Could a proposal to open a new casino in Maryland doom the state’s new marriage equality law? That’s the fear LGBT rights groups have expressed this week.
Governor O’Malley is backing a measure that would allow the state’s sixth casino to be built in conservative Prince George County and is expected to introduce a draft bill for the Legislature’s attention during the August special session. If approved by both chambers, the measure would go before voters at the November ballot where voters will also be deciding on the state’s marriage equality law, which is due to come into force, if retained, in January.
The worry is that gambling laws tend to bring out religious conservative voters in droves, something that would not bode well for same-sex marriage.
So, same-sex marriage boosters are worried about the potential for a perfect storm that could lead to the defeat of the state’s law. There’s the prospect of casino operators spending millions to put the kibosh on a sixth casino. This could gin up the anti-gambling base of opponents that Kefalas told me is comprised of rural voters and African Americans, who oppose gambling for religious reasons.
“Any campaign to defeat a new casino might entail dragging religious opponents to gambling out of the woodwork,” said Jeff Krehely, vice president for LGBT research and communications at the Center for American Progress. The Maryland pollster I talked with echoed this concern, saying that a gambling referendum “adds to a ‘this is against our values’ argument” among those more conservative voters.
Maryland is a state that has no competitive statewide races and won’t see much of the presidential race because it is a lock for President Obama. Because it is widely believed that support for marriage equality is not nearly as strong as we think, anything that pulls more conservative voters to the polls, for whatever reason, is seen as a threat to the law. With same-sex marriage never winning at the ballot box, advocates are right to be worried.
This would also seem to risk watering down the positive effect President Obama’s support for marriage equality had in mobilizing African Americans in Maryland to support gay marriage.
Still, these are early days. While O’Malley is believed to have support enough in the Senate, the state’s more conservative lower chamber is rumored to look on the proposal less favorably.