Speaking of Maine (as I seem to be doing obsessively since Olympia Snow’s retirement), Mainers may be poised to become the first ever to legalize same-sex marriage by a vote of the people.
Five states — including Minnesota, as you know — are likely to have issues of marriage equality on the ballot this year. But in all but Maine, the question has been framed by those opposed to allowing gays and lesbians to marry. And a recent poll suggests that in Maine, advocates of marriage equality are ahead. Here’s a quick overview of the five, relying on an Associated Press roundup of last week.
Minnesota and North Carolina are similarly situated. In both states, same-sex marriage has never been legal, but opponents of the idea have arranged referenda to put the ban into the state constitutions so that it will be harder for the courts to strike down the bans. North Carolina will vote on May 8, as part of its primary. Minnesota will vote in November. But same-sex marriage will remain illegal in both states however the vote comes out.
In Maryland and Washington State, same-sex marriage has recently been legalized by the Legislatures (with signatures by the governors). Opponents are currently gathering signatures to put the issue on the ballot in hopes of overturning the new laws. The petition drive is still under way, and I haven’t seen any polling on how those states might vote if the referenda make it to the ballots.
Maine is in a separate category. The Legislature legalized same-sex marriage in 2009 (with a signature by the governor). But opponents organized a referendum to repeal the law, which put implementation on hold. And in the 2010 referendum, voters did repeal it by a margin of 53-47 percent. Advocates of marriage equality believe that sentiment has shifted in favor and successfully petitioned to have the question on the ballot again this year.
Public Policy Polling last week released a Maine poll that covered the question and reported its results thus:
It looks like Maine voters will reverse their 2009 decision and legalize gay marriage in the state this fall. 54% think that gay marriage should be legal to only 41% who think it should be illegal. And when we asked about the issue using the exact language voters will see on the ballot this fall, they say they’re inclined to support the referendum by a 47-32 margin.
There’s some indication that the exact ballot language is confusing people a little at this point. Only 67% of those who support gay marriage in general say they’ll vote yes while 12% say they’ll not and 21% are not sure. At the same time just 60% of those who oppose gay marriage generally say they’ll vote against the proposed referendum, while 24% say they’ll vote for it and 16% are not sure. My guess is at the end of the day voters will see this as a straight referendum on gay marriage regardless of what the language on the ballot says — and the 54/41 number bodes well for pro-equality voters.
Republicans’ opinions are pretty much the same as they were in 2009. But Democrats’ support for gay marriage has increased slightly, from 71% to 78%. And more importantly independents have gone from voting against gay marriage 52/46 three years ago to now supporting it by a 57/36 margin.
One last note: In most cases around the country, when same-sex marriage has been on the ballot, it has been put there by opponents of same-sex marriage who used ballot language that has been developed by opponents and has never been defeated. Here’s that language, which is how it will appear on the Minnesota ballot:
Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota.
In Maine, the language was developed by same-sex marriage advocates. It reads:
Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, and that protects religious freedom by ensuring that no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?