Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Question of Motivation

Just as the 2012 General Assembly was about to begin, Maryland Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller said on the Marc Steiner radio show that “a coming together of Evangelicals, Catholics, African-Americans” will oppose the marriage equality measure. “If it goes to polls, the other side is more motivated, and I think they will get their voters out, and I think it goes down to defeat.”

Like him or not (I don’t), Mike Miller, who opposes same-sex marriage, is an astute politician. The conservative Democrat has served as Maryland Senate President for a quarter century—longer than any counterpart in the country. Miller has represented his district (Calvert and Prince George’s counties) as Senator since the Ford Administration after being elected to the House of Delegates during Nixon’s term.

Numerous politicos and journalists believe that Miller is the most powerful person in the state, even more so than the Governor. Heck, they named the Senate office building after him and he’s not even dead.

Miller knows Maryland, and he knows politics like no other. Is he on target, however, in predicting doom for the bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland? Is he correct declaring that the “other side is more motivated”?

He may have a case. A recent Gonzales poll taken this month indicates a 2-percentage point edge favoring same-sex taken among registered voters in Maryland—well within the margin of error and thus a statistical tie. But many folks rightly believe that on social issues, people tend to respond more progressively in these polls, which could have artificially upped the pro-equality numbers.

Moreover, the survey did not target likely voters. The same groups that Miller mentioned, including African-Americans who are expected to turn out in large numbers because of the presidential election, are not yet convinced that marriage equality is good for the state and families or does such a change comport with their religious beliefs. Older citizens, who more likely oppose same-sex marriage, tend to vote proportionately higher in their demographic than younger voters do—once again tilting the scale against marriage equality.

Based on this analysis alone, the marriage equality scenario in 2012 is not as rosy as some believe, thereby validating Miller’s assessment.

And there are other factors. Rather than waiting for marriage equality to be legalized in Maryland, many gay and lesbian couples tied the knot in Washington, D.C. or in the other states that allow it. Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler’s opinion in 2010 that said Maryland should recognize those valid marriages conducted in the other states influences couples to marry elsewhere. So the motivation may not be as strong as it once was.

Although the total increased by 50 percent, the estimated number of gay and lesbian couples—17,000 according to the 2010 census—is a fraction of the entire LGBT population in Maryland. (In Baltimore City and Montgomery County, there are approximately 2,900 such couples in each.)

But among those couples, not all are seeking marriage for a variety of reasons. And many of those who are unattached do not ever expect to be married. This also tamps down the motivation of the pro-equality side.

On the other hand, the opposition is indeed very motivated. Well-organized and well-funded groups like the National Organization for Marriage exist solely to deny gay and lesbian Americans the right to civil marriages. NOM has so much clout that Republican presidential candidates signed a pledge to support a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between one man and one woman. Other groups representing Catholics as well as African-American mega-churches are also eager to thwart the bill or overturn it in a referendum.

This is not to suggest that the pro-equality coalition under the banner Marylanders for Marriage Equality is not motivated. There are a considerable number of dedicated individuals and organizations working hard to secure marriage equality in the state.

Delegate Luke Clippinger (D-46th District) told me, “The coalition has field organizers in key districts. The coalition also has the benefit of polling, of media advisors, of people with state-wide political experience, and of a finance committee that has already raised a considerable amount of money. All of these things…are essential parts of a successful campaign and they are already in place.” But it is going to require a high level of volunteerism and financial contributions by LGBT individuals and allies to win the battles ahead.

As we have observed on the national political stage, motivation can be crucial. To that point, the Republican Party will likely be nominating a candidate who is flawed and not loved by their base but he is perceived to be best positioned to defeat Barack Obama.

“The opportunity to beat a polarizing incumbent is a powerful motivating force,” wrote Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com in the New York Times.

We need to get motivated here—even those who don’t see marriage in their future— to do what’s right and just, and ultimately to prove that Mike Miller’s assertions are nothing more than hot air.

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