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Marriage-equality referendums likely in 3 states

The Maryland Legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on Feb. 23, and Gov. Martin O’Malley will sign it on March 1. This will make Maryland the eighth state in the union to legalize gay marriage, although a referendum battle is likely.

“I know today we are going to make history because we are going to take another important step toward embracing every family in the state of Maryland,” Sen. Richard Madaleno, who is gay, said.

Now that the bill has cleared the Legislature, opponents are free to gather the 55,736 signatures, 3 percent of the votes cast at the last gubernatorial election, needed for a referendum. Conservative and church groups said they will lead the fight against the marriage-equality bill and gather the signatures before the May 1 deadline.

The victory for gay marriage in Maryland comes shortly after Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a similar bill. However, opponents are gathering signatures to put it on the ballot there too.

The debate over the bill became very personal for the sponsor, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, a gay father of four, who said the state’s domestic partnerships fall short.

“I would like our four children to understand that their daddy and their papa have made that lifelong commitment to each other,” he said. “Thousands of same-sex couples in our state deserve the respect and protection from our government that only marriage can convey.”

In the past, gay marriage laws that are taken to public vote have been voted down. In 2009, Maine voters rejected a marriage-equality law by a slim margin and constitutional amendments defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman passed in Arizona and California in 2008.

However, Maine is reconsidering the question and gay marriage will once again be voted on this November. Gay-rights groups gathered more than 100,000 signatures to put the question on the ballot again this year.

“Same-sex couples want to marry for the same reasons other couples want to marry: because they love each other and want to spend their lives together,” Betsy Smith, EqualityMaine’s executive director, said in a statement. “There’s no question that momentum is growing for same-sex marriage in Maine.”

In 2009, voters rejected a gay marriage bill with a 53-47 percent vote. Recent polls show marriage equality gaining popularity, but the issue is still divisive and likely to be a close race.

With Maryland, Maine and Washington facing likely ballot battles concerning gay marriage, proponents are celebrating the steps forward and pointing to a growing number of polls indicating a majority support for marriage equality nationwide.

A CBS News/New York Times nationwide poll conducted in February showed 40 percent of respondents supported gay marriages, 23 percent supported civil unions and 31 percent rejected both measures.

Along with the three state ballots, the National Organization for Marriage has promised to help fund the fight to keep California’s ban on gay marriage. After Proposition 8 was struck down both in the federal court and a federal appeals court, NOM is pledging to raise funds for the individual state races and the court battles.

“Legislators who vote to redefine marriage will be held accountable to their constituents,” NOM president, Brian Brown said in a press release. “Those Republicans in the Assembly who abandoned principle and traded their votes will be held to account. Upwards of 80 percent of Republican voters oppose same-sex marriage. Democrats, too, will have to answer to their constituents, including the upwards of 70 percent of African Americans who oppose redefining marriage.”

However, NOM has also promised to fight to have New York state lawmakers removed from office after it became the sixth, and most populous, state to legalize same-sex marriage.

With conservative groups, such as NOM, spreading their resources across several states, many gay-rights groups are predicting a large victory in all three ballot initiatives.

“There remains a lot of work between now and November to make marriage equality a reality in Maryland,” said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese. “Along with coalition partners, we look forward to educating and engaging voters about what this bill does: It strengthens all Maryland families and protects religious liberty.”

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