March 29, 2012 | by Kevin Naff
Freedom to Marry abandons Maryland fight

The excitement that followed Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s public signing of the state’s marriage equality bill was tempered by the threat of a referendum that will likely require state voters to determine the law’s fate.

Right now is the calm before the inevitable storm. Opponents of the law are gathering the 55,000 or so signatures they need, mostly by targeting churchgoers who are being urged by pastors to sign the petition. It seems unlikely they will fail in that signature-gathering effort. Meanwhile, the Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition of local and national supporters is working to reorganize and hire someone to lead the campaign to preserve the law. The road ahead is daunting and will require a massive fundraising effort at a time when LGBT money is already needed for Obama’s re-election campaign, Tammy Baldwin’s U.S. Senate bid and marriage initiatives in a handful of other states. Make no mistake: the national network of LGBT donors is stretched thin.

The national advocacy group Freedom to Marry has invested in Maryland in the past, but announced last year that it would take a pass this time around. Evan Wolfson, the group’s president, told the Blade, “Freedom to Marry has made it clear to members of the coalition and to lawmakers that our goal is to win, not simply to pass a bill, if there is not sufficient groundwork and investment in a campaign to win at the ballot. We have continued to press for clarity and progress on benchmarks for success, and have urged elected officials, national organizations, and advocates on the ground to show the plan, investment, and activities needed now to build public support and succeed at the ballot, not just the legislature.”

Clearly, Wolfson lacks confidence in the coalition, led by the Human Rights Campaign, and implies here that there isn’t “sufficient groundwork and investment” to preserve the law. The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage predictably pounced on Wolfson’s remarks as evidence that the law lacks support.

The most recent public poll available in Maryland shows that 52 percent of voters would support the marriage law and 44 percent would oppose it. The statewide survey was conducted by Public Policy Polling of 600 Maryland voters March 5-7. It’s unclear whether national donors and Freedom to Marry have established a threshold of support necessary to attract their support. Fifty-two percent isn’t an overwhelming majority, but it’s better than the numbers in other states where Freedom to Marry is fully engaged.

Public Policy Polling conducted a poll in Washington about marriage after that state passed its marriage bill Feb. 22. The results showed that 50 percent would uphold the bill and 46 percent would repeal it. Interestingly, Freedom to Marry announced a new initiative last week, the “Win More States Fund,” with a goal of raising $3 million for state marriage efforts in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Minnesota, Maine and Washington.

Bloggers quickly condemned the omission of Maryland and North Carolina from the list. Bil Browning, editor of Bilerico, wrote, “Bluntly put, this is a big ‘Fuck you’ out of the usually respectful Freedom to Marry gang … They don’t think they can win in those states, so they’re only attaching their names to the battles they think will win.”

Pam Spaulding of Pam’s House Blend called the omission of North Carolina “offensive, given NC is a battleground state, is hosting the DNC in Charlotte, and the President last Friday specifically came out against Amendment One.”

Although I don’t think Wolfson is giving Maryland and North Carolina the finger here, he ought to refrain from public remarks that undermine the hard work of his allies in states facing an admittedly uphill battle.

Further, Freedom to Marry should refrain from raising money in Maryland and North Carolina during this time. The group says it is not soliciting money for the Win More States fund from North Carolinians or Marylanders, but a Feb. 28 solicitation from the group did go to Marylanders, several of whom objected. It’s misleading — at best — for a group called Freedom to Marry to seek financial contributions from Maryland and North Carolina residents who might logically assume the group is engaged in the marriage fights in those states. Unfortunately, it is not and donors from Maryland and North Carolina should give all they can to the groups who haven’t walked away from the fight.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at knaff@washblade.com.

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

10 Comments
  • Perhaps the supporters in Virginia and DC should blow off Freedom to Marry as well and focus their energies and money in Maryland and North Carolina. A defeat for the gay bashers in North Carolina in May could boost efforts in Maryland, Maine and Washington State in November, and of course, Maryland and North Carolina are closer and more important for Virginians and citizens in DC.

  • Maybe Freedom to Marry is smarter than you think, Kevin.

  • I agree that Freedom to Marry should have included Maryland. Several things can be done in 7 months to tip the vote in Maryland. It is a winnable if you get out the youth and gay vote.
    In additional with the unraveling of NOM and their plan for a race war exposed it is likely many of the pastors on their payroll will be effective in the ballot fight.

  • The fight is not really winnable. I think up to 60% of voters in MD may reject the bill. FTM is simply directing resources to states where they have a chance to win, like ME and WA. Even in those places, it will be difficult.

  • This is all the more reason to go to the Equality Maryland website and make a contribution. Those who live in the area can, also, volunteer to work to help preserve marriage equality there. One sure way to make sure that this battle is not won is to give up before it is even started.

  • I’ll be damned if I have to pay other people to secure my civil rights. I don’t give to legislators and I won’t give to these scumbags.

  • I prefer to wait and see. There are 7 months until the US general election day on Tuesday November 6th and I refuse to give into woe is us here in Maryland this early in the game. The lastest poll said that the split of those who support and those who oppose MD marriage equality is roughly 50-50 give or take some.
    People have said, Maryland will never pass MD marriage equality. Well, Maryland statehouse proved them wrong. Let’s see on November 6th this year if the people of MD vote mostly yes or no. Until then, I will aid Marylanders for Marriage Equality that Equality Maryland is part of, to help see that MME has the resources it needs for this MD marriage fight for Marylanders’ hearts and minds up until near Nov. 6th.

  • Under Webster’s definition of pompous hypocrite it says – see Evan Wolfson and Freedom To Marry. During 2011, FTM was sending people to Maryland to help advance the marriage bill, sent Sean Eldridge to elbow his way into the Annapolis press conference when the marriage bill was filed, and slapped their label on podiums and products touting the advance of marriage equality in MD. Now comes the superb irony that an organization called “Freedom To Marry” has decided that one state hasn’t done “sufficient groundwork and investment” to deserve the perogative. Really ? Cause it’s not like a whole has changed from 2011 to 2012 except for the small matter of the Governor deciding to sponsor the bill. Oh, and the part where it actually passed the legislature. The fact that the bill may end up going to a voter referendum was never a secret. So for FTM to suddenly decide that Maryland isn’t deserving of their support — it can’t be about the difficulty of the effort — sounds more like someone just decided to take their ball and go home. Unfortunately, the ongoing struggle for marriage equality in Maryland, or anywhere, is not a game. Kudos to HRC and the organizations in the Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition for sticking it out to fight the good fight. Same-sex couples in Maryland deserve the freedom to marry, and the best effort of our community to try to make it so.

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