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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Winning Question 6

I must confess I didn’t believe what occurred on the night of November 6, 2012 would ever happen.  Marriage equality failed all 32 times it had been decided through state ballots, and I didn’t get that warm and fuzzy feeling that this time it would be any different. 

I did not have confidence early on in Marylanders for Marriage Equality—the organization with a diverse array of coalition partners who assumed the lead to defend the Civil Marriage Protection Act against a referendum by opponents who rapidly amassed three times the number of signatures needed to place a minority’s rights up for a popular vote. 

The planning for a likely referendum fight began late, in my view.  A former staffer told me that the campaign was fritting away too much time and money on getting “pledges” signed.
HRC brought in their people to get the effort started and ultimately hired Josh Levin as the Campaign Manager. 

Early polls looked too good to be true and were shrugged off by many.  Yet, a national trend towards public acceptance of marriage equality was unmistakable.
Things started to break, however.  President Obama went public with his support following Vice President Biden.  Former President Bill Clinton did likewise.  Democrats installed marriage equality as part of the party’s platform.  

Governor O’Malley championed the cause following years of uncertainty as to how equality should be achieved.  He was a true leader during this fight, persuading wavering legislators to help pass the bill and then traveling around the country to raise needed funds for the battle ahead.
But according to a report in the Baltimore Sun, the campaign was having trouble as late as August in raising the necessary funding.  Delegate Maggie McIntosh stepped in to handle the Campaign’s strategic decision-making and asked former Gov. Ehrlich’s chief-of-staff Chip DiPaula to persuade Evan Wolfson of the national organization Freedom to Marry to jump in with monetary support.  He did. 

Marylanders for Marriage Equality ultimately raised nearly three times the amount of money than the opponents—a total of $6 million.  There was speculation that the Church of the Latter Day Saints who donated tons of money against marriage equality during California’s Prop 8 battle decided to sit these four marriage contests out lest they hurt Romney politically.  
The Campaign developed a sophisticated infrastructure for executing a potent ground game using nuts and bolts grass roots efforts.  The “Vote For 6” signage had a great design—eye-catching and recognizable in their blue and white scheme.

They oversaw a superb ad campaign that mostly featured religious leaders and straight individuals to validate the cause.  The Campaign developed direct mail and TV advertisements featuring Julian Bond, Revs. Donte Hickman and Delman Coates, Todd Schuler, and Presidents Obama and Clinton.  They enlisted the public support from celebrities, such as the Ravens’ Brendon Ayanbadejo and actor Josh Charles to win the hearts and minds of voters regardless of sexual orientation, political party, race, age, gender, religion or ethnic background.    

Their efforts were bolstered by all the thousands of volunteers in and out of the campaign’s organization who knocked on doors, engaged strangers, family members, neighbors and co-workers, participated in phone banks, raised and contributed funds and developed innovative methods for getting the message out.
I began to feel more confident on Election Day as I worked the polls at Clarksville Middle School.  Not only were voters pronouncing their support for Question 6 but did so with intensity and enthusiasm.  Sure, there were opponents—some of them even rude.  But the overwhelming majority (63 percent in actuality) appeared to be on our side, and it gave me hope that perhaps later that night there would be cause for celebration.

That momentous night, when the voters re-elected President Barack Obama, the most pro-LGBT president ever, we were creating another headline.  For the first time in U.S, history, Maryland, Maine and Washington succeeded via the ballot to legalize same-sex marriage.  Minnesota beat back an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment.  Moreover, six LGBT candidates were elected to Congress, including for the first time, an openly lesbian person, Tammy Baldwin, who was elected to the U.S. Senate.
In Maryland proponents of marriage equality defeated the forces who would deny the legal, economic and social benefits that marriage equality would confer by a 52-48 margin or more than 90,000 votes. 

A review of the election results should lay to rest the myth that African-American voters are the key to marriage equality defeats.  Both sides were clearly courting African-American voters, but the pro-equality side’s messages of fairness broke through. 

The president’s support as well as the National NAACP’s endorsement had to be huge.  And the testimonies offered by African-American pastors Donte Hickman and Delman Coates on TV ads were received very positively.  This helped reassure voters that religious institutions would not be affected by the law and fairness for all was underscored.
We don’t know yet how the black vote went, but the fact is that Baltimore City with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as a key advocate had a sizable plurality for Question 6, and Prince George’s deficit was much smaller than anticipated.  Consequently, the recent hateful comment by a pastor stating gays and supporters “are deserving of death” most likely did not sit well with fair-minded voters regardless of race.

Governor O’Malley, the gay and lesbian members of the legislature and their colleagues who voted for the bill and defended it during the referendum battle deserve much praise and gratitude.

Josh Levin and his team should be applauded for ultimately getting the job done. The 200 coalition partners, such as HRC, NAACP, SEIU, ACLU, Equality Maryland and PFLAG as well as leading clergy were instrumental in this battle.

All the volunteers and contributors including the 2,000 poll workers on Election Day and those who began this fight and laid the groundwork for success should be thanked.
And most of all, thanks to all of you for coming out to vote and making November 6, 2012 a historic milestone in the history of LGBT rights.

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