As Maryland lawmakers prepare to debate the proposed expansion of gambling in the state, same-sex marriage supporters are divided over whether the issue will influence the outcome of the November referendum.
Josh Levin, campaign director of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, pointed to a Maryland pollster who said in an undated memo that a referendum, no matter “how controversial,” would not “by itself drive up turnout among ‘reluctant’ voters in a presidential year.” The memo specifically notes that 2,631,434 Marylanders voted in the 2008 presidential election, compared to only 2,525,424 who cast votes in the gaming referendum that allowed five casinos with slot machines and table games on video screens to open in the state. (Voters approved Question 2 by a 58.6 to 41.4 percent margin.)
The Washington Post last month noted that a second poll of 700 Maryland voters that the Mellman Group conducted on behalf of MGM Resorts International between June 28 and July 7 found 63 percent of gambling proponents support same-sex marriage. The survey found that only 34 percent of those who oppose gaming are against nuptials for gays and lesbians. MGM is seeking rights to build a proposed National Harbor casino.
“Both issues are going to motivate voters to get out on both of the issues,” said Levin, referring to the Mellman Group survey. He spoke to the Blade hours after Gov. Martin O’Malley, who signed the same-sex marriage law in March, announced a special legislative session to decide the fate of the proposed National Harbor casino in Prince George’s County that will start on Aug. 9. “Where we have the momentum, we don’t see it affecting turnout in ways that will be harmful to us.”
A Public Policy Polling survey in May found that 57 percent of the state’s voters would vote for the same-sex marriage law in the referendum. The same PPP poll also noted that 55 percent of black Marylanders back nuptials for gays and lesbians.
Neither O’Malley’s office nor the Maryland Family Alliance, the group that backs the November same-sex marriage referendum, returned the Blade’s requests for comment.
Some LGBT advocates fear that the group of existing Maryland casino operators will target conservative blacks and white evangelicals who traditionally oppose gambling — and same-sex marriage — in a well-funded campaign against the proposed National Harbor complex. A separate referendum on the Maryland Dream Act that would extend tuition to undocumented immigrants further complicates the electoral landscape.
“It’s a tricky question because gambling and marriage have never been on the ballot together in Maryland,” said Jeff Krehely, vice president of LGBT programs at the Center for American Progress. “Knowing there could be a morality argument against gambling, I feel like having any kind of gambling effort on the ballot is going to increase those with a more conservative perspective on the world to come out to the ballot referendum.”
A Gonzalez Research and Marketing poll in January found the economy, jobs, education and taxes — and not same-sex marriage — were the top issues among Maryland voters. Less than one percent of respondents identified nuptials for gays and lesbians as their biggest concern.
Only 19 percent of those who took part in the annual Conservative Political Action Committee straw poll in D.C. in February described “traditional values” as their top issue going into this year’s election cycle. Only 1 percent of those who voted in the 2011 CPAC straw poll cited stopping same-sex marriage as their primary concern.
In spite of these numbers, some Maryland LGBT activists are not ready to discount the impact a gambling referendum could have on efforts to defend the state’s same-sex marriage law.
“At this point it’s a crap shoot,” the Rev. Meredith Moise, co-chair of Baltimore Black Pride, told the Blade. “I do know some of the pastors are organizing against the gambling pieces for good reason — focus on gaming is taking away from a lot of important issues and just the money drain it will bring to the community is unfathomable. Anytime you have something that can motivate and organize anti-gay constituencies could spell trouble for us.”
Moise noted that churches that both support and oppose nuptials for same-sex couples have joined anti-gaming efforts. She stressed that she feels these congregations “have agreed to disagree about gay marriage for the sake of their coalitions.”
Moise added that activists have found that those whom she described as allies and potential allies remain unaware of the November referendum.
“We are still educating people and having conversations about marriage equality,” she said. “LGBT folks and community activists are having conversations about marriage equality. What we are hearing and experiencing is that people know the bill passed but don’t know that it will be on the ballot in November.”