To win some of the final votes needed for
passage in the House of Delegates last week, backers agreed to conditions that could help opponents place the new law on the November ballot. With polls showing the Maryland electorate almost evenly split on the issue, a referendum all but promises another contentious battle before the issue is settled in the state.
Ministers of several African American megachurches in Prince George’s County as well as conservative and Catholic groups have vowed to help repeal the measure.
The likelihood that the issue could land on the November ballot in Maryland presents a potential dilemma for President Obama. He has been heavily courting the gay community for donations and votes in his reelection campaign but has stopped short of fully embracing marriage rights. Obama has said his views are “evolving,” a statement viewed by many supporters in that community as a strong hint that he will soon endorse the cause, perhaps if and when he is safely reelected.
Gay rights activists can be expected to pressure the president to publicly support the Maryland law in November.
At the same time, however, Obama will probably be pressured by many African American leaders in Maryland to join them in opposing the measure.
If the debate in Maryland’s legislature is any guide, the mixture of emotions among African Americans over gay marriage will not be an easy issue for Obama to navigate.
Despite Maryland having one of the largest Democratic majorities in any state legislature, same-sex marriage advocates had to overcome fierce opposition from blocs of African American lawmakers, especially those with connections to large evangelical churches, to cobble together coalitions big enough to pass both chambers.
Maryland has the highest percentage of black voters of any state outside of the Deep South and a percentage of black voters nearly twice that of any other state that has passed same-sex marriage.
David Mixner, a prominent gay rights activist and blogger who is also an Obama campaign donor, said the Maryland bill “lands the issue squarely on the president’s desk” because of the state’s proximity to Washington and its sizable black electorate.
He noted that Obama’s opposition to gay marriage has been cited by opponents in California, as well as by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who recently vetoed a marriage law.
“It is essential that he makes clear to the voters of Maryland, without any caveats, that if he were a resident of the state, he would vote against repeal,” Mixner said. “We can’t afford to have his statement be ambiguous so the other side can claim that he’s on their side.”
As the Maryland Senate’s final vote was read aloud just after 6 p.m. in Annapolis, cheers and applause erupted from packed galleries of onlookers. Groups of supporters quickly spilled into the streets in front of the State House as passing motorists honked their horns and flashed a thumbs-up.