OLYMPIA, Wash. (BP) -- For more than a decade now -- 14 years to be exact -- supporters of gay marriage have longed for that breakthrough win at the state level, where citizens go to the polls, and in the privacy of the voting booth actually endorse marriage for same-sex couples.
But it has never happened -- not in 1998 when nearly 70 percent of voters in Alaska and Hawaii affirmed traditional marriage, not in 2004 (Oregon) or 2006 (Wisconsin) when two left-leaning states did the same, and not since. Precisely 32 of 32 states that have put the issue on the ballot have voted to uphold marriage as between a man and a woman.
That streak appears to be in serious jeopardy. On Nov. 6, voters in three states -- Maryland, Maine and Washington -- will decide whether to legalize gay marriage. A fourth state, Minnesota, will have a marriage amendment on the ballot to define marriage as between a man and a woman. All four states are "blue" states that tilt left politically.
In three of the four states, opinion polls show supporters of gay marriage winning. That has energized gay marriage groups, although traditional groups quickly note that such surveys have a history of inaccuracy. In September 2008, a Field Poll showed California Proposition 8 losing 55-38; it passed two months later.
Joseph Backholm, head of a Washington state group that is working to uphold traditional marriage there, says gay groups believe they are close to a historic win.
"That's the goal for them. They want to win Washington and then they want to win Oregon and then they want to win Idaho and Montana and California," Backholm told Baptist Press. "This is not just about Washington. They are frustrated they have never won a ballot measure on this issue. They think if they can win one, then they will basically break people's will and then they will win all of them."
The good news for traditionalists: after months of silence, their side now has TV ads explaining why marriage should remain between a man and a woman. Traditional groups in all four states say they will be greatly outspent, as they've been in nearly every similar vote to date. Even if they are outspent 4-to-1 or more, they can still win as long as their side gets out its message, said Derek McCoy, chairman of the Maryland Marriage Alliance.
"We can take almost being outspent 5-to-1," McCoy said, saying the crucial element is spreading the truth. "When people see our stuff, truth matters. When they start seeing truth, they get it."
Participation by churches, the groups say, is essential.
"It is absolutely appropriate and legal for pastors to engage their congregations to make sure that they're registered and to stand up for what is God's model for marriage," Protect Marriage Maine's Carroll Conley told BP. "You can do this and do it lovingly. You are standing upon the very standard that Christ established."
Following is a brief overview of the issue in each state, with the name of the ballot initiative in bold, accompanied by the name of the traditional group in each state:
What: Question 1. A "yes" vote legalizes gay marriage.
Who: Protect Marriage Maine. (protectmarriagemaine.com) is the traditional group opposing the initiative.
Three years after Maine voters rejected the legalization of gay marriage, the issue is again on the ballot. In 2009 the governor signed a bill redefining marriage, but voters, by a margin of 53-47 percent, overturned the law. This year, supporters of gay marriage gathered 86,000 valid signatures to put the issue back on the ballot. The initiative is known as Question 1, and a vote for it would legalize gay marriage.
Protect Marriage Maine, which opposes Question 1, will argue the same points that were successful in 2009 in protecting traditional marriage: 1) Children need a mother and a father, and, 2) There are negative consequences to free speech and religious liberty when gay marriage is legalized, even in public schools.
"The overwhelming social science evidence shows that children thrive under the environment of being raised by a mom and a dad," Conley told Baptist Press. "Though there may be families for whatever reason -- through divorce or death -- where that ideal has been weakened, that doesn't change the ideal. We believe this is a time to protect marriage, to promote it and strengthen it, rather than redefine."
Religious liberty will be impacted if gay marriage is legalized, Conley said. He pointed to neighboring Massachusetts, which legalized gay marriage in 2004. Boston Catholic Charities subsequently decided to shut down its widely praised adoption and foster care outreach, rather than place children with homosexual couples.
Conley also pointed to Maine, where Donald Mendell Jr., a public school counselor, survived an ethics investigation after he appeared in a 2009 television ad supporting the traditional definition of marriage. The complaint said he had violated the National Association of Social Worker's code of ethics, which bans discrimination against "sexual orientation" and "gender identity." A state board dismissed the complaint in a 2-1 vote.
"We don't believe this is just a live-and-let-live proposition," Conley said of gay marriage legalization.
What: Question 6. A "no" vote overturns the state's gay marriage law.
Who: Maryland Marriage Alliance (marylandmarriagealliance.org) is the traditional group opposing the initiative.
When Maryland's legislature passed a gay marriage bill earlier this year, many of them did so acknowledging that voters would have the last say. After Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the bill into law, traditional groups began collecting signatures to try and repeal the law, and submitted triple the required number. Needing 55,000 valid signatures, the Maryland Marriage Alliance collected 162,000 -- far more than what was needed in order to qualify what became Question 6. A vote for it is a vote for gay marriage; traditional groups are urging a "no" vote.
McCoy, of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, said if gay marriage is legalized, the future is bleak for those who stand for the biblical definition. He pointed to how Chick-fil-A was treated after its president, Dan Cathy, said marriage is the union of a man and a woman.
The goal of gay marriage supporters, he said, is to castigate traditionalists and present them on par with racists. McCoy said he's been called a "sexual redneck" and a "religious bigot" for his stance on marriage.
"The tables are turning," McCoy said. "If you have a view that marriage is defined between one man and one woman -- which is not new, it's been around for centuries and it predates governments -- that viewpoint is not being tolerated anymore. People need to wake up on this and understand that this is the moment that we have right now in Maryland and in three other states to define marriage, to stand up for traditional marriage."
Christians should not be duped by language on the ballot that claims to protect religious liberty, McCoy said. The ballot says the gay marriage law protects clergy from "having to perform" gay marriage ceremonies and that religious faiths will continue to have "exclusive control" over their own doctrines. But what the bill does, McCoy said, is restate what is obviously already guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The religious liberties threatened by gay marriage, McCoy said, are not protected in the bill.
"It does not cover ancillary organizations such as daycare centers and schools that are attached to churches," McCoy said. "Today's modern church is far more than a few people coming to a building. A lot of them have community development centers, and they have day care centers, they have schools and other organizations that are rightly related to the foundational principles of their church. And guess what? Those are not protected. There should be angst within pulpits and within religious communities."
In New Jersey earlier this year, a state judge ruled that a Christian beachfront property operated by United Methodists violated state non-discrimination laws when it refused to host a lesbian couple's civil union ceremony. New Jersey law recognizes same-sex civil unions.
The issue is not and should not be partisan, McCoy said.
"We had Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Green Party and Libertarians who all signed our petition," he said.
What: Amendment 1. A "yes" vote amends the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
Who: Minnesota for Marriage (minnesotaformarriage.com) is the traditional group supporting the amendment.
Unlike the other three states, Minnesotans are not voting directly on the issue of gay marriage, but they might as well be. Minnesota voters will consider a marriage amendment just as a lawsuit filed by three gay couples winds its way through state court. The suit seeks to legalize gay marriage in Minnesota. The amendment, if passed, would prevent that from happening.
"Marriage is currently under attack in Minnesota -- in our courts and in our state legislature," Minnesota for Marriage's Chuck Darrell told Baptist Press. "... The lawsuit is nearly identical to the one in Iowa that resulted in the Supreme Court forcing same-sex marriage on everybody in Iowa without a vote."
Minnesota for Marriage has launched its first two TV ads, one of which shows images of families and children as a female narrator says, "Marriage is more than a commitment between two loving people. It was made by God for the creation and care of the next generation." She says passage of the amendment will ensure that "only voters can determine" marriage's definition in the future.
"Most people in Minnesota understand in their heart that marriage is between a man and a woman and that kids need a mother and a father," Darrell said. "One of the fundamental components of marriage is to make sure that for every child born, there is a legally attached mother and father that is there to ensure the best environment for the child. ... Study after study shows that kids do best when they have both a mother and a father. If kids don't need a mom and a dad, then tell me which is not needed: Is it the mother or the father?"
What: R-74. A "no" vote overturns the state's gay marriage law.
Who: Preserve Marriage Washington (preservemarriagewashington.com) is the traditional group opposing R-74.
When the Washington legislature passed and Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a gay marriage bill earlier this year, both sides of the debate knew a referendum on the issue was likely. A traditional coalition known as Preserve Marriage Washington quickly got to work, and in June officials with the group turned in more than 240,000 signatures -- double the number required in what the coalition said was a state record. They are urging a "no" vote on the referendum, known as R-74.
Like in Maryland and Maine, polls show gay marriage supporters winning in Washington. Joseph Backholm, chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington, said his side has no reason to panic. Gay marriage always underperforms at the polls, he said, and traditional marriage overperforms. The final poll in North Carolina this year had a marriage amendment there with 57 percent support, but the actual Election Day total was 61 percent.
"There is actually a lot of really good news in the polls," he said. "[Gay marriage supporters] have been running an unopposed campaign for basically 10 months, and they're topping out at about 51-52 percent on the polls. We know, based on the other 32 states that have voted on this, that about five points of their support is not real. And that's before we have done any media messaging. Once the voters in Washington state are reminded of the fact that same-sex couples already have all the rights and benefits of marriage, they tend to agree with us."
The gay marriage law was passed even though the state had a domestic partnership law that gives same-sex couples all the legal benefits of marriage.
Like Maryland, Washington's law explicitly states that pastors won't be forced to preside at a gay marriage ceremony. That language will be on the ballot. But despite that one guarantee, Backholm said, religious liberty still will be impacted if gay marriage is legalized.
"They always go out of their way to talk about how they're not going to compel pastors or priests to marry someone they don't want to marry -- as if they had the ability to anyway, which they don't," Backholm said. "But in doing so they totally ignore the fact that they rejected amendments to this legislation that would have protected the rights of business owners and private property owners and non-profit organizations to run their enterprises in a way that is consistent with their beliefs about marriage. And the legislature, in voting down those amendments, indicated their intention to compel people -- with the state's police power -- to do things that are in violation of their conscience."
The law, Backholm said, also does nothing to guarantee gay marriage won't be taught as normative in schools, as it has been in Massachusetts, where a second-grade class was read a book, "King & King," about a prince who marries another prince. Parents were told they would not be warned about such material being read to children.
"Once you redefine marriage this way, schools have no choice but to teach the new definition of marriage," Backholm said. "Not that this isn't a problem to some degree already, but it becomes formalized. What we saw in Massachusetts was that parents who wanted to opt their children out of that instruction were told that they had no right to ... opt kids out." --30-- Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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