The occasion Thursday evening was a big-ticket fundraiser atop a SoHo hotel to support the campaign to uphold Maryland's same-sex marriage law, which goes to voters in November. About 200 guests paid between $250 and $25,000 to mingle for two hours with celebrities, munching on shrimp and caviar hors d'oeuvres.
VIDEO: Gov. O’Malley speaks at gay-marriage fundraiser
Donors from across the country are expected to use their checkbooks to weigh in on Maryland's same-sex marriage referendum. Groups supporting same-sex marriage are making a concerted effort to raise more money nationally to help break a string of defeats at ballot boxes in other states. Opponents of same-sex marriage have long relied on a national fundraising network of religious conservatives, among others, and continue to do so.
Thursday's event on behalf of Marylanders for Marriage Equality was organized by Brian Ellner, a gay rights activist who lives here, and Charles, the actor who grew up in Baltimore.
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The National Organization for Marriage held its own more low-key fundraising event two weeks ago in Manhattan. Opponents have tended to spend less money than gay marriage supporters — but until now, at least, have used larger percentages of out-of-state cash.
"When you have a ballot initiative on an issue of national discussion, like gay marriage, it is not surprising that there would be money raised on both sides from out-of-state," said Viveca Novak, a spokeswoman with the Center for Responsive Politics. "This is something that is bigger than the state of Maryland."
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Same-sex proponents have lost every time a state same sex marriage law has gone before voters — 32 out of 32 referendums, most recently in North Carolina in May.
Momentum to break that pattern in heavily Democrat Maryland is building, supporters say, pointing to President Obama's May statement supporting same-sex marriage and a similar plank in the Democratic Party platform approved this month. And with the momentum comes a wider network of potential donors that they are eager to tap.
Three states besides Maryland have gay marriage questions on the ballot this fall: Maine, Minnesota and Washington.
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Maryland took its place on the national stage in February when the General Assembly approved a law to legalize same-sex marriage here. Opponents quickly gathered enough signatures to trigger the November referendum.