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 firstname.lastname@example.org.