With less than a week to go in the fight over same-sex marriage in Maryland, both advocates and opponents of the new law say they’re confident, but cautious.
Amid conflicting polling numbers, a media battle over the potential impact of the law and the hurricane that pushed electoral matters out of the headlines for a few days, both sides say the homestretch will be largely about knocking on doors and talking to people.
“We’re focused on making sure supporters are out talking to friends, family and neighbors,” said Sultan Shakir, political director of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the group leading the charge to uphold the new law.
On the other side, the Rev. Derek McCoy said his team is urging supporters to “tell 10, 20, 30 of their family members and friends” to vote against the issue. But McCoy, who chairs the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which is leading the opposition to the law, acknowledged the vote will be close.
“I’ve said all along it’s going to be a nail-biter,” McCoy said. “For the first time in history, this could be decided by one vote.”
The media campaigns, of course, will continue.
Shakir said one important ad his group would keep running features Julian Bond, chairman emeritus of the NAACP. In the commercial, Bond says same-sex marriage is about “the civil right to make a lifelong commitment to the person you love.”
McCoy said the alliance would increase its radio presence and would likely release a final, “culmination” TV ad, recapping arguments made throughout the campaign, on Friday.
Recent polls suggest the opposition may be gaining strength, but neither camp wants to get too bogged down in the numbers. Shakir said his group knew it would be a close race, while McCoy said polls have never been clear on the issue because people who oppose it feel intimidated by pollsters.
A Baltimore Sun poll, conducted by OpinionWorks and released in late October, put support for the measure among likely voters at 46 percent and opposition at 47 percent. A month earlier, support was ahead 49 percent to 39 percent.
An October Washington Post poll put support among likely voters at 52 percent and opposition at 43 percent, and a Goucher poll released early this week showed support among all residents at 55 percent, with opposition at 39 percent.
But looking at a poll of all residents versus a poll of likely voters is “a different universe,” said Todd Eberly, professor of political Science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland in St. Mary’s City.
The Sun poll suggests that history is repeating itself in Maryland, Eberly said. As has happened in other states, early leads seen by supporters diminish as the election approaches and the opposition gains strength, he said.
Opponents are effective in getting clergy leaders to speak against same-sex marriage, and the religious arguments are tough for supporters to counter, Eberly said. While several church leaders have backed the measure, they’re likely in the minority, he said.
Getting boots on the ground and knocking on doors is exactly what each side needs to do in the final days leading up to Tuesday’s general election, said Donald Norris, chair of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The inconsistent poll numbers make the race a “total tossup,” he said.
There’s also Sandy to be considered.
“For the next several days all we’re going to hear about is the hurricane,” Eberly said. “It’s going to suck the oxygen out of the room.”
Norris disagreed. The storm may have disrupted a few days of early voting, but he said he hasn’t seen any studies that suggest early voting makes a difference in the outcome of an election.
Shakir said the disruption was likely to be minimal. “The Maryland electorate is very engaged,” he said. “We expect turnout to be very high.”
Recent TV ads from each side have focused on the question of whether same-sex marriage would be taught in schools.
A commercial from the Maryland Marriage Alliance argues that “schools could teach that boys can marry boys,” then offers a message from David and Tonia Parker, who say their son was taught about gay marriage at his Massachusetts school.
“It’s not true,” counters high-school teacher Pamela Gaddy in a response ad produced by Marylanders for Marriage Equality. “Question 6 has nothing to do with what’s taught in the classroom,” she said
The Parkers, who are appearing in nearly identical commercials opposing same-sex marriage in Maine, Minnesota and Washington, sued the school, but the case was thrown out.
Subsequent claims from the National Organization for Marriage, which is funding the opponents in each state, that Massachusetts public schools were teaching students as young as kindergarten about same-sex marriage were deemed “false” by the nonpartisan Politifact.com.