Update on same-sex marriage referenda

As I wrote before, there are four state referenda on same-sex marriage. Here’s an update on those ballot initiatives.

In Washington, supporters of a referendum to legalize same-sex marriage lead opponents by 54% to 39%.

In Maryland, the vote to uphold the state’s already existing same-sex marriage law leads by 52% to 43%.

In Maine, a poll in late September found 57% in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.

In Minnesota, there is a referendum to ban same-sex marriage. A poll released on October 8 shows a 49% to 46% margin opposing the amendment. The margin was 48% to 47% in favor of the amendment a month ago, so the trend is in the right direction.

Despite these encouraging poll results, and my firm belief that equal rights for gays is an unstoppable tide that is going to sweep over the entire nation soon, I am not too sanguine for these four referenda because I fear that polls may be unreliable on this particular issue. We have reached a stage on important social change issues where hypocrisy becomes a factor in the public psyche. This is when the tide of public sentiment has turned so much on an important issue that to express opposition to it is to risk being seen as backward or even a bigot. In such a situation, people will tell pollsters what they think is the acceptable view while secretly having reservations or thinking the opposite. There have been suggestions that this factor may be currently at play when it comes to same-sex marriage.

When it comes to voting for minority candidates, this phenomenon was called the Bradley Effect (or the Wilder Effect) after the names of black politicians Tom Bradley of California and Douglas Wilder of Virginia. Both had large leads in the polls prior to the election for the respective governorships but Bradley lost in 1982 while Wilder just barely squeaked through to a win in 1989. There were some doubts as to whether race was the only factor at play or whether faulty polling or other issues may have had a significant influence. But even if it were significant then, the Bradley effect seems to have dissipated with time, as one might expect when people start to get comfortable with the new social order. Although there were fears in 2008 that Obama might lose to McCain because of the Bradley effect despite leading in the polls, the final result was remarkably close to the predictions.

But there is another possible factor that may be at work. I suspect that while many readers of this blog are mystified as to why anyone would vote against same-sex marriage, since there is no rational basis for this opposition, there is no question that it is quite a radical change in thinking for many people and some may hesitate at the last minute from voting for something that takes us into what is uncharted, and thus to them dangerous, territory. Hence while they may be generally approving, in a vague way, of equal rights for the gay community, they may shrink at the last minute, perhaps even in the voting booth, from taking this decisive step, deciding instead to kick this can down the road until they are more comfortable with it. When people are in doubt, they tend to find comfort in the status quo.

This may explain why the same-sex marriage issue lost by such a large margin in North Carolina in May, despite pre-election polls showing that it was a very close call.

So while I think that the tide has definitely turned and that it is only a matter of time before full legal recognition is obtained for same-sex marriage (after all, even Ted Haggard now supports it), I am frankly nervous about these four votes, unless they show large leads of the order of 10% or more right up to election day.

On the other hand, even a single victory out of the four will have huge symbolic value since that would be the first time the public has voted directly in favor of same-sex marriage. All previous measures have been mandated by the courts or passed by state legislatures.

Until that day, here is an interesting short speech by a preacher Phil Snider that was delivered during hearings when the city of Springfield, Missouri was debating an ordinance preventing discrimination against members of the LGBT community. You need to watch it through to the end.

The video of Snider’s speech has been viewed extensively and he has a blog post about the responses he has received.


  1. The Lorax says

    Saw that video elsewhere. Someone needs to give that man an Oscar or something, because he played that part so well.

    Then again, that’s the point, right? Rile up your audience, get them to agree with what you’re saying, what you know they agree with. Get them to cheer loudly their beliefs. Then, quite simply, show them how ugly they are.

  2. jhendrix says

    Appreciate the update on the polling data for these referendums.

    Current polling seems to indicate that Obama has got the election sewn up relatively well, so this is what I’m really interested in seeing the outcome of.

    I think having one or even 3 of these be approved would be a huge step towards moving the country forward to full legality of same sex marriage. Especially if it’s combined with an Obama win – it would be something to break the spirit of the Religious Right, forcing them out of a reality bubble where they can delude themselves into thinking that they hold a majority view on this anymore.

    There’s a bit of wishful thinking in that. Still, I especially hope for Maryland to pass; I’ve got some good gay friends down there and I can’t wait to dance at their wedding.

  3. Sajanas says

    I think that the problem with the passage of Amendment One in NC was as much because it was during the primary election, when there was a democrat incumbent. I think a lot of people didn’t get out to vote, and perhaps even more were confused by the language of the amendment, which was along the lines of ‘the state shall only recognize the marriage between a man and a woman’, rather than ‘no gay marriage, and no civil benefits to gay couples at all’. It was also sped through onto the ballet, so there were only a few months of campaigning too. A lot of people were probably just unaware, and you combine that with republican churches sending their congregations out, and you get a bad defeat that wouldn’t necessarily have happened if such an important measure had been put up during the general election.

  4. Corvus illustris says

    If the Michigan experience in 2004 is at all analogous, part of what’s going on here is an effort to get out the Repub vote in deep-blue states: even if Obama carries the state, there may be effects farther down the ticket. These efforts are heavily funded by the RCC bishops ($500K for ads to the general public in MI 2004, and who knows how much for signature-gathering), while their tax exemption remains of course untouched.

    Worst part of this is that when referenda like these carry, the only thing that is likely to turn them around is Federal legislation, and that puts us all at the mercy of the quondam Confederacy every two years.

  5. Nemo says

    It should be noted that the Maryland law, enacted this year, was not set to come into effect until January 2013 — effectively a voluntary stay pending the inevitable referendum. So there haven’t actually been any gay marriages here yet, although we recognize those that take place in other jurisdictions (like D.C.).

  6. frank says


    Is the recognition of marriages from other jurisdictions at issue in the referendum, or would it continue irrespective of the result? Here in Ohio, we don’t even have that. It would be a shame if it went down in Maryland too.

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