Same-sex marriage has never won at the ballot box — until now!
Before Tuesday night, 32 states had used a popular vote to prevent same-sex couples from marrying.
Finally, though, Election Day 2012 broke that curse with wins in Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota.
All of the ballot questions were slightly different. Below is what you need to know about each of these amazing victories.
Maine Approves Marriage Equality at the Ballot
Every single one of the four victories is important in its own right, but Maine’s victory is perhaps a standout.
Equality advocates were left dejected in Maine in 2008 when, despite the state’s legislature having passed a marriage equality bill, and all indications being that the bill would survive a public vote, a public veto on the legislation saw it defeated.
Yet, in an extraordinary turnaround, Mainers under the leadership of EqualityMaine and the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) decided they would remedy that wrong and, without waiting for the legislature to pass another bill, would this year attempt to use Question 1 to recapture the rights that were so very nearly approved four years ago.
The ballot question read:
“Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?”
And, in a 53% to 47% victory, Maine voters said a resounding “Yes” on Tuesday night.
To emphasize that, Maine approved marriage equality not as a result of their legislators passing a bill, though many did support marriage equality, but because of grassroots efforts by the public based on the principle that approving marriage equality was simply the right thing to do.
Marriage equality will come into effect in Maine on December 7.
Marriage Equality Retained in Maryland
In 2011, Maryland’s marriage equality effort was defeated due to a failure of courage from the state’s General Assembly and a derisive campaign by groups like the National Organization for Marriage that attempted to pit African Americans and the religious against equality advocates.
Under the leadership of Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Maryland legislators this year put to rest that failure and passed a bill that would allow same-sex marriage while emphasizing religious exemptions and rights.
Foes quickly moved to put the new law to the ballot, and so Question 6 was born.
The ballot language read:
“[The same-sex civil marriage referendum] 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; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.”
While at first it appeared that the scaremongering and derisive tactics may once again lead to a defeat in Maryland, a wild card re-energized supporters.
That wild card was President Obama’s statement of support for marriage equality made in the summer of this year.
This presented a new opportunity for African American voters and the religious who also supported marriage rights to come forward.
And come forward they did. Marriage equality was preserved at the ballot on Tuesday night 52% to 48%, making Maryland one of the first states to ever retain marriage equality at the ballot.
The law will take effect January 1.
Marriage Equality Retained in Washington
Washington’s legislature, in an effort championed by Governor Chris Gregoire, this year passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriages in the state.
The law was scheduled to take effect in June, however, gay marriage foes worked to block the law by triggering a referendum on the measure, whereby Referendum 74 was created.
The ballot language was as follows:
“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.”
It was always believed that of the handful of states where marriage equality was in question this year, Washington could buck the trend of defeats.
This is because in 2009, Washington became the first state in the U.S. to retain at the ballot an “everything but marriage” partnership law.
Washington voters didn’t disappoint on Election Night this year either, voting 52% to 48% to approve the law (based on current figures with 61 percent of precincts reporting).
The law is set to take effect on December 6.
Minnesota Constitutional Gay Marriage Ban Amendment Defeated
While this victory did not legalize gay marriage — there’s still a state level ban on same-sex couples marrying — it represents an important victory.
Michele Bachmann and other gay rights opponents had for years campaigned to institute a constitutional amendment codifying Minnesota’s same-sex marriage ban, but had been unable to to circumvent Democratic control in the state’s legislature.
However, with elections two years ago giving the Republicans in the state majority control, an amendment was forced through the legislature using lies about the need to protect marriage and children from activist judges and the homosexual agenda. Amendment 1 was born.
The amendment question read:
“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?
With the President and a number of high-profiled celebrities coming out against the amendment, and the Catholic church campaigning heavily for the measure, it became a closely contested race.
However, Minnesotans decided on Tuesday night to reject the ballot discrimination amendment, as it became known, voting 49% to 51% to reject the amendment. The amendment required at least a 50% affirmative vote to pass.
Minnesota is the first state to ever turn down the opportunity to enact a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
While opponents like Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage have already moved to brush off the victories in Maine and Maryland as liberal states promoting a liberal agenda, Minnesota’s qualified victory cannot be ignored quite so easily.
Maine, Maryland and Washington join six states and the District of Columbia in allowing gay couples to legally marry. Those states include Massachusetts (2004), Connecticut (2008), Iowa (2009), Vermont (2009) New Hampshire (2010) and New York (2011).
Congratulations to all equality advocates who helped to make Tuesday night one for the history books!
Image credit: Thinkstock.