As recently as May, North Carolina voters delivered another drubbing in a string of 30-plus statewide losses for gay-marriage activists, adding the state’s ban on same-sex marriage to its constitution. In Tuesday’s vote, those advocates welcomed a different result. “Winning for the first time at the ballot box in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington is truly historic,” said Chad Griffin, who recently took over the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest gay rights organization. “You’re seeing how fair-minded Americans are, coming down on the side of full equality and inclusion in this country.”
Griffin attributed the win to new gay-straight alliances — outreach efforts with church leaders, African American activists, corporations and business leaders. Many prominent executives took the risk of alienating their customer base and ponied up chunks of their own fortunes, including the founders of Amazon and Microsoft in Washington state. The chief executive of General Mills, Ken Powell, spoke for his company against a same-sex marriage ban in the conglomerate’s home state of Minnesota.
A leading opponent to same-sex marriage discounted the victories as waged on uneven terrain. Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington are “four deep-blue states,” where Democratic voters are more likely to back gay causes, said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).
Only four years ago, opponents of gay marriage triumphed in California’s Proposition 8 vote, which stopped a same-sex marriage law in that blue state. Brown noted that NOM achieved a decisive win there despite many newspaper editorials in favor of same-sex marriage, plus corporate behemoths such as Google and Levi’s lining up with gay rights organizations. “That’s not new” to face off against such players, Brown said. “What’s new this year is just the level of money.”
Griffin cited the $2.5 million check that Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s billionaire founder, wrote in support of Washington’s gay-marriage effort — funds that mingled with $600,000 each from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and chief executive Steve Ballmer. By Brown’s estimation, Bezos’s act of largess was a historic feat: “As far as I know, that’s the largest single donation” in the dozens of gay-marriage ballot initiatives to date.
The money spent this year was the most lopsided in favor of advocates of same-sex marriage thus far. By HRC’s tally of the Washington state race, gay rights organizations poured in nearly $12 million, while advocates of traditional marriage spent $3 million. Nationwide, HRC and NOM spent the most money, and the Catholic Church contributed large sums in its effort to prevent same-sex couples from marrying.