Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the coalition seeking to uphold the Free State's recently passed marriage equality law, issued a statement on May 29 outside the Maryland Secretary of State's office in Annapolis, in response to a 3 p.m. news conference by opponents of the law celebrating the submission of signatures on petitions calling for a referendum to repeal it.
"Given the low bar for petitioning a law to the ballot in Maryland, we've always expected same-sex marriage opponents to meet that threshold and then some – up to their stated target of 150,000," Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, said in a prepared statement.
Derek McCoy, executive director for the Maryland Marriage Alliance, the organization spearheading the effort to overturn the law along with several churches and religious groups, told radio station WBAL 1090 AM that the group had collected 113,000 signatures to be validated by the state, more than double the 55,736 signatures required to send the issue to a referendum.
McCoy told WBAL that signature collection efforts will continue through June. He also said a majority of signatures have come from Baltimore County.
According to the Maryland State Board of Elections, no more than half of all signatures seeking a referendum may be from any one county or Baltimore City. Those seeking to place the law on the 2012 ballot must submit 18,579 signatures by June 1, with the remaining signatures to reach 55,736 submitted by July 1.
But Levin warned opponents of marriage equality that their celebrations may be premature.
"Don't confuse meeting the legal requirement with intensity or measure of support," Levin said in his statement. "It's clear those opposed to marriage equality are losing ground."
Citing a Public Policy Polling (PPP) poll taken from May 14 to May 21 on behalf of the coalition, Levin pointed to results showing 57 percent of Marylanders would vote to uphold the marriage equality law at the ballot box, compared to 37 percent who would vote to overturn it. The poll also showed a surge in support of African-American voters following President Obama's and the NAACP's endorsements of marriage equality, with support for the law among African-Americans rising to 55 percent.
"As we open two new campaign offices and build out a robust field operation to offer information, register and mobilize voters this summer and fall, we will be looking to maintain this record-level of support for marriage equality in Maryland," Levin said. "Beyond polling and politics, let's keep in mind what the likely referendum is all about: building stronger families and protecting every child under Maryland law. Only marriage provides such legal protections to children. Every family deserves dignity, just as every church deserves its freedom and liberty to marry who they want. Religious liberty is cherished and protected."
The campaign also released a video of Fred Mason, Jr., president of the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, and his out gay son, Fred Mason III, talking about why marriage equality is important.
If upheld by voters, the law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2013. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signed the marriage equality bill into law on March 1. After several years of legislative wrangling, and numerous defeats in Annapolis, including its high-profile defeat in the House of Delegates during the 2011 legislative session, the bill passed the House of Delegates, 72-67 and the Maryland Senate by a vote of 25-22.
While at a recent DC Black Pride event, Rev. Dorothy Harris of the LGBT-affirming Unity Fellowship Church in Columbia, Md., who is licensed to marry couples in the District and in Maryland, told Metro Weekly that her church is planning a wedding ceremony for 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2013, in hopes of becoming one of the first churches to marry same-sex couples in Maryland.
"We're very active and involved in this issue, and we speak in favor of same-sex marriage in our churches and in our communities, and we also speak out against hatred, and against those who are continuing to try and discriminate us," she said.