November’s Looking Good for Marriage Equality

Here’s some absurdly good news. As Garrett Epps told us, the Ninth Circuit yesterday decided to stand by its panel’s decision in the Prop 8 case and kick it upstairs to the Supremes. Maybe SCOTUS will refuse to take the case; that would be fabulous news, turning California immediately into a marriage-equality state without causing me any anxiety about someone up there writing a decision that leaves a bad precedent. But the good news is that the First Circuit’s nice, narrow ruling striking down DOMA’s section 3 will probably get there first.

When the Supreme Court does hear arguments on marriage equality, however narrow or broad, here’s what will help: There are four votes on marriage coming up this fall. One of them is a state-level Defense of Marriage Act; three others would be votes in favor of removing the gender requirements in the state’s marriage laws, thus enabling qualified same-sex couples to marry. And in all four, the polls are looking good—so good that I’ll take cash bets that at least one, and very possibly all four, will vote in favor of my marriage. You’ve heard that that’s never happened at the ballot box? That won’t be true after this November.

1. Minnesota. This one will be the hardest to win. It’s a classic Defense of Marriage Act, asking voters to say yes or no to this sentence: “Marriage is between one man and one woman.” That’s very, very hard to vote against, since it sounds like a dictionary definition. You don’t vote against the dictionary unless you’ve thought for a while about the issue and are absolutely comfortable with same-sex couples marrying. And yet Kate Brickman, the press secretary for Minnesotans United for All Families, told me that they had high hopes. All the other anti-DOMA campaigns had only six months to prepare—and most DOMA votes came in the first few reaction years after voters first heard about same-sex marriage, when it still sounded like an oxymoron. The most recent Public Policy poll shows that Minnesotans are against the DOMA by 49-43. That’s not a comfortable number, by any means; undecideds almost all end up going to the "against" side. But MN United is running a good campaign. If they succeed, it will be the first time voters have defeated a proposed DOMA—and that will be a huge deal.

2. Maine. This is the one that makes me dance happily in my seat, and not just because my wife’s a Maine native with all her family still back there voting on her behalf. In 2009, Maine’s legislature passed a marriage-equality law, which the governor enthusiastically signed. Opponents (NOM and the Catholic Church) took it to the ballot immediately; that fall, it lost by only 30,000 votes. Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, tells me that the campaign kept on working the very next day, training thousands of volunteers to go out and have individual, ongoing conversations with Maine voters about what marriage meant to them and why same-sex couples wanted it too. He says that they’ve been able to track 70,000 such ongoing conversations—some with neighbors, some after knocking on doors, some by telephone—and have follow-up conversations. That’s how minds change on marriage equality: when a person really gets a chance to think hard and ask questions. Once numbers looked good enough, MUM decided to put a question on the ballot themselves—an affirmative question this time, asking voters to change the law to allow same-sex couples to marry. And it’s easier to vote yes on marriage equality than it is to vote no on the dictionary.

When I spoke with McTighe in May, he said that their internal polling showed 54–56 percent in favor of opening up the law, with opposition only around 37-39 percent. I’ve never heard numbers like that before a vote on LGBT issues. Never. If they keep working the way they’ve been working, I think—and my other reliable sources think—that they’re going to win. That will be earthshaking: voters gender-neutralizing marriage. Take that, haters!

3 & 4. Maryland and Washington. Both these states are in the position Maine was in during 2009. Last fall their legislatures passed, and their governors signed, equal-marriage laws that are on hold until reviewed by the voters in November. (If not voted down, Washington’s will take effect in January 2013.) As in Maine, these will be affirmative votes to uphold the law allowing same-sex couples to marry. Washington's vote, like Maine's, would simultaneously revoke its DOMA. Both of them have support above 50 percent. Maryland didn’t—until Obama came out in favor of equal marriage, and African Americans flipped overnight from being opposed to being supportive—as if many had just been waiting for a black leader to make them re-evaluate their beliefs. Maryland is about one-third black, with one of the most heavily African-American populations in the nation. As a result, the latest Public Policy poll showed Maryland 52 percent in favor of the new law, and 44 percent opposed. It’s hard to know whether that new support will stay firm all the way to November. If it does—if Maryland’s voters vote to uphold their new equal marriage law—that will be a big deal too.

In 2009 in Washington, voters approved an everything-but-marriage domestic partnership law, and as in Maine the campaign just kept on educating its voters.  The latest poll showed support at 54 percent vs. 33 percent. Even if you assume that all the undecideds are actually going to vote no, that gives a couple of points of wiggle room.

5. Oregon. I know, I know, I said "four." That’s because Basic Rights Oregon, like MUM, assessed their campaign polling during the winter—and while they’d made progress since starting their voter-by-voter education campaign, they decided they wanted another two years before risking a vote to overturn their 2004 ballot-passed DOMA amendment. But they’re confident that in 2014, they’ll be ready to go to the polls—and win.

Voter opinion on same-sex marriage moves in only one direction: steadily toward stronger and stronger approval. You know as well as I do that it’s almost considered unseemly to come out publicly against LGBT folks these days. In several of the polls above, Democrats are overwhelmingly for equal marriage—and so are independents. Only Republicans remain steadily opposed. On this issue, at least, they’re the ones out of step with the country’s views.

I can’t tell you whether Obama will win reeelection this fall; that will depend on the economy, as pundits have told you here. But marriage equality will win. Care to bet?

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