A Maryland State delegate has filed a referendum petition with the state board of elections that would allow voters to decide the issue of gay marriage in November.
Delegate Neil Parrott filed a draft of how the referendum should read on Friday, one day after the Senate approved the bill passed by the House last week. Gov. Martin O'Malley is expected to sign the bill on Thursday in a formal ceremony.
But same-sex marriage advocates are vowing to fight hard if the issue makes the November ballot.
Kevin Nix with Marylanders for Marriage Equality, a coalition of various groups that include labor unions, branches of the NAACP, the ACLU, Equality Maryland and others, says they expect the referendum to make it on the ballot, but will be advocating a message about families.
"Our goal will be to keep the conversation going about how the same-sex marriage law strengthens families," Nix told The Christian Post. "I believe the language in the bill is quite clear; the bill is about protecting religious liberty."
In order to get the issue before the voters, the referendum will need to jump over a few hurdles, although both sides are confident the issue will appear on the November ballot.
First, a state board will have a week to consider the language and then approve. Then, Parrott and his allies must collect around 56,000 signatures before the measure can be placed in front of the voters. A simple majority is all that's needed for passage.
Yet between the time when the referendum is placed on the ballot and when the vote is taken, gay activists and Gov. O'Malley will clash with some black clergy and other proponents of traditional marriage in what will most likely be an even harder and more contentious battle than the vote taken in the legislature.
Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., senior pastor of Hope Christian Church and an outspoken critic of gay marriage, said he would vigorously work to pass a voter referendum banning same-sex marriage if it makes it on the ballot.
"I wouldn't sign it if I didn't believe in it," he told The Washington Post.
State Sen. E.J. Pipkin (Upper Shore), the chamber's Republican leader, thinks if placed on the ballot, gay marriage will be rejected in Maryland. "No state that's put this on referendum has passed it," Pipkin told the Star Democrat. "And so I think the discussions continue."
Pipkin is basing his comments on the fact that 31 states have successfully passed ballot initiatives when the issue of traditional marriage has been on state ballots.
So far this year, both North Carolina and Minnesota voters will be voting on constitutional amendments that will decide the future of same-sex marriage this November.
Not surprisingly, activists on both sides and in both states say they are poised to win the issue.