This November voters in four states are poised to make historic votes on marriage equality for same sex couples. Maine, Maryland and Washington have voter initiatives to create full marriage equality; Minnesota faces the latest in a decade-long string of state constitutional amendments to limit marriage to heterosexuals. Currently six states (CT, IA, MA, NH, NY, and VT) and the District of Columbia allow same sex marriages. Nine other states have broad civil union or domestic partnership laws.
What makes the 2012 elections especially interesting is the history of marriage equality votes. No state so far has adopted same sex marriage through direct voter approval, depending instead on legislatures and courts. More significantly, all 28 states that have presented voters with constitutional amendments to ban equality have succeeded. It seems very likely that this November will see a major shift in these trends. Polling is somewhat tricky; based on previous elections, many voters will say they are pro-equality or undecided and then vote against LGBT rights. Even allowing for this, the margins look promising right now.
MAINE: In 2009, the Maine legislature approved marriage equality, replacing the existing limited civil union law. Anti-gay forces pushed the law to the ballot and defeated it 53-to-47. Since then, Mainers United for Marriage has worked diligently to change hearts and minds through a massive public education campaign. Question One on the November ballot will give voters a chance to re-establish full marriage equality in the state. The most recent poll shows the Question passing 57-to-35 with 8% undecided.
MARYLAND: Maryland also has limited civil union rights; it is also one of only three states that recognizes same sex marriages from other jurisdictions. Last March after strong lobbying from Marylanders for Marriage Equality and other groups, the legislature approved a marriage equality bill which was signed by the Governor. It was promptly referred to the ballot by anti-gay organizations as Question 6. Equality is polling strong in Maryland as well, at 57-to-37; it received a big boost — especially among the state’s African American population — when President Obama expressed his support in May.
WASHINGTON: Earlier this year Governor Christine Gregoire pushed the legislature to pass a marriage equality bill, which it did. As with Maryland, the bill was promptly referred to the voters as Referendum 74. Washington United for Marriage has mounted a strong public awareness campaign that also seems to be paying off. A poll released this week shows equality leading 56-to-33.
MINNESOTA: Unlike previous congressional election years, there is only one state with a marriage ban on the ballot this year. Minnesota is one of the few states with no law regarding same sex marriage at all. The Republican-led majority in the legislature passed an amendment in 2011 which requires approval by the voters. Minnesotans United for All Families is working hard to make their state the first to reject such an amendment. The vote on this measure is tighter, but it seems to be failing 43-to-49 in the latest polls.
True equality can only happen when the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is overturned and citizens of every state have the right to marry the person they love. Freedom to Marry is the central organization working toward this goal at the national level. They and the Human Rights Campaign are providing all they support they can to pro-equality forces in these four states. Victory in just one state would be revolutionary; providing and protecting equality in all four would signal a sea change in American attitudes.