Since 1998, voters have gone to the polls 31 times to have their say on statewide ballot measures. Advocates for same-sex marriage have lost every time.
Polls show the epic losing streak is likely to continue with North Carolina’s vote. But gay rights advocates are hopeful that Maryland voters could be among the first to break the streak by affirming same-sex marriage in a November vote.
Given the number of states with upcoming ballot measures, this year is shaping up as “nothing less than a national referendum on the same-sex-marriage issue,” said Brian S. Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, a group fighting such nuptials across the country.
Tuesday’s vote in North Carolina will be the first related to the issue since 2009, when 53 percent of voters in Maine rejected a new law that allowed same-sex marriage there. Polls are not very promising for gay rights activists. State law already limits marriage to that between a man and a woman, but the Republican-led legislature is asking voters to write a ban into the constitution.
Gay rights activists are much more hopeful about November, when Maryland and a couple of other more liberal states are expected to ask voters whether same-sex marriage should be allowed.
In Maryland, opponents of such unions are well on their way to collecting the 55,736 signatures required to call a referendum. But Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has said he is confident that a new law, which will allow same-sex nuptials starting Jan. 1, will be upheld. And perhaps he has reason to be: A Washington Post poll early this year showed that 50 percent of adults voiced support for same-sex marriage and 44 percent opposed it.
Like national surveys, the poll found that backing is strongest among younger residents, suggesting that the trend of growing support is likely to continue in coming years. In fact, a survey last month by the Pew Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that more Americans favor same-sex marriage than oppose: 47 percent to 43 percent.
And support from once-reticent politicians continues to grow, as evidenced by Vice President Biden’s pronouncement Sunday that he is “comfortable” with same-sex marriage.
“There’s no question that winning a majority vote on minority rights is the last barrier we have to overcome,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, a national group involved in several state ballot measures this year. “It’s always very difficult for a minority to turn to the majority and say ‘please stop discriminating’ with an up-or-down vote. But hearts and minds have changed across the country.”
Even in reliably blue states such as Maryland, however, success at the ballot is hardly considered a given this fall.