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In US Vote, a Crucial Test for Same-Sex Marriage

Imagine trying something 32 times and never succeeding. That’s how many times the issue of same-sex marriage has appeared on state ballots and been voted on in the United States. Put directly to the people, it has been defeated every time.

WASHINGTON, November 5 (By Stewart Kasloff for RIA Novosti) - Imagine trying something 32 times and never succeeding. That’s how many times the issue of same-sex marriage has appeared on state ballots and been voted on in the United States. Put directly to the people, it has been defeated every time.

But supporters of gay marriage say that trend may begin to shift direction on Tuesday as voters in the states of Maine, Maryland, and Washington decide whether to allow gay and lesbian couples in their states to marry legally, a crucial test at the ballot box for the divisive issue.

At the same time, voters in the state of Minnesota, where same-sex marriage is already prohibited, will decide Tuesday whether to enshrine that ban in the state constitution.

“Our top goal is to win one or more states,” said Evan Wolfson, president of the national gay-rights group Freedom to Marry.

“We’ve been working hard to overcome that barrier and are very hopeful that we will win one of these votes,” Wolfson said in a phone interview.

The man leading the fight against gay marriage in the four states where it is on the ballot, campaign manager Frank Schubert, said he is confident – but not certain – that his side will win again.

“We are most at risk in Maine,” said Schubert. “They don’t have the support of the Catholic Church in Maine... it is a small state and is influenced by outside activists.”

Six states and the nation’s capital, Washington, DC, have legalized gay marriage through the courts or state legislatures. But 39 of the 50 US states prohibit same-sex marriage and the issue has never won support from voters when they have been asked to express their views directly at the ballot box.

However public opinion appears to be shifting and polls indicate that gay marriage could break its losing streak with voters on Tuesday in one or more states.

In a recent Washington Post poll in Maryland, 52 percent said yes to upholding the state’s same-sex marriage law, while 43 percent said no. The Maryland state legislature approved gay marriage earlier this year and the governor signed it into law, but opponents were able to get more than 113,000 signatures on a petition to force a public vote on whether to allow the law to take effect on Jan. 1, 2013.

Polls in Maine and Washington State also show voters there favoring same-sex marriage, while in Minnesota it is a virtual tie.

Supporters say the tide seems to be shifting for several reasons, including young people who support gay marriage becoming old enough to vote.

Another reason is President Barack Obama saying he believes gay couples should be allowed to wed, the first sitting American president to declare his support for legalizing gay marriage.

In a May interview with ABC News, Obama said he has sat at his kitchen table with his daughters Sasha and Malia, who have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. “It wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them. And frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change of perspective,” Obama said.

Backers of same-sex marriage say Obama’s support for legalizing it had a direct impact on many voters.

“It made a lot of difference, especially in the way he explained his evolution,” said Josh Levin, the campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality.

The Republican candidate for president, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, has the opposite view of Obama. Romney said he is against legal recognition of same-sex marriage and he said he will “champion” a constitutional amendment “defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.”

But Romney has said very little about the issue of legalizing gay marriage during the campaign. “It would serve him well to speak out against it in swing states to show the contrast between him and the president,” said Schubert.

“It just shows how different the politics are, and how profoundly the center of gravity on the freedom to marry has shifted,” Wolfson told the Washington Post.

Opposition to gay rights and the right to marry “used to be something Republicans campaigned on, and Democrats wanted to be on the right side but didn’t want to talk about. Now it’s the exact opposite,” said Wolfson.

“This is the first time we have seen a major national election in which one party has not overtly attacked LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people and opposed their equal rights in order to gain votes and motivate a base,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, quoted in the Washington Post.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a national organization representing gay and lesbian Republicans, gave Romney a lukewarm endorsement. “If LGBT issues are a voter’s highest or only priority, then Governor Romney may not be that voter’s choice,” the Log Cabin Republicans endorsement said.

But the group gave Romney high marks on the economy, saying “we believe Governor Romney will make cutting spending and job creation his priorities.”

Opponents of allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry say it would undermine the institution of marriage.

“Marriage is the union of a man and a woman and has existed for thousands of years and has served society well,” said Schubert. “We shouldn’t be messing around with it.”

Derek McCoy, chairman of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, agreed. At an event last week, he said: “Marriage is more than what any two adults want … It is about future generations and our culture.”

Supporters of legalizing gay marriage however argue that it is a fundamental civil rights issue. “We are asking that everyone be treated equally under the law. ... It’s simply unfair that gay and lesbian couples wouldn’t have access to that,” said Levin.

According to a Gallup poll published in May, 54 percent of Americans consider gay or lesbian relations morally acceptable, up from 38 percent in 2002.

Perhaps as a reflection of the nation’s apparent growing support for gay rights, those fighting the legalization of gay marriage point out that while they may be against same-sex marriage, they are not homophobic.

“Many people think if you oppose same-sex marriage you’re anti-gay,” said Schubert. “That’s not the case. People can support the sanctity of marriage and not be anti-gay.”

The battle over legalizing gay marriage is among the hottest issues in the United States and millions of dollars have been poured into this year’s contest, much of it on advertising.

Celebrities have opened their wallets to support same-sex ballot initiatives: Actor Brad Pitt recently gave $100,000, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $250,000, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda gave $600,000, and “American Idol” sensation Adam Lambert appeared at a September benefit concert.

“It’s a human rights issue...Everybody has the right to just love who we love,” said Lambert.

“This is awfully important, there are thousands of same-sex couples in Maryland who want to be married and just be treated fairly under the law,” said Levin.

One of those couples, Jessica Chipoco and Lindsey Dawson of Silver Spring, Maryland plan to marry in March 2013. They have the location picked out for the ceremony, off a Maryland hiking trail near where they were engaged.

But if Maryland voters don’t pass the state’s same-sex marriage referendum on Tuesday, Chipoco and Dawson say they will need to have two ceremonies, one in Maryland and a legal one in Washington, DC where gay and lesbian couples have been able to marry since 2010.

Their dream is to not only get married, but to do it in the state where they have made a home and life together, “It would be really validating to live in a state where the people said, ‘Yeah - this is how it should be. This is what’s right,” said Chipoco.


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