In Maryland, partial returns showed the measure with a nearly 2-to-1 lead in Montgomery County and trailing slightly in Prince George’s. Support was far weaker in the more rural parts of the state.
Voters who attend church at least weekly were far more likely to be opposed than those who attend occasionally or never, according to the exit polls. Women were more likely to support the measure than men, and white voters were more likely to support it than African Americans, who split about evenly.
The campaign over Question 6 in Maryland focused heavily on African American voters, who make up a larger share of the electorate than in any other state outside the Deep South and whom polls showed as more reluctant to accept gay nuptials than white voters.
Television and radio ads aired by Marylanders for Marriage Equality, an O’Malley-backed campaign group, featured testimonials about fairness from black ministers and civil rights leaders. As of two weeks ago, the group had raised $4.5 million for its efforts, more than two and half times as much money as the leading opposition group, the Maryland Marriage Alliance, had raised for its bid to defeat Question 6.
O’Malley cast the issue in terms of equal protection, saying at a news conference Monday that Question 6 would “protect every child’s home equally under the law.” O’Malley also argued that he and lawmakers went to great lengths to include provisions in the law that protect the religious liberties of those who oppose it.
Opponents spent months networking through black and Catholic churches, trying to convert strength in the pews to muscle at the ballot box. Their less-frequent ads warned of changes to school curriculum and other consequences if voters redefined marriage.
At an event last week featuring about 75 religious leaders opposed to Question 6, Derek McCoy, the leader of the opposition group, argued that “marriage is more than what any two adults want. It is about future generations and our culture.”
The battle in Maryland drew an array of celebrities from across the country, with most offering fundraising help for supporters of same-sex marriage.
Before Tuesday, same-sex marriage was legal in the District and six states: Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa and New York.
Tuesday’s ballot measure in Washington state bears the most similarities to Maryland’s. In those states, legislatures passed a measure that petitioners pushed to a popular vote. A mail-in voting procedure in the Evergreen State means that final results there won’t be known till week’s end.
It had been three years since voters in any state were asked whether to legalize same-sex marriage — in 2009, Maine voters narrowly repealed a law to allow it that had been passed by the legislature.
This month, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to take up several tests of same-sex marriage.
For much of his political career, O’Malley, a practicing Roman Catholic, had been on record as supporting civil unions as an alternative to gay nuptials.
O’Malley announced his support of same-sex marriage legislation in July 2011, a few months after a similar bill passed the Maryland Senate but unexpectedly fell short in the House of Delegates. This year, with O’Malley’s backing, the same-sex marriage bill passed the House with one vote to spare.