“For a people of many faiths, for a people committed to the principle of religious freedom, the way forward is always found through greater respect for the equal rights of all, for the human dignity of all,” O’Malley (D) said moments before he signed the bill to sustained applause from hundreds of supporters who crowded into the main hall of the State House.
Along with gay marriage, the results of a referendum on the state’s version of the Dream Act could also reverberate nationally as Marylanders weigh in on an issue that has become a cause celebre among Republican presidential candidates.
Taken together, the ballot questions will add up to something else: a referendum on just how liberal Maryland has become.
Although long a blue state, Maryland has, in part because of its location south of the Mason-Dixon line, remained a state with more conservative views than others with similarly sized Democratic majorities.
Its voters have repeatedly preferred the middle of the pack instead of the leading edge, especially when it comes to controversial social policy. The last comparable referendum in the state was a measure to confirm a woman’s right to an abortion in 1992 — nearly two decades after the Supreme Court settled Roe v. Wade.
But a November sweep for gay marriage
and immigrant rights
would not only further position Maryland as the ideological opposite to neighboring Virginia but also would place it among the nation’s most liberal states.
A third potential ballot measure, which could dramatically expand gambling, may also loom large in the psyche of Maryland voters for its perceived loosening of the state’s moral fiber.
“All of these taken together, it will tell us what Maryland is evolving into — meaning, we may not be the Maryland that we once were or that we thought we still were,” said Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s). “It will redefine us.”
In the course of that electoral soul-searching, Maryland may in coming months prove too blue for a Democratic president who will have to focus his reelection effort on independent and moderate voters in swing states.
Although Maryland was a backdrop for President Obama on the campaign trail in 2008 — and has been a convenient stop to highlight administrative priorities since — it may not be in coming months if gay marriage and illegal immigration surface every time.
Visits could stir questions about what the president has called his “evolving” views on gay marriage, and on tuition breaks for illegal immigrants, which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he opposes.