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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Blueprint for Achieving Marriage Equality in 2012

Winning a Referendum

We are a long way off from a referendum—both in terms of time and also in what needs to be accomplished before that eventuality. Of course, if the Civil Marriage Protection Act is not signed into law, there will be no referendum. There is no guarantee that it will be brought up again, and there is no guarantee we hold onto existing support or change the minds of a few.

And also keep in mind that at no time in our history has marriage equality been won at the ballot box, no matter how blue or progressive a state may be. We are, in terms of numbers, a small minority, nationally and in Maryland. Even with family members, co-workers, neighbors, friends and other allies supporting our cause, we are greatly outnumbered.

Moreover, the opposition who is invariably well-funded, well-organized, and well-motivated has a history of success in places like California and Maine. We are clearly the Davids among the Goliaths and our challenge will be daunting to say the least.

But we can overcome the odds.

The main thing is for our community to come together. Many gays and lesbians do not see the marriage issue as one where they feel they should donate money or help in any way. They are single and don’t think of themselves as ever going to be married or they are coupled and also don’t see nuptials in their future.

But none of that matters. When the opposition machine cranks up, the lies emanating from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and a bevy of religious organizations will be breathtaking. They will use money—lots of it—from outside of Maryland to smear us as a community.

Every stereotype, every exaggeration, every unverified claim, and every scare tactic will be thrown into the barrage of commercials, robocalls and mailings to sway otherwise fair-minded citizens of the state that we are immoral, filthy slime who will teach kids to be gay and ruin society.

Even if you don’t contemplate marriage, every one of these lies and attacks are directed to you as well. You have to consider: do you like being relegated to second-class citizenship status and stomped on? If so, then you probably won’t be interested in reading on.

But if you do have dignity, pride and a feeling of self-worth and would be personally offended by the absurd characterizations that will befall us, then you are in this with the thousands of Maryland gay and lesbian couples who would be denied marriage rights should a referendum to overturn the law establishing marriage equality is successful. For every insult hurled at us, you should and must take them personally and react accordingly.

We need everyone in the LGBT community to help combat the lies. It will take a lot of money, to be sure. We must enlist the fundraising expertise and infrastructure from national LGBT organizations. We must bolster Equality Maryland’s efforts to raise money and to help as volunteers.

It won’t be just a simple task of stuffing envelopes. There will be a great need for grass roots activism—the only way we can win this fight. Door knocking, phone banking, lit drops, town hall meetings will be required—just like a political campaign because that’s exactly what it is.

Equality Maryland deserves the right to lead the effort. They should not go at alone but they should be the lead. If other organizations and entities try to compete for the spotlight and trample all over each other, the effort will fail, just like in California.

Equality Maryland will, however, have a lot of work to do. And they need to start planning for a referendum battle NOW—not wait until the bill is signed into law. Fundraising strategies, town hall meetings in as many districts as possible, setting up an infrastructure for phone banking, designing fliers and mailers and other necessities must begin right away.

Equality Maryland is a small organization with a handful of staff and volunteers. It needs to beef up its donor base and attract even more volunteers.

The organization will have to seek national partners and build coalitions with progressive organizations like labor unions, particularly government unions who have money and people. They should also enlist the help of supportive elected officials to execute a grass roots effort district by district.

It would be great if the GLCCB steps up and partners with Equality Maryland to offer space for phone banking and provide other resources including mailing lists to attract contributions. The GLCCB should also allow Pride to be used as a means to energize the community and allow speakers to share with the stage with the entertainers, if only for a few minutes, to rally the masses.

The referendum, if one takes place, must be viewed as a war because if it fails there is no telling what the eventual outcome will be for marriage equality in Maryland. Therefore, it should be approached with the greatest degree of seriousness and be fought like it’s the last battle.

And we must all be soldiers in that battle whether you envision being married or not.

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