Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said that while he and advocates are “working every day, in every way” to pass a referendum to retain the new marriage equality law, the campaign needs to raise “another couple of million dollars” in the next six weeks to ensure success at the ballot this November, when the state could become the first to uphold marriage equality in a public vote.
The governor spoke Monday night in a conference call with reporters and bloggers. He joined representatives from Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the coalition working to pass the referendum known as Question 6.
“We have the ability to pass this in Maryland,” said the governor. “It is in keeping with the character of our state to protect rights equally under the law while also protecting religious liberty. But we do need to raise money here. We do need to raise another couple of million dollars, and if we are able to do that, I believe that we will pass this, and raising those dollars is critically important for our ability to be able to defend this at the ballot,” he said.
The Democratic governor signed the law passed by the legislature earlier this year, but the measure has not taken effect pending the outcome of the referendum brought by opponents.
Maryland is one of four states facing ballot initiatives related to marriage equality, with campaigns also underway in Maine, Minnesota and Washington.
During the 40-minute call, the governor outlined the status of the campaign and provided a realistic assessment of the opposition, the Maryland Marriage Alliance. He acknowledged that opponents, who are being financed by the National Organization for Marriage, “tend to have an easier time raising money” and anticipated they would spend a “colossal amount of money” in his state. Their campaign is expected to begin running TV ads soon based on the false messages that have aired in other states.
“We expect that the opponents will try to exploit divisions and try to pit African-American voters against gay and lesbian people in our state,” said O’Malley. “We expect that they will try to convince voters that somehow by passage of this law that every child in Maryland will somehow be taught that they need to be gay, and we know that their third strategy will be to try to convince voters that they’re being duped by the ballot language.”
On the other hand, the governor listed factors that make Maryland the state best positioned to pass a marriage equality referendum from his perspective. He said those assets include the “direct, clear” language of the ballot measure emphasizing religious freedom, the “courageous statements” of support from President Barack Obama, and the “skillful messaging” at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Maryland is a solidly Democratic state where about one-quarter of voters identify as African-American.
Polling from Hart Research Associates last month found that voters supported the referendum by 54% to 40%, with African-American support almost evenly divided at 44% in favor and 45% opposed. However, advocates expect the actual vote will be much closer.
“I think we can all expect that it will tighten up before Election Day,” said Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, who also spoke on the call. “If we win this thing by 14 points, I’m going to be shocked.”
While Democratic turnout will drive the outcome because of the state’s demographics, the campaign includes a Republican piece. Levin said that 30% of registered Republicans in Maryland support marriage equality, about double the rate measured in exit polls from other states. High-profile supporters include former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, a Maryland native who came out in 2010, in addition to Chip DiPaula, the chief of staff for former Governor Bob Ehrlich, and David Frum, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Frum will host a fundraising event for the coalition in the upcoming weeks, Levin said.