Maryland Marriage-Equality Supporters Intensify Efforts

Pro-equality forces ramp up outreach campaign with release of newly designed website and video ahead of November referendum

It’s been a busy couple of days for supporters of marriage equality in the Free State.

Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the coalition of labor, religious, and community organizations working to uphold Maryland’s marriage-equality law at the ballot box, launched a newly designed website July 11 in advance of a November referendum aimed at repealing the law.

The website, now tailored to a more general audience than when supporters of marriage equality were focused on passing the bill through the Maryland General Assembly, is video- and photo-heavy in order to illustrate the human side of the marriage-equality fight.

The website also provides tools that allow visitors to share videos or links through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, volunteer for phone-banking and vote-canvassing efforts, buy fundraising merchandise and make donations to the campaign.

”Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a surge in online activity around our campaign, but one thing we’ve been missing is a website that really speaks to what this campaign is about – and that is amplifying the voices of the majority of Marylanders who support same-sex marriage,” said Rachael Stern, new media director for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, in a statement. ”The new site is a one-stop shop for everything supporters will need to learn about the campaign, get involved and help defend marriage on the ballot.”

Following the July 10 official certification of petitions submitted by opponents of same-sex marriage to force the law onto the November ballot, pro-marriage equality forces have doubled down on their efforts to solicit donations ahead of the coming referendum.

If upheld by voters, the law will take effect Jan. 1, 2013. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed the marriage-equality bill into law on March 1. But the bill’s narrow passage in both the House of Delegates, by a vote of 72-67, and the Senate, by a vote of 25-22, as well as the high-profile defeat of a similar bill during the 2011 session, showed the effectiveness of marriage-equality opponents.

Despite the Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition having raised in one day an amount five times that raised by its chief opponent, the Maryland Marriage Alliance, in one month, and revelations first reported by The Baltimore Sun showing that the Maryland Marriage Alliance is more than $88,000 in debt, pro-equality forces remain heavily reliant on individual donations.

Moreover, with national groups such as the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) serving as the primary funders of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, it’s likely that opponents of the marriage-equality law will have ample funding to carry out a far-reaching media campaign in the fall. Both sides are expected to spend millions of dollars.

In anticipation of this, Marylanders for Marriage Equality has sent out multiple fundraising emails, at least one every other week. Equality Maryland, a Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition member, also sent a fundraising email.

In the Equality Maryland email, Carrie Evans, the group’s executive director, recounted the news that the State Board of Elections had certified opponents’ petition signatures and quoted Maryland Marriage Alliance’s President Derek McCoy as telling The Baltimore Sun, ”We’re excited, we’re on the ballot.”

”I don’t know about you, but something about using the word ‘excited’ to describe denying fairness and equality under the law to thousands of Maryland families feels really distasteful,” Evans wrote in her fundraising email. ”We have fought too long to let our opponents be ‘excited’ about the possibility of overturning this law. Please help Equality Maryland defend the marriage equality law and ensure that all committed LGBT couples can marry in our state.”

But pro-equality forces are not just relying on fundraising. The campaign also recently released a Web ad featuring African-American Marylanders, including some same-sex couples, who support marriage equality.

Julian Bond, chairman emeritus of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), previewed the video and sent a mass email to marriage equality supporters to highlight its contents.

”The new video by Marylanders for Marriage Equality shows us what the same-sex marriage debate is really about: our gay and lesbian family members, neighbors, friends, co-workers – and those who support them,” Bond wrote in the email. ”It’s this human side we cannot forget about as the campaign gets underway.

”Marylanders will be casting a vote on the law – not on their faith. Equality under the law means equality for all, not just some. If we’re all going to be equal in America, being able to marry the person we love and raise a family is an opportunity we all should have.”

Bond also referred to documents from the National Organization for Marriage, in which the group outlined a strategy to ”drive a wedge between gays and blacks – two key Democratic constituencies” by recruiting African-American spokespeople to object to the characterization of marriage as a civil right and provoke marriage-equality advocates into denouncing those opponents.

”What really pains me is that opponents of same-sex marriage have admitted their strategy is to divide gays and blacks,” Bond wrote, referencing the NOM memos. ”This harms our culture and such divisive tactics should not be tolerated. We must bring people together around our shared values of family and fairness, which this video illustrates.”

The newest video of African-American Marylanders supporting marriage equality continues an effort by Marylanders for Marriage Equality to combat media portrayals highlighting African-American opposition to same-sex marriage.

In the past year, the campaign has released several video spots featuring civil rights leaders and others who support same-sex marriage. Those videos have included Bond himself, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D), comic and Baltimore native Mo’Nique, and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo.

A May poll by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling (PPP) commissioned by Marylanders for Marriage Equality, showed 57 percent of Marylanders would vote to uphold the law, while 37 percent would vote to overturn it. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.4 percent. The May numbers marked a shift from March, when PPP found support for the marriage equality law almost evenly divided.

The May poll also found that much of the increase was driven by an uptick in support among African-American voters following the endorsement of marriage equality by President Barack Obama and the NAACP. According to the PPP data, 55 percent of African-American voters would now vote to uphold the marriage-equality law, up from 39 percent in March.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com