Five reasons to stay awake Nov. 6

Polls show marriage ballot battles will be tight

By Lisa Keen

Anti-gay activists opposing marriage equality for same-sex couples are counting in fives. They're distributing videotapes to pastors laying out a five-step plan-of-action for each church. They're distributing another video offering five reasons voters should defeat marriage equality ballot measures at the polls. And they've got their eyes on five votes Nov.6: four statewide ballot measures and one Iowa Supreme Court justice up for a retention vote. Here's how things are stacking up:

MAINE

Tony Perkins of the national Family Research Council has distributed a video aimed specifically at pastors, giving them a five-point action plan to implement in their church to defeat Question 1. The five steps are: Recruit a leader, hold a voter registration event by Oct. 14, deliver a "Vote No on 1 Sunday" sermon, collect an offering for ProtectMarriageMaine.com, and push to get congregants to the polls to vote No on Nov. 6.

There are 19 political action committees in Maine listed as providing funds on the state's same-sex marriage initiative, Question 1 - 12 in support of its passage, 7 opposed. To look at their totals, one might expect passage to be a slam dunk: $4.7 million in support of same-sex marriage, $697,000 against.

The latest poll by the Portland Press, Sept. 12-16, looks good, too: 57 percent in favor, 36 percent opposed, seven percent undecided -numbers which were essentially unchanged since June. The latest poll by Public Policy Polling, Sept. 17-18, showed 52 percent favor allowing same-sex marriage while 44 percent oppose, and four percent are undecided.

But the pollster says this is "a very close race."

"Our experience in polling gay marriage is that if people say they're undecided it usually means they're opposed to it," said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling, in a press release.

And many LGBT activists suspect that the National Organization for Marriage is pouring a lot more into the contest than they are indicating on state campaign reports. As of the latest of those reports, NOM claims to have given only $252,300. NOM has been in a court battle for several years now, seeking to circumvent Maine campaign reporting requirements. It lost its most recent battle before the U.S. Supreme Court, but the organization is still fighting the state law with the state ethics commission over the 2009 marriage ballot battle. In a statement released October, NOM chairman John Eastman said, "NOM has not solicited donations in order to contribute to the Protect Marriage Maine campaign." But the statement also says, "NOM has made organizational contributions to the effort from our general treasury, and all those contributions have been fully disclosed by both NOM and Protect Marriage Maine."

On the pro-marriage equality side, there are some new major money players this time around. The Freedom to Marry Maine group has pitched in more than $1 million and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders has raised $218,000, to supplement the $3.4 million raised by the pro-Question 1 group Mainers United for Marriage.

If they're successful in passing Question 1, the marriage equality law would go into effect 30 days after the governor proclaims the results of the election.

MARYLAND

The latest poll in Maryland found that support among African American voters had increased significantly between January and September - from 33 percent then to 44 percent now. The Gonzales Research group that conducted both surveys noted that a majority of African Americans (52 percent) still say they'll vote against marriage equality, but the improved numbers, it said, suggest "public pronouncements in the interim from the President and others have had an ameliorative impact for proponents."

This matters in Maryland. Thirty percent of the state's population is African American, compared to 13.5 percent of the population nationally, and low single digits in the other ballot battle states this year. And that's why the support of the NAACP is seen as critical to preserving the legislative victory won for marriage equality in February. The group launched its own radio ad October 8, featuring its chairman emeritus Julian Bond telling voters that voting for Question 6 is "the right thing to do."

"Maryland's gay and lesbian families share the same values and they should share in the right to marry," says Bond.

Overall, the polls in Maryland promise a tight contest. The latest indications are 51 percent for Question 6 (for marriage equality) and 43 percent against, with six percent undecided. That lead offers no real comfort. If the six percent undecided vote "No," as Public Policy Polling warns, it's a loss. And historically, most polling prior to similar ballot measures has shown a pro-equal rights position winning, only to have a flip-to-loss on election day.

MINNESOTA

Polls in Minnesota have been roller coastering on the issue. A Minnesota Star-Tribune poll of 806 likely voters in May 2011 found only 39 percent for and 55 percent against a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, with seven percent undecided. But by November of 2011, it was 48 percent for, 43 percent against, nine percent undecided.

The latest Star-Tribune survey of 800 likely voters, between September 17 and 19, showed a "statistical dead heat." Forty-nine percent would vote "Yes" for the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, 47 percent would vote "No," and four percent said they were undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percent.

The Star-Tribune said the strongest support for the ban lies in the suburbs, a reality that seems to echo the tribulation of Proposition 8.

An exhaustive analysis of pre-election polls and voting on California's same-sex marriage ban found that the votes of more than half-a-million parents with kids living at home were prepared to vote against Proposition 8, sending it to defeat. Then, in the last weeks of the 2008 campaign, proponents of the ban saturated the airwaves with advertisements that warned parents that the legalization of same-sex marriage would require public schools to teach children that same-sex marriage is a viable option for them. The No on 8 campaign failed to respond directly and quickly to that claim, said the study's author David Fleischer, and the parents' votes were converted to "Yes." Proposition 8 passed 52 percent to 48 percent--or barely 600,000 votes in an election in which 13.7 million votes were cast.

But Minnesota's constitution has a quirk. It requires that amendments must be passed by a number of votes that totals a majority of all ballots cast. That means that anyone who votes for president and some of the other offices on the ballot but does not vote on Proposed Amendment 1 will be counted as a "No" vote on Proposed Amendment 1. So, if 100 people go to the polls, it would need 51 "Yes" votes to pass, even if only 60 people voted on the marriage measure and a majority of 60 would total only 31.

WASHINGTON

In Washington State, the Preserve Marriage Washington coalition seeks to overturn the legislature's approval of marriage equality by offering five reasons the state doesn't need to approve same-sex marriage. They are:

* "same-sex couples already have the same legal rights as married couples,"

* "children do better when raised by a married mom and dad,"

* "anyone who does not comply with the new definition of marriage will face legal consequences,"

* "public schools will have no choice but to teach this new genderless institution," and

* businesses, like Chik Fil-A, doctors, and others "will risk their state licenses if they act on their beliefs" against same-sex marriage.

Anti-gay activists in Washington State are going for the Prop 8 jugular. In ads that began airing October 8, they claim passage of Referendum 74 will mean homosexuality will be taught in schools.

"Whenever schools educate children about marriage, they have no choice but to teach this new genderless institution," says one ad, "Consequences of Redefining Marriage."

"In Massachusetts, kids as young as the second grade have been taught homosexual marriage," claims the ad, being aired by Preserve Marriage Washington.

"Everyone in Washington must comply with the new definition of marriage or face negative consequences. Anyone who does not accept this new definition of marriage will soon find themselves at odds with the law and facing legal consequences." Among those negative consequences, it claims, is Catholic Charities loss of "its adoption services" when Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage.

In truth, of course, Catholic Charities voluntarily gave up its adoption services after the state government said it could no longer fund the organization because it was violating a state human rights law prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination.

But voters cannot be expected to know or look for the veracity of certain claims in a fast-moving television advertisement.

IOWA JUSTICE

Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins was one of seven justices who voted unanimously that the state constitution guarantees same-sex couples equal protection under the law. Three of those justices were up for their retention votes in 2010 and were ousted. Now, Wiggins is due a retention vote and press reports in Iowa say it's a fierce fight once again - even three years beyond the landmark decision.

The usual suspects are back to try and defeat the justices: Bob Vander Plaats, the National Organization for Marriage, and even failed Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. Santorum rode a "NO Wiggins" bus around the state late last month, and making stops to tell voters a vote against Wiggins is "vitally important."

"Seven individuals decided to change the entire fabric of the state of Iowa," said Santorum, at a stop in Des Moines Sept. 24. He suggested that by removing Wiggins and having four new justices on the court, opponents of same-sex marriage could "maybe even reverse this horrific decision."

The Des Moines Register reported October 3 that 49 percent of likely voters polled said they would vote to retain Wiggins, 41 percent would vote to remove him, and nine percent were undecided.

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