On Nov. 6, the world changed for millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in this country, as three states endorsed marriage equality for same-sex couples and a fourth rejected a constitutional ban on gay marriage. This had never happened before. In fact, 30 out of 30 previous ballot measures had gone against supporters of LGBT equality.
As a Marylander, I was thrilled when Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act in March. When I learned that opponents of marriage rights had gathered enough signatures to put the measure to a statewide referendum, I resolved to help make sure marriage equality prevailed. I raised money for the cause, talked to voters and recruited friends to knock on doors on behalf of the campaign.
Winning Question 6 was never a slam dunk. Polls in September and October showed support hovering around 50 percent — far too close for comfort. And support was that strong only because of the tireless efforts of Equality Maryland, prominent members of the clergy and other activists across the state, who spent years building the consensus that allowed the General Assembly to enact the Marriage Protection Act in the first place. Those forces pivoted deftly to deliver a broad appeal to the public on Question 6 this summer and fall.
Still, I found that, for most people, this was just another of those confusing ballot questions that a significant number of voters don’t consider much — if at all — before approaching a voting machine. I believed that, unless voters associated Question 6 with someone they knew and cared about, they might skip it altogether.
So I began talking to friends and family and e-mailing them information about the issue. Some admired my activism. Some were merely amused that I could be so worked up about the referendum. Of course, Maryland will vote for marriage equality, they assured me. Everyone we know supports equality.
I appreciated the encouraging words, but I worried that complacency could turn what looked to be a narrow victory into a dispiriting defeat.
When Election Day arrived, I reminded everyone I could think of to cast their vote for marriage equality. I was surprised when some played down the importance of their responsibility to vote. One lifelong friend joked that he had already voted for “gay casinos” — conflating Question 6 with Question 7, the referendum on expanding gambling in Maryland. Others were certain that turnout would be high, assuming — without basis — that if a large percentage of eligible voters simply showed up, the vote would go the right way.
In fact, voter participation in ballot questions tends to lag the presidential ballot, and that turned out to be the case again in 2012. Maryland’s overall voter turnout exceeded 69 percent of eligible adults. Taken together, the various ballot measures underperformed, with an average participation rate of about 64 percent.
Question 6 was narrowly approved with 52 percent of the vote — winning fewer votes than Question 7. Apparently, about 8,000 more people were willing to endorse gaming than stable families.
I know in my heart that a good deal of Maryland’s citizens cast their vote in favor of Question 6 only because people like me asked them to. I also believe that some of their minds were changed from no to yes because an LGBT friend, family member, neighbor, co-worker or fellow church-goer talked to them about why marriage equality matters.
Marriage equality is not a battle that wins itself. Tough conversations and principled stands put Question 6 over the top. It took religious leaders going out on a limb, politicians taking tough votes, corporate support given at the possible expense of losing business, individuals coming out, sometimes at personal risk, and volunteers and donors who stepped up to make sure that the campaign behind Question 6 had the resources it needed to win.
This victory — and those in Maine, Minnesota and Washington — was the product of time and hard work. It is a template that can and will be replicated in state after state until every American is afforded full equality under the law.