Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage could impact Md. referendum

By Justin Snow

With a referendum on Maryland’s same-sex marriage law looming in November, President Barack Obama may have shaken the dynamic in the state on Wednesday as he openly endorsed same-sex marriage.

“At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News.

Obama’s definitive stance on the issue came three days after the White House was thrown into communications contortions when Vice President Joe Biden proclaimed his support for same-sex marriage during a Sunday TV interview. For more than two years, Obama had expressed support for civil unions, but said he was “evolving” on the issue of marriage.

Obama’s public stance on same-sex marriage may have implications for the 2012 presidential race, but it might have a bigger impact on the referendum process playing out in Maryland.

Senate President Mike Miller, Gov. Martin OMalley and House Speaker Mischael Busch as governor signs same-sex marrieage bill.

Senate President Mike Miller, Gov. Martin O'Malley and House Speaker Michael Busch sign same-sex marriage into law.

Supporters say momentum is on their side

Supporters of same-sex marriage were elated by the news, coming hours after North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Gov. Martin O’Malley and dozens of other lawmakers took to Twitter to applaud the president after ABC News interrupted broadcasts at 3 p.m. to air Obama’s announcement.

“Today, President Obama affirmed that for a people of many different faiths — a people who are committed to the principle of religious freedom — the way forward is always to be found through greater respect for the equal rights and human dignity of all,” O’Malley said in a statement. “In Maryland, we agree.”

Carrie Evans, the executive director of Equality Maryland who played an integral role in passage of same-sex marriage legislation earlier this year, said the president’s evolution on the issue was similar to that experienced by legislators like Republican Dels. Wade Kach of Baltimore County and Bob Costa of Anne Arundel. They both voted in favor of same-sex marriage legislation in February.

“The drumbeat is there,” said Evans. “Week after week there are prominent public officials coming out supporting marriage equality. It really helps voters realize this is the right thing to do for families.”

Some gay rights advocates have expressed frustration at how long it took Obama to “evolve,” particularly after he already said he supported same-sex marriage in a questionnaire filled out in 1996. But Evans said it was time to embrace Obama’s statement rather than question his motives.

“People do things for all different reasons, as we saw in Annapolis this year,” Evans stated. “Politics is like that.”

Protect Marriage says the demonstrators sign.

Same-sex marriage opponents protest outside the State House in Annapolis.

Ramifications for Maryland

Same-sex marriage supporters point to Obama’s endorsement as a major boost for their cause. Yet it is unclear how this new dynamic will play out when Marylanders go to the polls in November with both the president and same-sex marriage likely on the same ballot.

Opponents of the Maryland law have collected about 30,000 of the more than 56,000 signatures they need to put same-sex marriage on the ballot. The Maryland Marriage Alliance reassured petitioners in a statement that Obama’s change in stance does not affect their efforts.

Much as he did in 2008, Obama will likely drive higher black voter turnout in November. However, substantial portions of the black community in areas such as Prince George’s County have long been religiously opposed to same-sex marriage.

Several polls have shown Marylanders fairly evenly divided on the issue. The question is whether higher black turnout will lead to same-sex marriage’s defeat or if Obama’s support will change minds on the issue in the months ahead.

According to Don Kettl, dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Obama’s support could galvanize opponents of same-sex marriage. While it is highly unlikely black Democrats will vote Republican because of Obama’s position, that does not mean they will vote for same-sex marriage in Maryland. Moreover, Democrats’ rocky relationship with conservative Catholic voters will likely be “exacerbated” by Obama’s shift, Kettl said.

Impact on young voters and the Democrats’ future

Another key demographic will be young voters who supported Obama in droves in 2008. Younger voters have been less enthusiastic about Obama this election, citing concern over the state of the economy. With that lack of enthusiasm plaguing Mitt Romney as well, young voters could be poised to stay home on election day.

People under 40 tend to support same-sex marriage more than older generations. But Kettl believes Obama’s support for same-sex marriage will not be a game changer so much as a larger wedge between the two parties.

“This could be part of a much broader trend that might really separate the two candidates on social and economic issues that younger voters care about and begin to convince younger voters that maybe they ought to show up and vote at the polls after all,” Kettl said.

Obama’s confirmed support for same-sex marriage will likely have political ramifications into the future as well. With 2016 presidential buzz already surrounding O’Malley and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who have both successfully spearheaded same-sex marriage legislation, Kettl adds that this could be a “watershed moment” for the Democratic Party.

“It will be increasingly difficult for any major Democratic national figure to not back gay marriage,” Kettl said. “In all likelihood, nothing will be the same after this.”

About The Author

Len Lazarick


Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. Ro Gal

    Well then THAT is what your LBGT movement should focus on getting changed!! Quit trying to latch on the marriage bandwagon and “equate” the two. It just isn’t so, man/woman is different than any other combo, it is unique. I’m for same sex couples being treated fairly, but stop trying to equate it to a man and woman relationship bonding, it’s not the same!

  2. Chris Edens

    You want civil unions?  Fine.  You want equal protection?  Fine.  You want to take the word “Marriage” which has been held sacred(regardless of the straw man divorce issue) by many religions?  NO.   Why don’t the pro-gay agenda groups petition the Fed (that’s your buddy Obama folks!) to recognize Civil Unions as equal to marriage?   Now that we know Obama loves gay this should be no problem to get it started.   It’s the same thing with 2 different names and I think you would see more support.  But I think sometimes it’s more about getting that word and sticking it to those evil gay hating Christians and Catholics.

    I have no problem with people wanting to love whatever they want and being treated equally but I also respect those who hold the word “marriage” as sacred and no, at least for myself, I would not get divorced and break my vow.

    • currenti

      You’re an idiot. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…
      Firstly, religious freedom does not mean “my religion needs to be protected,” it means “any religious beliefs can be held.” This includes same-sex marriage. Many denominations and congregations support same-sex marriage. If you are using that logic, then they have just as much of a right to preform them as you do to not. Freedom is the *option*.

      Secondly, marriage is in no way unchangeable, if the past hundred years have anything to say about it. Marriage can be just as sacred after same-sex couples can enter it than it was before. Do you think they’ll “pollute” the system or something? Please explain.

      • Ro Gal

        Well, it didn’t take long for the liberal leftist to start the name calling.  Really?  an idiot because they differ with your opinion.  Like all left extremist you jump right to the personal attacks.  So here’s the question, if civil union affords the same privileges as HETROSEXUAL marriage, WHY do gay activists keep pushing the “marriage” language?   I think the answer is they want to destroy the tradition of marriage being exclusive to something between men and women.

        • corbindallas

          “So here’s the question, if civil union affords the same privileges as
          HETROSEXUAL marriage, WHY do gay activists keep pushing the
          “marriage” language?”You’re wrong about that, it is untrue to say they offer the same privileges. It’s because civil unions typically don’t afford the same privileges.http://lesbianlife.about.com/cs/wedding/a/unionvmarriage.htm

  3. Antinette Sykes

    Exactly what are opponents of same sex marriage protecting? Marriage between men and women end up in divorce more likely then not. And it’s usually behind infidelity, in that aspect, they disrespect the institution of marriage themselves. Do they want to be the only ones to disrespect marriage? Marriage is no more sacred then the church. So what are they protecting?

  4. BCResidentObserver

    Gay marriage, gay marriage, blah blah blah…funny how the gays dont’ realize they are just being used as pawns.  Wait till the bill comes due.  When you elect statist liberals, they expect payment for giving you your “rights” sooner or later.  Tell me…what state has a gay marriage bill actually passed on referendum? Oh wait. I am thinking.

    • currenti

      I don’t even… understand what you’re saying. What is your point?
      Referendums rarely mean anything. In most, less than half of the population actually votes (in N.C., less than 30%). The issue is that a majority of those who support same-sex marriage (straight allies) are less concerned about it than those who oppose, and so are less likely to bother voting.

      Regardless, N.C. is the first state to have a referendum since national polls have said a majority support same-sex marriage. Let’s see how Washington and Maryland play out, shall we?

      • Ro Gal

         Well what your saying is a referendum does not mean as much as a poll. Saying that is ridiculous, since referendums are usually held in conjunction with voting, which involves people having to make an effort to turn out by going to the polling place and casting a ballot or weigh in.  A poll (in this case) does not involve anywhere near the amount of people/citizens to weigh in on the issue.
        So don’t skew the issue in your favor with misinformation.  


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