Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Is There Light at the End of the Tunnel?

All the hard work over the past decade, all the sacrifices, all the persuasions, all the deal-making, all the dollars raised and spent, all the legislative and judicial defeats, and then the eventual signing into law the Civil Marriage Protection Act have brought the Maryland LGBT community to this critical moment in history.  On Election Day, voters will decide if same-sex couples can legally marry in the Free State.
Unfortunately, the majority will have the opportunity to vote on the rights of a minority. Maryland law allows for citizens to petition laws to referendum under specific circumstances including this measure.  As Thomas Jefferson said in his 1st Inaugural, “Bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression.” 

At the ballot box, marriage equality has not fared well.  In 32 states prior to this year when brought up before the voters, there has been no victory.  Maryland, as well as Washington, Maine and Minnesota, will have an opportunity to end that skein on November 6.  But will it?
Polls give reason to be upbeat with improving numbers in the African-American community as the key factor.  Most political observers view that demographic as a key to victory (or defeat) based on its comprising a quarter of the likely voters. 

But polls are typically not reliable on matters concerning social justice.  Many respondents are loathe to coming off as bigoted during such surveys but will vote a different way in the privacy of the voting booth.  Many of us in the LGBT community were horrified and deeply saddened to learn that long-time friends, co-workers, neighbors and even family members who seemed outwardly supportive on marriage equality had actually signed the petition to bring the issue to a vote.
Marylanders for Marriage Equality is the organization who, along with its coalition partners, is leading the campaign to uphold the law that was signed by Governor O’Malley on March 1.  They are responsible for the nuts and bolts of the campaign: attracting volunteers, phone banking, canvassing, messaging, fundraising, enlisting support from the faith community and developing advertising to compete with such opponents as the Maryland Marriage Alliance.  Gov. O’Malley has been a vanguard in raising funds for the campaign.

However, other individuals in the community have taken the initiative to advance marriage equality as well.  For example, Mark Patro has worked with PFLAG chapters and others to form a group called Light Brigade Maryland.  The volunteers go to highway overpasses or other venues and hold up lit letters forming phrases in support of marriage equality.  They have shed light on nearly two dozen locations within the state.
Will this overall effort pan out?  National trends are pointing to more acceptance of same-sex marriage.  Endorsements received from President Obama, the NAACP, leading clergy in the state and celebrities should be helpful.  But any optimism is matched with caution.  A strong turnout by the LGBT community and supporters may be the difference, and victory could finally be at hand.

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