What the Marriage Equality Votes Would Mean

On Nov. 6, four states — Washington, Maryland, Maine and Minnesota — will vote on referendums involving same-sex marriage, but they don’t all do the same thing. If the measures win in Maryland, Maine and Washington, it would actually legalize same-sex marriage; in Minnesota, if the measure fails, it will prevent a ban on same-sex marriage from being put in place but it won’t actually legalize same-sex marriage.

In Maryland, the legislature passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage on March 1, 2012. Question 6 on the ballot next week is phrased as a vote in favor or against that law. So a yes vote on that question would result in complete marriage equality in that state. The polls have been pretty consistently in favor of marriage equality over the last few months, but the most recent poll apparently shows a “dead heat” on the issue.

In Washington, Referendum 74 would change the law to allow same-sex marriage in that state, so a yes vote is in favor of marriage equality and a no vote is against it. The most recent poll in Washington show the referendum ahead by a slim margin, 49-45%.

In Minnesota, it’s the exact opposite. Amendment 1 would put a ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitution. But it’s already banned by statute in Minnesota, so even if this referendum fails it would not legalize same-sex marriage. It would still be important, though, because the shift in public opinion in favor of equality would make it more likely that a future legislature would repeal the statutory ban. The polls on this one are very close, with the most recent one showing 49% opposing the ban and 46% supporting it.

Maine is the most unusual situation. Question 1 is phrased clearly enough: “Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?” But Maine voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage in 2009 after the legislature approved a bill allowing it, so this would be a fairly quick reversal of the earlier referendum. A recent poll found 55% support for marriage equality.

Opponents of same-sex marriage have consistently argued that the polls overstate support for equality. We’ll find out next week whether that’s true or not. I think marriage equality is going to pass in at least a couple of these states and I think this year is going to be viewed in the future as a major turning point on this issue. By 2016, I predict that we’ll see referendums to repeal earlier bans on same-sex marriage in several states. And given the rapid shift in public opinion on this issue, I think this will actually be a boost for Democrats instead of Republicans. Within 12 years, I think marriage equality will be the norm in this country rather than the exception.

16 comments on this post.
  1. pixiedust:

    Maryland resident here. Earlier today I cast my “Yes” vote (early voting!).

    I agree with Ed’s general timeline. A friend of mine — a pretty liberal rabbi — told me he raised the subject with his class of 14 and 15 year olds. He expected a big discussion. The kids said, “What’s to discuss? Of course gays should be able to marry.”

    Given how the authoritarians have based their strategy on plebescites, I can’t wait to watch them explain why a majority vote is no way to decide this issue after the votes start going against them.

  2. fastlane:

    My wife and I voted (WA) in favor last week. I am hopeful that this goes well, and might cause a tipping on a national scale, finally.

  3. Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant):

    Vote “yes” to prevent the Governor from vetoing the amendment to repeal the change to the State Constitution that annuls the right to stop same-sex marriage from being appealed!

  4. tubi:

    Although we’re the most backward of the four, please let Minnesota be one of those that gets it right. The anti-freedom ads make me so angry. My kids (8 and 5) already ask me about whether boys can marry boys and girls/girls. I tell them that in some places it’s OK, but some other places haven’t figured it out yet.

    I really don’t want to have to explain to them that their state considers their grandfather (my dad, who happened to be bi, although leaning strongly gay) to be somehow less of a citizen than they are, with fewer rights than they have. Unless one of my kids is also gay, but I hope that will be a moot point by then.

  5. Gregory in Seattle:

    Regarding Washington’s Ref. 74: the Legislature passed a law and the governor signed it. The ballot measure is to decide whether the now extant law should go into effect.

  6. regexp:

    This is the first time I’ve seen the Minnesota amendment referred to as “Amendment 1″ in print. They simply appear in the middle column of the ballot after the President/Senate/House/State races and the order wasn’t known until the ballots were printed. The amendment referring to (further) banning gay marriage is listed first with the second amendment requiring voter id is listed second.

    I voted absentee ballot since I’m relocating out of Minnesota. One interesting quirk is that anyone who doesn’t make a “yes” or “no” selection for an amendment is considered a “No” vote. That may be enough to keep it from being enacted.

    Unfortunately it looks like there are more than enough votes to pass the idiotic and equally unnecessary Voter ID admendment.

  7. uncephalized:

    One interesting quirk is that anyone who doesn’t make a “yes” or “no” selection for an amendment is considered a “No” vote. That may be enough to keep it from being enacted.

    That seems less like an “interesting quirk” and more like a “blatant source of polling bias that needs to be fixed like yesterday”.

  8. Gregory in Seattle:

    @uncephalized #7 – Actually, it is pretty standard.

    A ballot measure must receive a certain minimum of total votes cast in order to pass. In many states, “total votes cast” is defined by law as the number of ballots turned in. So if I turn in a ballot, the number of votes cast is incremented whether I have made a choice on that measure or not. The effect is that an abstension is identical to a vote against passage. This is the same process used in Congress and most Legislatures, where abstentions are not counted as a vote for passage and thus have a default value of Nay.

    It is less common for “total votes cast” to be calculated item by item, where 100,000 votes for Measure A will get it passed while 100,100 votes for Measure B means it falls short.

  9. Yoritomo:

    That seems less like an “interesting quirk” and more like a “blatant source of polling bias that needs to be fixed like yesterday”.

    How so? Why is it bad to require that a constitutional amendment needs a certain amount of support among all voters, and not just among those whose ballot is valid?

  10. JustaTech:

    Another Washintonian here, and my husband and I voted yes. Interestingly in the Seattle Times today there was a column about how civil the campaigns have been for Ref 74 (Marriage) and Initiative 502 (pot). There haven’t been any of the expected ‘culture war’ aspects. (I would think I’ve just missed them, but I expect that journalists would be looking for it.)

  11. shripathikamath:

    Opponents of same-sex marriage have consistently argued that the polls overstate support for equality.

    And they are correct since no equality measure has actually stood the test of a ballot.

    The reason is because of the language. The Maine ballot question in that sense will be the acid test. Usually that language succeeds in polls but fails at the ballot.

    Which is also why Obama has not spent any serious political capital on it.

    Ask whether you are in favor allowing gays equal rights, they’ll say yes. Ask whether you are in favor of changing the definition of traditional marriage, and they won’t say yes so quickly. In California, they said no.

    Luntzing the question is how the bigots have been winning.

    It’d change if Washington and Maine finally break through.

    If the Washington measure fails, it deals another huge blow where the bigots will crow that people undo what the legislature does.

  12. kerrietiedemann:

    Another Maryland reader hear that voted YES on question 6 today!! Outside of the black ministers and other fundie religious folk, I really don’t even hear much talk about the issue within the state compared to last year. But I’m not sure if that’s because there is increased support or just that everyone is fixated on the casino expansion question that every other issue is on the back burner.

  13. spamamander, internet amphibian:

    Thank you for another reminder that I need to drop my ballot in the mail tomorrow.

    I keep forgetting, like an idiot.

    But my “yes” on Ref 74 is clearly marked and I have been bugging everyone I know to make sure they know the “right” way to vote… that 74 keeps in place the legalization of same-sex marriage put forth by Governor Gregoire. It just feels like this is one we have to win- civil rights shouldn’t be determined by popular vote, ever, but if we lose this so much momentum will be lost.

  14. Noadi:

    I’ll be doing my part in Maine on Tuesday. It’s the most important thing on the ballot for me (Obama is assured to win here and independent Angus King is miles ahead in the Senate race).

  15. Hershele Ostropoler:

    I have a feeling that if it passes in Maryland, opponents will decide that “people with traditional values” were disproportionately prevented from voting by the storm, and therefore it’s unfair somehow.

  16. baal:

    I’m generally against constitutional amendments. They are an attempt to lock in today’s views and hold future people to our current standards. Future folks should get the right. Worse, in MN, even with a default not voted = a no vote, Constitutional amendments pass much of the time. This means that when the State House and Senate are controlled by one party, they can bypass the Governor (who does not get a veto on these), and just write their policy into the Constitution (with a not that hard plebiscite).

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