Marriage equality saw an enormous boon, as all four states that were to decide same-sex marriage questions came down on the LGBT community’s side. Maryland. Maine and Washington all approved their state’s recently passed marriage-equality laws, while voters in Minnesota defeated a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
The votes mark the first time ever that marriage equality has been successful when put to a popular vote; the issue previously failed 32 times on initiatives to approve marriage laws or defeat bans on same-sex marriage.
Overnight, the country jumped from having six states to nine states, as well as Washington, D.C., that will ultimately sanction same-sex marriage.
Of the four states considering the issue, Maryland was the first called for marriage equality by pundits late on Tuesday.
Maryland’s Question 6 — which was posed by opponents after the state legislature approved a same-sex marriage law in February that was summarily signed into law by the state’s governor — was approved by 51.9 percent of voters. With more than 2.4 million votes all together, the race was ultimately separated by about 94,000 votes.
Equality Maryland executive director Carrie Evans told PGN in an interview Wednesday morning that the atmosphere was electric at the watch party she attended, along with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who signed the state’s marriage measure into law this year.
“We were all there together — the coalition, our LGBT legislative caucus, the people who woke up at 5 in the morning to stand at these cold polls — and it was just magical,” Evans said. “For those of us who were in the General Assembly in the spring when the law was passed, there has been so much waiting and anticipation since then. I was on the side of the stage last night, and to hear the governor say, ‘OK, let’s [announce victory],’ and then to see 1,000 people crying, hugging, taking pictures, it was amazing.”
While backers were confident that voters would approve the measure, Evans said it was a nervewracking wait.
“It wasn’t until we got into the really big counties, like Montgomery County that we knew we were going to be strong in but wanted to make sure, and Prince George’s, that we became more sure,” she said. “Up until this point, no other states had won, even though other states had thought they were going to, so we didn’t want to be overly confident. But we knew we had done everything we could to put together a winning campaign and it was just up to voters. We knew we had a majority of Maryland with us, but it came down to whether people would come out to vote, whether they pushed the wrong button — lots of things can happen on Election Day.”
The marriage-equality debate heated up in Maryland in 2004 when same-sex couples sued for the right to marry, although that legal challenge was unsuccessful, and Evans said this week’s victory signified “these eight years are finally coming to an end. We get to move on with our lives and our families, and Equality Maryland gets to do the other important work that we care about.”
Evans said agencies like Human Rights Campaign, the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Service Employees International Union made “immense contributions” to the campaign.
ACLU LGBT Project director James Esseks called the victory a “watershed moment” for LGBT families.
“Not long ago, marriage for same-sex couples was unimaginable,” he said. “In a remarkably short time, we have seen courts start to rule in favor of the freedom to marry, then legislatures affirm it and now the people vote for it as well. Today’s election illustrates both the astonishing pace of change on the issue, as well as America’s commitment to fairness for everyone.”
Maryland’s marriage-equality law will go into effect Jan. 1.
Maine was the next state to be called. Voters in that state favored marriage equality by 53-47 percent.
In 2009, Maine became the first state in the nation to adopt a marriage-equality law through legislative means. However, antigay activists got the issue on the ballot, where it failed. Last year, LGBT supporters launched an initiative to again pose the question to voters on the 2012 ballot.
In Washington, voters approved that state’s law, capturing 52 percent of the vote. The legislature approved a marriage-equality measure in February.
Minnesota voters defeated the antigay amendment in a 53.5-46.5 percent vote, becoming the first state ever to do so.
“The tide has turned,” said Courage Campaign founder and chair Rick Jacobs. “When voters have the opportunity to really hear directly from loving, committed same-sex couples and their families, they voted for fairness and the freedom to marry. How fitting that four years after Prop. 8 awakened the nation, and the world, to the injustice of marriage for some but not for all committed couples, we have now won at the ballot box.”
Evans said the four wins signify a new era for LGBT rights.
“We are not isolated entities across the country working on things in isolation,” she said. “Everything gelled last night. It was really affirming that we truly are a social-change movement, and that idea came together for all of us last night.”