HRC Blog

How We Won in Maryland

maryland marriage equality campaignPost submitted by Kevin Nix, Former HRC Campaign Media Director

Last week, Maryland voters approved marriage equality at the ballot box. Fairness and equality under the law won on November 6.  Talk about a history-making night that will forever change the trajectory of marriage equality in the United States.  

What a difference a strong, resolute governor makes. Governor O’Malley and the LGBT Caucus in the Maryland legislature led this thing to victory, first by getting a bill through the legislature earlier this year, then by actively engaging day in and day out in the referendum campaign.

HRC founded Marylanders for Marriage Equality campaign last year, along with 1199 SEIU, Equality Maryland, ACLU of Maryland and NAACP of Baltimore.  This coalition grew exponentially over the past 14 months to include more than 200 coalition partners. It was truly a diverse, grassroots organizing force to be reckoned with. Campaign manager Josh Levin deftly leveraged the coalition and steered us smartly.

The Maryland effort scored another first in the LGBT movement – a laser-focus on the attitudes of African-American voters, who make up a quarter of the voting population.  Armed with key research, the campaign localized its message with highly effective spokespeople to deliver those messages.  Top-notch TV and radio ads featured Revs. Donte Hickman and Delman Coates, NAACP Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond and President Obama.   

When asked by the Washington Post why their effort failed, our opponents said, “[T]he targeted ads toward the African American community helped [supporters of the law] to get just enough black support to win. [Voters were] deluged with ads about equality…”

maryland marriage equality campaignAfrican-American attitudes on marriage became more supportive as the weeks and months went on, according to polling data. The campaign successfully moved the needle through advertising, strategic press work, and on-the-ground conversations in both the Baltimore and DC media markets.

Republican support also got us over the finish line. Exit polls show 25% of Republicans voted for Question 6. Marriage equality continues to be a bipartisan issue, as we have seen in other states like New York and New Hampshire.

Finally, the ballot wording that made it clear Marylanders were only voting on civil marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples, while religious freedom was protected. Clear and direct wording eliminated confusion that sometimes accompanies ballot initiatives.

HRC has never invested so heavily in a single state for marriage equality.  And labor - led by 1199 SEIU and AFSME - invested nearly $1 million.

The fight in Maryland was long and hard - through the courts, the legislature and finally at the ballot box. We won because of the hard work done over the course of years by a number of real champions, and the voters of Maryland made this victory possible.

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