Maryland’s historic approval of same-sex marriage in Tuesday’s election not only exemplifies the shifting national opinion on the issue, but challenges assumptions about voters in the state, observers say.
State voters upheld the new law by about 52 percent to 48 percent, while voters in Maine and Washington supported similar measures and Minnesotans rejected a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Prior to Tuesday, gay marriage iniatives had been voted down at the polls more than 30 times across the country.
In Maryland, the measure, known as Question 6, received 57 percent support in Baltimore but just 49 percent support in Prince George’s County, despite the demographic similarities between the two jurisdictions.
More than 60 percent of the population in each area is African-American, a group widely assumed to oppose same-sex marriage, observers say.
Tuesday’s returns, including a stronger-than-expected-showing in Prince George’s, debunked that notion, said Del. Mary L. Washington (D-Dist. 43) of Baltimore.
Urban areas tend to have larger openly-gay populations, Washington said. Baltimore is represented in Annapolis by three openly gay lawmakers, including her.
Many other Baltimore lawmakers voted in favor of the measure in the General Assembly, indicating a base level of support that wasn’t quite there in Prince George’s County, said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington. Just three of the eight senators from Prince George’s voted for the bill, he said.
“I was thrilled with Tuesday's outcome in Prince George’s," Madaleno said. "Many said we would lose big in Prince George’s.”
After same-sex marriage was defeated in California in 2008, the idea that blacks were uniformly opposed to same-sex marriage became conventional wisdom, Madaleno said.
“That conventional wisdom was incorrect,” he said. “With the right campaign, you can move voters of all types.”
The Baltimore win was particularly significant since many black church leaders from the city had spoken against the measure, said Donald Norris, chair of the Department of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
“I’m surprised it did so well in Baltimore,” he said.
Overall the passage of Question 6 reaffirmed the image of Maryland as a deep-blue state, Norris said. “On social issues, the state is trend much more liberal than many others,” he said.
The influence of mega-churches in Prince George’s could well have boosted opposition by a few percentage points, while endorsement from the NAACP could have played better in Baltimore, said Todd Eberly, professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland in St. Mary’s City.
The measure’s victory in Frederick County also took some by surprise.
“I am very surprised that in Frederick County people voted for it in the majority,” said Steve Gottlieb, chairman of the Frederick County Republican Central Committee
Austin Beach, the executive director of the Frederick Center, a local non-profit dedicated to meeting the needs of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning community in Frederick, was thrilled.
“This is a new start for marriage equality,” Beach said.
At an election watch party in Baltimore, sponsored by the coalition, the crowd erupted into cheers when supporters, including Washington, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), and several other lawmakers took to the stage to declare victory early Wednesday morning.
Vanessa Bowling and Sadie Ajavon, both of Parkville, said they’d been together for more than four years and now planned to marry.
“I just want to be able to marry the person that I love,” Ajavon said.
Staff Writer Margarita Raycheva contributed to this report.