Wednesday, November 13, 2013

One Year after Question 6: Revisiting, Not Revising History


Almost a year after Maryland voters upheld the law allowing same-sex marriage, there was the expected amount of celebrating at the recent back-slapping, self-congratulatory love-fest called the Equality Maryland 25th Anniversary Brunch. That victory at the ballot box deservedly was the centerpiece.
Equality Maryland’s executive director, Carrie Evans, gave a speech using a curious “House of Cards” theme in thanking virtually everybody who had been involved with the organization over the past quarter century and in the process made some interesting comments.  Evans thanked the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) for not pulling funding from the campaign in 2012 and declared that “without HRC we would not have won,” suggesting that HRC was merely a funder. 

There are two elements in play.  First, the pulled funding comment was a not-so-subtle swipe at Freedom to Marry, who had contributed needed dollars to the other statewide battles for marriage equality but had bypassed Maryland in the early stages.  The organization’s founder and director Evan Wolfson told me that it was a myth that they pulled funding from the cause.  “We never pulled out,” he emphasized.  “We never jumped in.” 
The reason was their belief that under the leadership of the campaign (Marylanders for Marriage Equality), he did not think Maryland would be successful at the ballot box and instead provided resources to the other states.  They later chipped in, however, with some $200,000 as the Maryland campaign’s end neared and confidence grew.

The other aspect of Evans’ comment about HRC’s role requires more examination.  During the festivities, the focus was rightfully about Equality Maryland but gave the impression Equality Maryland led the battle.  At one time, yes.
In celebrating its achievements, Equality Maryland should have really been rejoicing over the fact they are living to fight another day.  Shortly after the debacle in the General Assembly in 2011 where a plausible victory on marriage equality was deep-sixed in the House of Delegates from insufficient support, Equality Maryland imploded.  Its financial foundation was cracking, leaving the organization in near ruin.  The controversial, less-than-elegant dismissal of the executive director, the abrupt departure of its fundraising director, and a major shake-up of the board, left the organization in shambles in terms of finances and confidence—a dark point in their history that was conspicuously absent from Evans’ remarks. 

Following the successful initiative by marriage equality opponents to have the law voted on by referendum during the 2012 election, Equality Maryland was in no position, despite a new executive director and board in place, to carry out the fight that had been heretofore unsuccessful in every state where the voters were given the chance to decide on the issue.
In need of a victory of its own to tout and assessing the weakness in Equality Maryland at the time, HRC, with its ample resources, fundraising apparatus and personnel, seized the reins to lead the referendum battle, which eventually was termed “Question 6”.  It had already begun by assuming control of the lobbying efforts during the year’s legislative session.

To broaden its appeal, HRC formed a “coalition” of partners that consisted of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, Equality Maryland, the ACLU of Maryland, and various unions, clergy, and other progressive organizations.  Equality Maryland was only one of these “partnering” organizations, not the one driving the campaign.
Although critics have characterized the lesser members of the coalition as “window dressing”, they did have roles to fill and Equality Maryland made significant contributions.  Most importantly, Equality Maryland raised a good chunk of money using their brand, damaged as it was, and donated to the campaign.  Moreover, they helped recruit volunteers for the field operations.

But make no mistake, it was HRC’s show under the banner of Marylanders for Marriage Equality.  Even with the larger, richer organization at the helm, it was no smooth ride.  An insider with the campaign confided that Governor O’Malley, the chief lobbyist during the General Assembly to get the bill passed in both houses and a noteworthy fundraiser throughout, was “not happy” with the way the campaign was being run.  And he was particularly miffed that fundraising targets were not being met according to pre-determined timelines. Later, Delegate Maggie McIntosh was reported to have stepped in to handle decision-making in the organization.
Undeniably, Marylanders for Marriage Equality got off to a rocky start.  In April 2012, they brought in a political strategist, Josh Levin, to be the campaign manager.  But field operations were slow to develop, TV spots were not aired early on, and many activists were getting antsy over the delays. 

The announcements by President Obama and the national NAACP as well as other prominent officials in support of marriage equality gave the campaign a needed shot in the arm.  Outstanding television advertising ultimately was effective in combating the lies created by the opposition that had been so successful in California and other states.
A bit of luck also played in the Question 6 supporters’ favor.  Political observers believed that the decisive money edge to marriage equality proponents can be attributed to the Church of the Latter Day Saints’ desire not to get deeply involved that year as they had previously in California and Maine and become a focus of controversy during the Mormon Mitt Romney’s run for president.  In addition, much of the available TV advertising space was blocked largely by the moneyed casino interests on both sides of the issue, thus preventing the scare tactics from gaining traction.

All things considered, the victory a year ago was a team effort that was led by HRC through the auspices of Marylanders for Marriage Equality though no one entity deserves sole credit.  Everyone involved from donors to volunteers to the LGBT caucus in the legislature to the leadership of the Governor to the voters themselves should share in the historic victory.  And the rainbow gods, providing some good fortune, smiled on us as well.

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