November 6th is about much more than who will be the next President. And I don’t just mean that control of the House and Senate are up for grabs.
There are FOUR states where equal marriage rights for gay couples will be on the ballot: Maine, Washington, Minnesota, & Maryland. For those that care about this issue, these votes are a big deal. Here’s why: On 32 occasions some sort of gay marriage measure has been voted on by a state. On 32 occasions the public has spurned equal marriage rights. In other words, marriage equality proponents have never won. For all the talk about our progress on this issue, that is the sober reality.
I find these state referendums to be a bit bizarre. When the gay marriage debate takes place in a legislature or court, the “rules” of the debate are clear. The discussion focuses on the role of government or specific constitutional/statutory interpretation.
But statewide referendum are personal–its hard to get nuanced arguments when your neighbors are literally voting on whether you should have the same rights as they do. That is why these losses are tough to take.
But we’ve got a REAL shot at winning some or, dare I say, all of these 4 contests. Here’s the two sentence summary of the situation in each state:
Maine: There is a ballot initiative to allow gay marriage in the state. The latest polls: 52% support, 44% opposed, and 4% undecided. (8 point lead)
Maryland: A ballot initiative to keep same-sex marriage following the legislature passing a bill allowing it. The latest poll has supporters at 51% and opponents at 43%. (8 point lead)
Minnesota: A constitutional amendment to permanently ban gay marriage (i.e. no marriage equality even if we win). The latest polls show 48% support the amendment, 47% oppose (1 point behind). However, the only saving grace here is that to pass the amendment, gay marriage opponents must get 50% of the total vote (aka, people who skip that question are counted as a ‘no’ vote.)
All of that seems good, right? Well, kind of.
Here’s the reality: polls always over-estimate gay marriage support by 5-8%, particularly in state referendums. That is because it is unfashionable to be against gay marriage publicly–so people lie to pollsters. When voting in secret, many have less problem denying rights to their neighbors. For example, the exact same measure was on the ballot in Maine last time around. The polling showed the exact same break-down before the election (us winning by 5-8%)…but, come election day, we lost.
The bottom line: if you know ANYONE in these states or your live in these states, PLEASE do something to help the cause. I live in Virginia, a state you may remember as the defendant in the 1969 case fighting to keep interracial couples from marrying. To be honest, the only shot we have of equal rights in the next decade in Virginia is court intervention. But it is important to remember the immense benefit of more states allowing marriage equality.
The main arguments against equality are claims about the bad things that will happen to children or other couples as a result of gay people being allowed to join the important institution. The best way to support our argument is simple: allow more gay people to marry and vividly demonstrate that those marriages strengthen the community, not weaken it.