More Than The White House – The 4 States

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.)

Washington: The state legislature legalized it this year, the referendum is to uphold that legislative action.  The latest polls have it up 56% to 38% .  (18 point lead)

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.

Iowa Decision

***UPDATE x 3:  Two minute explanation of the Iowa ruling on Equal Protection grounds….  

Essentially, the court decided that gay and lesbians were a category that required “intermediate” scrutiny.  That means that the state had a heightened burden of proving that the ban on same-sex marriage clearly advanced an important government interest.  In this case, the court decided that the state’s reasons for the ban (tradition, more procreation among heterosexual couples, optimal raising of children, saving state resources, and religious objections) were not actually advanced by the ban on same-sex marriage.  In other words, the court said, “Those are all good things that the government has a right to pursue, but the ban on gay marriage doesn’t actually improve any of those interests.”

As a side note, the US Supreme Court has historically NOT found that gays and lesbians as a category required ‘intermediate’ scrutiny’ only ‘rational scrutiny.’  Thus, the US Supreme Court would likely say, “Those are all good things that the government has a right to pursue, and since denying gays marriage rights might help those interest even just a little bit, we will uphold the ban.”

Mini-Constitutional Law class dismissed.

***UPDATE x 2: From the opinion’s conclusion…

“We are firmly convinced that the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the instituion of civil marriage does not substantially further any important government objective. […] To decide otherwise would be an abdication of our constitutional duty.”

***UPDATE: I forgot to mention that the Supreme Court decision was unanimous. That’s more good news.


The Iowa Supreme Court has just released its ruling: Denying same-sex couples the right to marry violates the state’s Equal Protection Clause.

The Summary of the opinion can be found HERE.

I may write more later.  But, for those who only read the bolded parts of any post: This is great news.