Darlene Huntress, Equality Maine’s public policy director, on the night in 2009 the state’s voters repealed its new marriage equality law. | FLY ON THE WALL PRODUCTIONS
Four weeks from today, voters in four states will go to the polls to cast their ballots on referendums involving the right of same-sex couples to marry. In Maryland and Washington, our friends are trying to hold off efforts to repeal marriage equality laws approved earlier this year by their legislatures and governors. In Maine, the LGBT community is going back to the polls to reverse a repeal referendum from November 2009 that voided the gay marriage law adopted there earlier that year (see related story on page 34). And in Minnesota, where gay marriage is already outlawed, voters are being asked if they wish to enshrine that discrimination in the State Constitution, as has been done in dozens of other states.
We must win these battles on November 6 if we wish to advance the gains we have won in New York elsewhere –– including, critically, at the federal government level.
Our community has never won a referendum on this issue. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a strong supporter of the new law in his state, was in New York recently to help raise funds to beat back the repeal referendum. He told Gay City News, “We need to be able to show we can win at the ballot box.”
The issue is not merely a matter of adding up to three new states to a roster that includes six plus the District of Columbia that already offer residents equal marriage rights. It is also an issue of showing the US Supreme Court, which will almost certainly take up challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act and perhaps also the Proposition 8 litigation in its term that began this month, that a new consensus is emerging in the US in support of full equality.
Courts rarely move too far ahead of public opinion. Even though polling in recent years has shown strong growth in support for equal marriage rights, O’Malley’s challenge is a critical one. It is worth remembering that in 1986, more than half of the states still had sodomy laws on the books. That year, the Supreme Court upheld Georgia’s statute that narrowly targeted gay sex in an opinion brimming with contempt for the LGBT community. Seventeen years later, when only 13 states still had such laws, the high court overturned the 1986 ruling, stating it had been wrongly decided in the first place.
Recent public opinion polls in Maryland, Maine, and Washington suggest cause for optimism that we might prevail in all three, while in Minnesota, where we are simply asking that voters not double-down on discrimination already in place, the contest is disturbingly tight. Still, as marriage advocates in Maine can attest from their 2009 experience, positive polls pre-election do not always make for happy results. Jesse Connolly, who led the fight against repeal there that year, said he could only conclude that some people polled had simply lied.
We can’t take anything for granted. Reach into your pockets and support the efforts, or contact the groups fighting for our rights to see if there is another way you can help out.
In Maryland, the fight is being waged by Marylanders for Marriage Equality and Equality Maryland. Visit marylandersformarriageequality.org.
In Washington, our side is under the leadership of Washington United for Marriage and Equal Rights Washington. Visit washingtonunitedformarriage.org.
In Minnesota, you can join the fight against a constitutional amendment, led by Minnesotans United for All Families and OutFront Minnesota, by visiting mnunited.org.
And to learn more about the fight for marriage equality nationwide and get the latest updates, visit Freedom to Marry at freedomtomarry.org.