2012 is shaping up to be a big year for marriage equality, with legislative moves for approval in place in three states, and a ballot initiative in Maine to restore it, repealing Proposition 1 of 2009. Opponents have set up ballot battles in Minnesota and North Carolina, and a possible legislative repeal in New Hampshire (although the Republicans who now control the state legislature appear to be backtracking on repeal - they know that voters are against it, and several of their caucus members have libertarian instincts which leave them opposed to removing rights already granted).
Catholics are in the thick of it, with Gov Chris Christie (NJ) and bishops predictably against, and Governors O'Malley (Maryland) and Gregoire (Washington) declaring in favour, and actively rallying support. I'm not going to get into any detail on any of these: I'll leave that to the extensive commentary available from any number of American news sites and blogs. However, there is one regular claim made by the opponents of marriage, and especially by the NOM (supported primarily by Catholic money and staff) that is simply, demonstrably untrue - and I cannot understand why the Americans have not vigorously pointed this out :
"Thirty-one states have voted on the definition of marriage and every one voted to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman," Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, said in a statement. "Not only will we mount a successful referendum campaign, we will hold every Washington legislator accountable for his or her vote."
Read more here: Tri-city Herald
Not so fast, Mr Brown. In 2oo6, exactly this was put to voters in Arizona, as Proposition 107:
To preserve and protect marriage in this state, only a union between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage by this state or its political subdivisions and no legal status for unmarried persons shall be created or recognized by this state or its political subdivisions that is similar to that of marriage.
The proposition went down, 48% to 52%.
The reason for the failure was probably overreach, in trying to eliminate not only full marriage equality, but also any recognition for other forms of union. A modified proposition to ban only full marriage passed, two years later. So, yes. Arizona has voted to ban same-sex marriage, but it is not true that every ballot proposal against equality has passed. Brian Brown's bluster notwithstanding, note that prejudice can be defeated at the ballot box, as it was in Arizona in 2006. Although not a vote on full equality but on "near-marriage", NOM also lost in Washington, in a 20o9 referendum that promised everything but the name.
Also worth noting is that his promise to mount a successful campaign, and hold legislators "accountable", is an empty one. NOM, and the other organisations actively opposing equality, are running out of money. Unlike 2008, when they could channel all their resources on California, or 2009, when they spent it all in Maine and Washington, this year they are promising to spend in at least six states. The bulk of their funding comes from a handful of (anonymous) large, out-of-state donors, which this year will be thinly spread. Financial support for equality typically includes a much higher proportion of small, local donors.
NOM and the like should prepare for more defeats this year, at the ballot box, and in state legislatures.
- Washington Poised for Marriage Equality (mlp.org)
- Editorial: Moving Ahead on Marriage Equality (nytimes.com)
- Governors O'Malley And Gregoire Criticize Christie For Advocating A Popular Vote On Marriage Equality (thinkprogress.org)
- Maine poised for 2nd public vote on gay marriage (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- New Hampshire Marriage Equality Repeal Vote Delayed Until at Least February (towleroad.com)