Maryland and Maine's winning formula similar to Washington's
by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
One of the highlights of election night was winning marriage equality not just in our state, but in two others - Maryland and Maine - as well, bringing the number of states where Gay and Lesbian couples can marry to nine, plus the District of Columbia and two Native American nations.
Maryland's situation was most like Washington's. There, too, a marriage equality bill was passed by the legislature, signed by a supportive Catholic governor, and then challenged by an initiative campaign leaving the final decision up to voters.
Maine had already experienced a bruising statewide campaign to repeal its marriage law in 2009. At that time, voters rejected the new marriage law, but equal rights activists bounced back and managed to put marriage equality on the ballot again this year, successfully reinstating the law.
SGN interviewed leaders of both the Maryland and Maine campaigns, and found that their winning strategies were remarkably similar.
Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, told SGN her group had been working toward equal marriage rights 'pretty earnestly since we lost in court in 2007.'
That year, Maryland's Court of Appeals ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was constitutional, just as Washington's Supreme Court did in the Andersen case the year before. Evans says that Equality Maryland then began to work on legislation to achieve Gay and Lesbian marriage rights.
'We realized we'd have to bring together a larger group,' she explained, 'so we reached out to HRC, SEIU [the Services Employees International Union], and the ACLU of Maryland.
'Then the governor came on board in a really big way,' she added. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley made the marriage equality bill the centerpiece of his 2012 legislative agenda.
The pro-equality coalition realized the law would be challenged by initiative after it passed, just as Washington's was, Evans explained, and they had already begun organizing a statewide electoral campaign before the legislative session was finished.
About a quarter of Maryland's voters are Roman Catholic, and Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori has been an outspoken conservative and an enemy of LGBT rights, but the pro-equality campaign was bolstered by popular support and an outspoken Catholic governor, Evans says.
'Most of the polling showed Catholics coming in as the most supportive religious group - always with a super-majority supporting equality,' Evans told SGN.
'The governor - he made it clear that with him it was truly an issue of faith, of caring about others. He was for equality because he is Catholic and not in spite of it. He stood firm when he got pushback from the hierarchy.'
About one-third of Maryland voters are African American, and the pro-equality campaign developed a strategy of outreach to African American communities early on, Evans says.
'We knew we had to have the Legislative Black Caucus on board [to pass the bill],' Evans told SGN.
'[After the bill passed] we focused like a laser on our African American voters. We had two straight African American ministers - Pastor [Delman] Coates and Pastor [Donte] Hickman - they were really a voice for equality in the community.
'We were able to have reputable members of the clergy say you didn't have to choose between faith and equality. We were really able to silence the opposition on that point.'
Finally, President Obama's endorsement of equality was extremely important, Evans added. 'And then the President - right in the middle of this - his endorsement was very influential.'
'Tuesday was a great day for the movement in Maine - a day that was generations in the making,' David Farmer, communications director of Mainers United for Marriage, told SGN.
According to Farmer, Maine's activists were not discouraged by their loss at the ballot box in 2009, but set to work right away doing basic community organizing with the objective of returning to the ballot by 2012. It was a controversial decision, because many people outside the state were skeptical of Mainers' ability to change public opinion in such a short time.
'What made a big difference was that the coalition immediately went to work doing one-on-ones with people in the community,' Farmer explained.
'By the time of the election, we hit the 300,000 conversation mark. That's a lot, considering we have maybe one million voters in Maine. We set the terms instead of allowing our opponents to do so.'
These face-to-face contacts with Maine voters allowed Mainers United to overcome what Farmer described as 'challenging demographics.'
'Maine has the oldest and the whitest electorate,' Farmer says. 'We have a high percentage of Catholics. We worked hard through our partner organizations on faith outreach. We ended up with 400 faith leaders and 75 congregations supporting the campaign.' Some 37% of Maine voters are Catholic.
Outreach to the faith community helped the pro-equality coalition neutralize the Catholic Church, which was the leading force in the 2009 repeal effort.
'The Catholics were just not as active as in 2009. Catholics for Marriage Equality did a lot of outreach, and not all parishes treated the issue the same.'
Maine marriages will not begin until January, Farmer believes, because 'the secretary of state has up to 20 days to certify the election, and then our very conservative governor has up to 10 days to sign the law.'
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!