Handicapping the Marriage-Equality Initiatives

This is the tenth in the Prospect's series on the 174 measures on state ballots this year.

Marriage equality is up for vote in four states. In three states, voters have a chance to affirmatively  say yes to allowing their state to marry same-sex couples; in the fourth, voters can add a “one man-one woman” marriage clause to the state’s constitution. As we all know, support for LGBT issues in general, and marriage equality in particular, has been getting stronger every year, as more of us talk to our families and friends, explaining that love and devotion are the same whether you love a boy or a girl. Will this be the year that, at long last, we win at least one marriage vote at the polls?

Below is a list of the states to watch, with some brief handicapping. As you watch, remember these two things about the difference between opinion polls and the final polling:

  1. All undecideds vote against marriage equality. Ignore the spread.
  2. A couple of points of support disappear at the ballot, as some voters lose their nerve to vote for change.



Question 1 reads: “Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?” A “yes” vote will allow same-sex couples to marry. This is not a referendum on an existing law; it’s purely a grassroots initiative in favor of marriage equality. A door-to-door persuasion campaign has been underway for several years now; equality forces didn’t pop the question until they had 56 percent support. This PPP poll made me nervous, showing only 52/45 support. Critical Insights, however, found support holding steady at 56.

My prediction: Marriage equality wins with 52 percent of the vote.



Here, voters are deciding whether or not to uphold the marriage equality law passed by the legislature earlier this year. Question 6, titled the "Civil Marriage Protection Act," reads in part, “Establishes that Maryland's civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying.” It goes on to discuss protection for religious freedom. Opinion polling has always been close. The combination of church opposition and an anti-equality television advertising blitz has been very effective in eroding African American support.

My prediction: Marriage equality loses with 48 percent of the vote.



Here, voters are asked whether they want to amend the state’s constitution this way: “Amendment 1: Recognition Of Marriage Solely Between One Man And One Woman. Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?” The state legislature put this on the ballot, despite the fact that this language already exists in its statutes. Marriage equality supporters have had 18 months to campaign. The wild card here: the amendment can only pass if it gets a yes on more than 50 percent of all ballots cast. To my shock, Public Policy Polling’s poll over this past weekend found that only 45 percent say they will vote yes and 52 percent say they will vote no. But all the earlier polls have had DOMA supporters plus undecideds adding up to 51 percent.

My prediction: The DOMA amendment passes with 51 percent of the vote.



In Washington state, as in Maryland, legislators passed a marriage equality law this year; voters now can approve or reject it. Here’s the key part of the ballot language: “This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony.” A couple of polls show support at about 52 percent.

Here’s the thing to remember: Washington votes entirely by mail. Given that some voters won’t cast ballots until Tuesday, we will not know the outcome of this one until the weekend, at the earliest.

My least confident prediction: We win with a very thin majority, 51 percent at most.


As you can see, I think we’re only going to win one, maybe two. But even that one would be a thrilling breakthrough. On all the rest, we’ll keep working to persuade folks one by one, and will return for a rematch in two to five years—when we will win, so long as everyone keeps working as if our lives depend on it. Which they do. We have that advantage: we're fighting for real people; they're fighting for a dying idea.

This year, marriage equality supporters (an astounding percentage of them non-gay) poured in millions of dollars and volunteer hours. The marriage equality side has outspent the opposition by several times over, in some cases up to five to one. Much of that investment simply counters the misleading NOM TV ads that try to sow enough doubt in voters’ minds that they don’t have the nerve, at the last minute, to vote for change. And Brian Brown, the National Organization for Marriage’s current president, talked with BuzzFeed reporter Chris Geidner, saying that NOM isn’t going to give up its fight; even in states where they lose, he said, “There’s no reason we can’t go back. This is never over. We’re not giving up any ground. Ever.”

But remember, support is ticking up steadily every year, as voters see that social chaos hasn’t ensued in the six states with marriage laws. As the years go by, as our support increases, we’ll need less money to win. Ten or 20 years from now, Brian Brown and Maggie Gallagher will look as ridiculous as Anthony Comstock, fighting for a hopelessly outdated social vision.

Remember: Even if we lose all four ballot battles tomorrow, we’re winning the war.

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