Maryland voters will decide whether to legalize gay marriage, a hotly contested issue on Nov. 6. With slightly more than five weeks to go, both sides are projecting confidence that they are gaining ground and that the election will turn in their favor. Still both sides agree that the coming weeks are critical to their success and that they have much to do.
Kevin Nix, communications director for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, said the organization is "cautiously confident" about its efforts to have a favorable outcome from the election.
Marylanders for Marriage Equality is the campaign working to "defend marriage equality."
"Gay and lesbian couples share the same values of love, commitment and strong families – they should have the same opportunity to get a marriage license," states the group on its website.
In a web video advertisement on Marylanders for Marriage Equality's website, Bob Ross, president of the Prince George's County branch of the NAACP, said he was voting in favor of the gay marriage measure.
"It is the fair thing to do," Ross said in the advertisement.
"I think things are looking good," Nix said. "We think Marylanders can and do agree that all people should be treated fairly and equally."
Derek McCoy, chairman of Maryland Marriage Alliance, also spoke favorably about inroads his group is making fighting against the measure.
"I think things are going very well," said McCoy. "We are moving forward."
Referendum Question 6 will appear on the ballot as the Civil Marriage Protection Act with the following language: Establishes that Maryland's civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.
McCoy said the explicit language of the ballot question is beneficial to his side because it makes it clear this is a gay and lesbian issue and not a civil rights issue.
On its website, the Maryland Marriage Alliance expresses its opposition to Question 6 in this way: "We speak with one voice to uphold marriage as the union between one man and one woman, and to express our opposition to any effort, which would redefine marriage in our state law as a union between any two persons."
Now, the goal for the Alliance is making sure voters are educated on the referendum.
McCoy said his group is focusing on phone banks and personal contact to reach prospective voters and that getting out the vote throughout the state is the key to their success.
"We have to make sure every rural county and each area gets out to vote," said McCoy. "We don't take anything for granted. Everybody needs to get out to vote."
McCoy said he expects a heavy voter turnout with this being a presidential election year and with the gaming issue also being on the ballot. He said that the millions spent on pro and con gaming advertising will help his group in getting voters to the polls.
He added that the Maryland Marriage Alliance will have a media blitz this month.
Nix said it's crucial that voters are clear about the limits of the proposed same-sex marriage law.
"It's really important for folks to understand this is about civil marriage," said Nix, who stressed that the issue is a "legislative matter, a public policy matter and nothing in the church changes." He said religious liberties remain protected. "Clergy don't have to do anything they don't want to do."
Polling indicates African Americans in Maryland are equally split on the issue, however, there's been a "slight uptick" in favor of the measure since March, Nix said. When President Barack Obama endorsed same-sex marriage in May followed by the NAACP's board of directors' support of the issue, which Nix called "a one-two punch," it made many in the African-American community take notice.
Nix said the polls clearly show positive momentum on the side of supporting gay marriage.
In the remaining weeks before the election, Marylanders for Equality plan to concentrate its efforts on door-to-door canvassing and using phone banks to reach prospective voters.
Nix added that if the same-sex marriage passes, Maryland will become the first state below the Mason-Dixon Line to approve same-sex unions and will help to advance the national momentum.