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Four states deciding gay-marriage issues, in different ways

Minnesota ballot
CC/Flickr/bicyclemark
The Minnesota ballot is not the only one in the country with a question for voters about gay marriage.

Minnesota is one of four states where voters next month will be asked to decide ballot questions related to same-sex marriage. This is the only state where voters will be asked to outlaw, not approve, gay marriage.

While the campaigns on both sides in all four states share some strategies, messages, funding sources and, in the case of the anti-gay-marriage efforts, top-level leadership, there are also a number of differences. Most notably: how the issue has made its way to the 2012 ballot.

In the other three states — Maine, Maryland and Washington — the issue is going to voters as the result of campaigns to reverse state lawmakers’ decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Here, the proposed ban’s lawmaker authors are firing a pre-emptive strike in the hope of stopping their successors or state courts from moving to broaden the definition of marriage.

“Marriage is an issue that should be decided by the people,” says the narration of one of the first TV ads being aired by the pro-amendment group Minnesota for Marriage. “Voting yes secures traditional marriage in the constitution and ensures that only voters can determine the definition of marriage in the future.”

Voters have consistently OK'd gay-marriage bans

Voters have consistently approved marriage bans, while courts and state legislatures have proven increasingly willing to challenge the status quo.

Right now, lesbians and gays cannot marry legally in any of the states in question. Minnesota and Maryland both have had statutory bans on same-sex marriage, while Maine and Washington have laws on the books recognizing domestic partnerships.

As in Minnesota, anti-gay-marriage efforts in the other states enjoy staunch backing from the Roman Catholic Church, which has poured money into all four campaigns and urged parishioners to vote to keep same-sex marriage illegal. Most of the rest of the funding in all four states comes from the National Organization for Marriage, which has refused to comply with laws compelling it to disclose its sources of funding.

Gay-rights supporters in all four states are also seeing an influx of cash from around the country — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg this week gave $500,000 — although the number of local donors far outpaces opponents’ base.

Managing anti-gay-marriage strategy: Frank Schubert

And the marriage opponents’ strikingly similar strategy and messaging in all four states is being directed by Frank Schubert, the consultant credited with devising the strategy behind 2008’s Prop 8, which overturned gay marriage in California. Along with managing Minnesota’s campaign to ban, Schubert produced a controversial DVD that Archbishop John Nienstedt sent to 400,000 households.

Leaders of the Minnesota campaign to defeat the proposed ban have been tight-lipped about their tactics, which stem from research showing that personal exposure to gay and lesbian couples is the most effective way to change people's feelings about the issue. It’s reasonable to assume, however, that their effort to stage hundreds of thousands of conversations about marriage builds on other states’ experiences.

In May 2009, immediately after Maine Gov. John Baldacci signed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, anti-gay-marriage groups began collecting signatures to place a referendum on the law on the ballot. That fall, Mainers voted to repeal the law by a 53 percent-47 percent vote.

Afterward, gay-rights groups began public-education campaigns that included face-to-face conversations with voters. Three years later, when surveys showed the efforts had reversed the percentage of Mainers who approve of same-sex unions, they petitioned to put a citizen’s initiative on the 2012 ballot.

Poll in Maine showing 57% favor gay marriage

In a July 2012 Portland Press Herald poll, 57 percent of Maine voters said they will vote to legalize same-sex marriage in November, vs. 35 percent who oppose the initiative. Social scientists are quick to take issue with polls about marriage initiatives, however, noting that survey respondents usually over-report their support for gay rights out of fear of appearing prejudiced.  

The question being put to voters in Maryland and Washington is essentially the same as Maine’s 2009 referendum: In both places, lawmakers passed bills legalizing same-sex marriage and governors signed them. Voters in both states will be asked to decide whether to let the laws stand in November.

In Maryland, the issue was pushed by a 2010 opinion issued by the state’s attorney general that Maryland law should honor all out-of-state marriages, including same-sex couples wed where gay marriage is legal. The state Supreme Court disagreed, but in May of this year a state court of appeals ruled that Maryland will recognize same-sex couples who married elsewhere, no matter the outcome of the November referendum.

Same-sex marriages have been taking place in neighboring Washington, D.C., since early 2010, a year after the district formally began recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.  

Maryland measure anticipates arguments

Maryland’s civil marriage law, as described by the language that will appear on the ballot there, anticipates many of the arguments raised by gay-marriage opponents in the 31 states where the issue has come before voters to date:

“Establishes that Maryland’s civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs."

The polls so far give Maryland gay-rights advocates the edge, with 57 percent saying they will vote to uphold the law and 37 percent voting against it. While in Washington, pollsters reported the pro-gay-marriage campaign had a 56-38 lead in September.

Washington group copies former priests' efforts

The Catholic hierarchy is campaigning to keep same-sex marriage illegal in Washington, too, while a group has taken a page from a Minnesota effort to gather signatures of former priests who oppose the church’s stance.

In February, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a gay-marriage bill, which immediately became the topic of a Referendum 74. The content is similar to Maryland’s, even if the language being placed on the ballot is less clear:

"The legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239 concerning marriage for same-sex couples, modified domestic-partnership law, and religious freedom, and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill. This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony."

In Minnesota, lawmakers' wording upheld

The Minnesota Supreme Court recently ruled that the title of the amendment on the ballot here must be the one lawmakers drafted, "Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman," and not a version written by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. The actual language is brief, too: "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?"

The four ballot questions are the only ones yet to be decided this year — a constitutional amendment passed by North Carolina voters in May bans both same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships — but almost certainly will not be the last.

In February 2012, New Jersey legislators passed a gay-marriage bill, which Gov. Chris Christie vetoed. Christie urged residents to consider cementing the ban with a constitutional amendment, while civil -ights organizations began campaigning for a veto override, which the legislature can conduct anytime between now and January 2014.  

Comparing 4 states' gay marriage proposals

Maine

Question 1

Ballot language: "Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?"

A recent poll by the Pan Atlantic SMS Group showed 55 percent of voters favor gay marriage, 39 percent oppose and 4.5 percent remain undecided.

Maryland

Civil Marriage Protection Act

Ballot language: “Establishes that Maryland’s civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs."

According to a July poll Hart Research Associates conducted for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, 54 percent will vote to back the law, while 40 percent oppose it.

Minnesota

Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman

Ballot language: "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?"

A September survey by Public Policy Polling showed 48 percent supporting the gay-marriage ban, 47 percent opposed and 5 percent undecided.

Washington

Referendum 74

Ballot language: "The legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239 concerning marriage for same-sex couples, modified domestic-partnership law, and religious freedom, and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill. This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony."

According to a September SurveyUSA poll for KING-5 News in Seattle, 56 percent of voters think the law legalizing same-sex marriage should be upheld, 38 percent think it should be overturned and 6 percent are undecided.

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Comments (1)

Gay-Marriage?

Nice summary and comparison Beth. I hope this does not sound nit-picky, but would the term "same-sex" be more precise? That is the language used in Maine and Washington, plus there are thousands of "gay" people married to a person of the opposite gender, so would that still be considered a "hetero-sexual" marriage or just a contract between opposite genders?

BTW - I am a married Catholic who is voting no.