The Maryland Board of Elections this week certified that enough petition signatures have been gathered to put Maryland’s marriage equality law before voters in a November referendum.
The Maryland Marriage Alliance submitted 162,224 signatures to repeal the law — the most turned in on any referendum issue in recent memory. The Board of Elections stopped verifying after approving 109,313 of them.
“We’ve determined that the petitions satisfied the legal requirements,” said Donna Duncan, director of the elections management section of the state Board of Elections.
A spokesman for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, a group defending the new law, would not say whether his group plans to mount a court challenge. “We’re not taking any options off the table,” said Kevin Nix, the spokesman.
The group has long assumed that opponents would be able to put the question to voters, Nix said. “Our base is fired up, momentum is with us.”
African American voters are expected to play a big role in this vote. While African Americans tend to vote with religious conservatives on this issue, recent polling data suggests that after President Obama publicly avowed his support for marriage equality earlier this year, Maryland’s African American population has also started to shift its stance.
In March, a Public Policy Polling sampling of Maryland voters showed 52 percent said they would uphold the new law in November, and 44 percent said they would repeal it.
Two weeks after Obama’s announcement, PPP found support had climbed to 57 percent and opposition had dropped to 37 percent. The 12-point swing was driven by African-Americans, whose support for the law jumped to 55 percent, up from 39 percent in March.
The size of the shift was unexpected because blacks in other states have consistently voted against gay marriage, citing deeply held religious objections to homosexuality. Black voters hold considerable influence in Maryland, where they made up a quarter of the electorate in 2008.
“The African-American community supports the president very strongly, and for the president to take a stand on the issue was something we think is going to be important in helping other African-Americans come around,” says Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, which is working to preserve the law.
This support has been further bolstered by the NAACP who, two months ago, decided to back marriage equality, calling it “a continuation of its historic commitment to equal protection under the law.”
However, at the NAACP convention this past week, held in Houston, it was clear that the NAACP’s endorsement was opposed by a sizable group within its own ranks.