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Election shows country is changing, gay marriage advocates say

November 07, 2012|By Alana Semuels
  • A man stands on a car and encourages a crowd gathered to celebrate the election results in Seattle's Capitol Hill.
A man stands on a car and encourages a crowd gathered to celebrate the election… (Ted S. Warren / Associated…)

Same-sex marriage advocates are reveling in their four victories at the ballot box after 32 straight defeats, calling the results in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington on Tuesday a sea change for the gay rights movement.

“When the history books are written, 2012 will be remembered as the year when LGBT Americans won decisively at the ballot box,” said Chad Griffin, head of Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group. “The dreams of millions of fair-minded Americans were realized as discrimination crumbled and equality prevailed.”

The reelection of President Obama, who said he supported gay marriage in May, and the election of Tammy Baldwin, who will be the first openly gay U.S. senator, further buoyed their hopes that the country is changing.

“It’s hard not to say that this was a huge turning point, a tipping point kind of a year,” said Matt McTighe, campaign manager of Mainers United for Marriage. Maine’s initiative asked voters if the state should be allowed to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples; “yes” on Question 1 won 53% to 47%.  Maine had voted down gay marriage by the same margin in 2009.

LIVE ANALYSIS: The Times breaks down Election Day

Mainers’ United used a unique tactic in winning its initiative: Over three years, it sent staffers and volunteers around the state to knock on doors and change people’s minds. Though results are preliminary, McTighe said the campaign did well in the areas where it focused canvassing efforts, which could serve as a lesson to other states planning gay marriage initiatives.

“Maine is a prime example of a kind of state that really can be looked at as a model for future states because we are a state where we lost before,” he said.  “We proved that just because voters have voted one way, you can change hearts and minds, there is a way to do it. We have the playbook and it's something that can be utilized in any state.”

Proponents of traditional marriage say there’s no big message to be read in the election results.  After all, these were Democratic states and do not represent the rest of the country, said Frank Schubert, the California campaign consultant who ran the traditional marriage campaigns in all four states.

“It was a good night for them, but it doesn’t portend any significant change in the country,” he said. “It may actually end up helping us long-term.”

The votes may energize supporters of traditional marriage, whose financial resources were spread thin this election. Polling shows that if gay marriage had been put to a nationwide vote, it would have been rejected on Tuesday, Schubert said.

“The American people continue to view marriage as a union between one man and one woman,” he said. “There’s nothing about last night that changes that.”

PHOTOS: America goes to the polls

The fact that all four states were outside the Bible Belt did play a role in the victory for gay marriage advocates, said Edward Schiappa, a professor at the University of Minnesota who has followed the marriage battle there. But there were other important factors too. For one thing, some church groups, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in Minnesota, endorsed gay marriage, allowing religious voters to support initiatives allowing same-sex couples to marry. For another, gay marriage advocates had a better ground game than they did in California in 2008, when they relied too heavily on advertising.

And lastly, he said, conservatives are starting to learn that scaring voters into voting against gay marriage may not work much longer, he said.

“The fear appeals relied upon by opponents of same-sex marriage appear to have run their course,” he said, referring to arguments made by opponents that children will be exposed to homosexuality at school, and that religious institutions will be threatened by gay marriage. “This time, these arguments failed to persuade a majority, suggesting a growing number of voters simply found them unpersuasive or implausible.”

Religious leaders were a prominent part of the gay rights campaign in Maryland, where voters were asked to vote in favor of or against a law passed by the legislature this year that allowed same-sex couples to marry.  Maryland minister Delmon Coates, of the 8,000 member Mt. Ennon Baptist Church, for example, appeared in commercials on behalf of the law.

“The strong religious protections in the bill helped folks see that this is just about civil marriages in the courthouse,” said Kevin Nix, a campaign spokesman. “Churches don’t have to marry anyone they don’t want to.”

INTERACTIVE: Presidential election results

Supporters of the law, which was signed by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, won by 100,000 votes.

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