Gay Marriage’s Moment Arrives, With Help From Obama

Cindy Barrymore

Your Ward Room Blogger spent the weekend in Minneapolis. While jogging along the Mississippi River, I started seeing runners wearing orange t-shirts with the message “VOTE NO.” So I asked one what they were planning to vote against.

“There’s a constitutional amendment on the ballot to define marriage as between one man and one woman,” she said. “It’s going to be really close. Right now, the polls are 50-50. But if it fails, we’ll be the first state to vote for marriage equality.”

Nearly 6,000 runners were warming up for The Big Gay Race, a 5K raising money to fight the amendment. Before the start, Sen. Amy Klobuchar -- the Minnesota senator who wasn’t on Saturday Night Live -- made a speech in favor of marriage equality.

Gay marriage has appeared on the ballot in 32 states, and every time, voters have rejected the right of same-sex couples to wed. In May, North Carolina’s Amendment One, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, passed 61 percent to 39 percent. But that may have been the high water mark of the anti-gay marriage movement. After the North Carolina vote, President Obama endorsed gay marriage, saying, “ I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”

(If you’re wondering why Illinoisans never had a chance to vote on gay marriage, the answer is, because we never get a chance to vote on anything. A grass-roots statewide referendum requires the signatures of 10 percent of voters. The only successful ballot initiative in Illinois history was Pat Quinn’s Cutback Amendment, which reduced the number of state representatives from 177 to 118. Because Illinois is so dominated by urban voters, preventing gay marriage has never been an urgent issue here.)

Minnesota is one of four states that will vote on gay marriage this fall. Maine and Washington both have referendums on whether to affirm gay marriage laws passed by their legislatures. Maryland will vote on whether to legalize same-sex marriage. Minnesota has the lowest bar: it’s simply voting up or down on a ban. Minnesota, Maryland, Maine and Washington are four of our most liberal states. Just today, a poll showed gay marriage leading in Maine, 57-36.

In Maryland, where gay marriage leads 51-43, President Obama’s support may make the difference. Support among black voters -- a large constituency in Maryland -- has increased from 33 percent to 44 percent since Obama spoke out for gay marriage. Like any good politician, he both caught the wave at just the right moment, and made it stronger.

 This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $9.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.

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