With the election just a month away, polls in Maryland continue to show solid support for the state’s marriage equality law, which is the subject of a voter referendum. If the measure survives, it will mark a historic first in the marriage wars and couples will begin marrying legally in January.
A new Baltimore Sun poll found that likely Maryland voters support same-sex marriage 49 to 39 percent. That’s a dramatic shift from March, when an OpinionWorks poll found that likely voters opposed marriage equality, 43-40 percent. Since that time, of course, President Obama endorsed marriage rights for gay couples, as did the NAACP and a parade of celebrities and politicians who followed Obama’s lead. The early bleak polls help explain why national donors — led by the organization Freedom to Marry — skipped over Maryland to focus on the other states facing similar ballot measures: Maine, Washington and Minnesota. But now that the tide appears to have turned, Freedom to Marry and other national donors, including Maryland native and former closeted RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, have scrambled to get on board and contribute. Better late than never, I guess.
But the positive polling news brings fears of complacency — that Maryland residents won’t feel the urgency to vote because they assume it’s a fait accompli. The same Baltimore Sun poll shows President Obama leading Mitt Romney by a staggering 57-34 percent. With a lead like that, some voters will surely stay home if, say, the kid is sick or work is busy or it’s raining.
And all those polls showing support for marriage equality were taken before the other side has done much in the way of advertising. That is changing. Just this week, Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk went public with his opposition to marriage equality in a video prompted by Minnesota’s referendum; he is expected to record a similar anti-gay message targeting the Maryland effort this week.
“Our culture today of moral relativism attacks marriage and a lot of our Catholic values, but marriage is a foundation of our society and it’s definitely something worth fighting for, my marriage and the institution of marriage itself,” Birk said in the video. “A lot of people say, live and let live, let everybody do what they want, but this is too important of an issue to do that on. We need to fight and preserve it, for our sake for our children’s sake.”
Birk’s misguided opposition comes in stark contrast to his teammate Brendon Ayanbadejo’s strong support for marriage equality, which goes back several years.
Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, told the Sun, “We saved our videos for October. We’ll start doing more of them,” noting he plans to release a Maryland version of the Birk video this week
The anti-gay Alliance has booked at least $93,000 in airtime on Baltimore’s WBAL for 110 30-second spots that will air between Oct. 8-Nov. 5. And that’s surely just a fraction of what it will spend. Marylanders for Marriage Equality has purchased about $300,000 in airtime on WBAL from Oct. 10-Nov. 6 and $253,000 in airtime on D.C.’s WJLA from Oct. 29-Nov. 6, among other buys.
Gov. Martin O’Malley said at a Tuesday fundraiser in D.C. that the campaign needs to raise an additional $1 million before Election Day, highlighting the fact that this campaign is far from over. At the same event, D.C.-based Democratic activist (and Blade columnist) Peter Rosenstein presented O’Malley with a $10,000 check from the Campaign for All D.C. Families. It’s gratifying to see Maryland’s neighbor getting involved in the effort and Baltimore’s LGBT community surely has a lot to learn from their D.C. counterparts. The lack of visible activist presence in Baltimore is a longtime problem that allows Matt Birk to spout his anti-gay views with impunity and enables politicians from gay neighborhoods to vote against our equality.
Let’s hope Maryland’s LGBT residents can at least muster the energy to open their wallets and get to the polls next month. The Maryland ballot fight is winnable, but a victory will require everyone’s participation, visibility and vote.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.