to be gay in school

Polling and Race

The racial dynamic has been one that the campaign, to date, has focused on quite extensively.  Last Friday, the campaign brought together several leading clergy from African American churches, including Al Sharpton for a press conference in support of Question 6.  Additionally, Benjamin Jealous, the president of the NAACP, which is based in Maryland, has been a vocal supporter.Among the most interesting pieces of this race is the impact that President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality had on the role of race in the campaign.  According to a PPP poll, before Obama came out for marriage, African American voters opposed the freedom to marry 56% to 39%.  Over a two-month span that included the Obama announcement, the polls switched to 55% for marriage equality to 36% opposed.  PPP concluded,

“While the media has been focused on what impact President Obama’s announcement will have on his own reelection prospects, the more important fallout may be the impact his position is having on public opinion about same-sex marriage itself.

Maryland voters were already prepared to support marriage equality at the polls this fall even before President Obama’s announcement. But now it appears that passage will come by a much stronger margin.”

We know from NOM’s leaked strategy documents that they will target this community, but polling seems to indicate Obama may have undercut the likely success of such a strategy.  O’Malley also cited a benchmark of needing to win at least 40% of the African American vote to pass the initiative.

Polling Among Republicans and Independents

The campaign reports that they have nearly twice the support among Republican voters that any earlier state has seen.  With 30% of Romney voters reporting that they support Question 6, Campaign Manager Josh Levin argues there has been promising support both among voters and prominent republicans in the state like Ken Mehlman, David Frum, and Walter Olson of the Cato Institute, among others.

Independents are polling close to democrats, according to the campaign.

Ballot Language

The ballot initiative reads that Question 6,

Establishes that Maryland’s civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.

Governor O’Malley and the campaign believe that this language outlining the protections for religious organizations that oppose marriage equality undercuts opposition on the grounds of “religious liberty,” and sees this as a benefit when voters walk into the voting booth.  His central message to voters in his advocacy has been that, “As a people, we can and must protect religious freedom and rights of individuals equally under the law.  No child’s home in Maryland should be protected to a lesser degree under the law.”

My only concern with this ballot language is that it, as has been done in most races before, seems to imply that civil marriage and religious freedoms are fundamentally at odds.  To me, it is important to also emphasize that religious liberty and freedom also extends to churches that seek to perform marriages between gay couples.  I think there is power in the message from clergy that seek to perform these marriages – something that the African American clergy hit on at the Friday press event and something that religious organizations have as a powerful tool.  The campaign also reports the support of several hundred clergy from an array of denominations and faiths.


The campaign says it will likely need another $2 million dollars to air the ads they’d like to see between today and election day.  The race will focus in both the Baltimore media market and the DC media market, the latter being three to four times more expensive than Baltimore.
You can donate to the campaign here.

Born and raised in Maine, Nick Seaver moved to DC to study political communication in 2003. He began writing extensively on LGBT rights during the first ballot initiative in Maine that overturned marriage equality. He writes about a variety of issues, ranging from marriage to issues facing LGBT youth. Follow him on Twitter at @NDSeaver.

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