Marriage Faces Tough Ballot Test in Four States

The race for the White House is starting to occupy the thoughts of many Americans now that the Republican and Democratic conventions are getting underway. But for voters in four key states, the issue of whether to allow same-sex marriages will also be front and center. So far, supporters of traditional marriage are 32-0 versus proponents of same-sex marriage when the issue is placed on the ballot for voters to decide.

Here is a roundup of where things stand so far in four states.

Washington State

What is known as Referendum 74 will give voters the opportunity to undo what the state legislature and Gov. Chris Gregoire did earlier this year when they passed and signed a new law legalizing same-sex marriage in the northwestern state. Implementation of the law was halted in June after Preserve Marriage Washington turned in petitions with almost twice the required number to force the issue to a vote.

However, the issue may face a tougher test here because wealthy businesspeople such as Bill Gates and others have given millions to Washington United for Marriage, which is the group that supports redefining the definition of marriage to include same-sex marriage.

Fundraising totals are not even close with supporters of same-sex marriage – who are seeking to defeat the referendum – outraising traditional marriage advocates by a ratio of 13-1. As of last week, Washington United for Marriage had over $6 million in the bank while Preserve Marriage Washington had only raised $438,000 of their $4 million goal.

But while money is important in getting the message to the right voters, so is strategy, say consultants on both sides of the issue. The National Organization for Marriage is expected to drop money into the state but they have also retained strategist Frank Schubert, a Sacramento-based consultant who has won a number of marriage votes in several states, including California. Apparently, his critics take his involvement very seriously.

"They are up against the best in the business," American Association of Political Consultants President Dale Emmons told The Seattle Times.

Preserve Marriage has divided the state into 14 regions and has a chairperson for each. They are preparing to launch an aggressive grassroots campaign.

Initial polling on the issue indicated it would be a close election.


Proponents on both sides of the issue recently squared off at the Minnesota State Fair and from all indications, the issue will be hotly contested in the upper midwest too. Similar to ballot initiatives in other states, the amendment before the voters would define marriage as between one man and one woman.

State law already prohibits same-sex marriage, but a constitutional change would mean the law could not be changed without changing the state's constitution which is much more difficult and time consuming.

Minnesota for Marriage is the group hoping to pass the amendment and they set up a booth at the fair in hopes of informing voters on what the amendment will do. Autumn Leva, a spokesperson for the group, told Minnesota Public Radio that several of the fairgoers are stopping by for information.

"We've been able to address their comments and concerns. It's been great so far!" Leva said.

Like he did in North Carolina, President Obama came out in opposition to Minnesota's marriage amendment and released a statement through a spokesperson that he opposed "discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples."

His efforts had no impact in North Carolina as voters in the Tar Heel state overwhelmingly voted in favor of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

Nonetheless, the Minnesota vote is expected to be close.


Similar to Washington State, Maryland voters are voting on a referendum that would strike down a law passed earlier this year by the legislature and signed by the Democratic governor legalizing same-sex marriage. The vote in the state assembly was close and former Vice President Dick Cheney lobbied Republican legislators to vote in favor of the bill.

However, citizens and pastors led by Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. quickly organized to draft petitions to overturn the law and were successful in obtaining more than enough signatures.

Derek McCoy of Maryland Marriage Alliance is confident the referendum will pass.

"We're confident Maryland voters will overturn the legislature and this is very much a grassroots effort," McCoy told a group of supporters at a press conference earlier this year.

But McCoy is also critical of the NAACP, one of the nation's oldest civil rights groups, for their support of same-sex marriage. The group also came out in support of President Obama when he announced his support of the issue late May.

"Clearly, they're out of step with their constituency and their base," said McCoy.


The situation in Maine is even more unique. In 2009, voters approved a ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in the state. The language on the upcoming November ballot would overturn that measure, thus, creating an avenue to approve same-sex marriage.

Additionally, the language on their ballot will read, "Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?"

Groups that are supporting the ballot language include Equality Maine, ACLU of Maine, Maine Education Association and Catholics for Marriage Equality Maine.

Betsy Smith of Equality Maine argued that there has been a shift in opinions in the state about same-sex marriage: "We've been having conversations with Mainers for the last year and a half, and what we know is that Mainers are changing their minds on this issue," Smith told Mercury News. "We began working for marriage equality in 2009. We want to finish that job."

Yet another issue that Smith argued for was that what are known as "off-year" elections – such as the one in 2009 – tend to attract older, more conservative, diehard voters who dutifully show up whenever there's an election. She also argued that residential elections get much of their results from the younger, more liberal voters who typically vote once every four years.

And similar to Washington State, wealthy business owners such as Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and his partner Sean Eldridge have pledged money to support the ballot measure. According to financial disclosure documents filed on June 1, supporters have raised 36 times the amount of the supporters of traditional marriage, raising $359,000 compared to $10,000 for Mainers United for Marriage.

Marc Mutty, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, stated that voters have already had a say on the matter, commenting in the same Mercury News story, "The people of Maine rejected same-sex marriage in November of 2009 and should not be put through what will likely be another divisive drawn-out campaign. The people of this country have rejected same-sex marriage in all cases in which it has been put on the ballot. There's no reason why we should expect a different outcome this time."

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