The Maryland Secretary of State released the language Monday that will appear on the November ballot for the referendum on the marriage equality law, prompting advocates to praise the wording as helpful to their campaign while opponents criticized it for being evasive.
The referendum takes the title of the “Civil Marriage Protection Act,” the same name of the legislation passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Martin O’Malley this year. The language will appear as Question 6 on the ballot and reads as follows:
“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.”
Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the coalition working to approve the referendum, said the language would be helpful to their campaign, especially because of its mention of a “civil marriage license” and religious exemptions.
“The wording is accurate and straightforward and will serve as another way to educate voters,” said Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, in a statement. “This referendum is about equality under the law and protecting religious freedom, and we know the more people know about this issue the more they support it. Voter education is what’s fueling our momentum.”
Recent polls show that a majority of Maryland voters, including the state’s substantial African-American population, support marriage equality. Opponents of the new law have vowed to continue their push, however. Similar efforts in other states have seen last-minute deluges of financial support from groups such as the National Organization for Marriage.
Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which opposes the marriage equality law and collected signatures to qualify the referendum for the ballot, told the Washington Blade that the language’s focus on exemptions would make voters “inherently suspicious.”
“This is a transparent attempt by the Secretary of State to bias voters to be in favor of the legislation, but it’s an attempt that will backfire,” he said. “Voters will be inherently suspicious of any description that goes to such lengths to say what supposedly isn’t impacted, rather than deal forthrightly with what obviously is impacted. Maryland parents who send their children to public schools are immediately asking how does this affect what is taught in schools. Business owners have a right to know if their personal opinions about same-sex marriage will find them in violation of the law. It’s a classic ‘pay no attention to that man behind the curtain’ moment that will make it easier for us to bring attention to the profound consequences of redefining marriage.”