- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Gay marriage advocates cheered victories in voter initiatives in Maryland and Maine on Tuesday night and seemed poised to win in two other states. The votes were first setbacks at the ballot box for opponents of same-sex marriage after more than 30 victories.

With 93 percent of the vote counted in Maryland, Ballot Question 6, which legalizes gay marriage in the state, was leading by 52 percent to 48 percent, and supporters were already claiming victory in the heated and expensive battle.

“Today the marriage equality map expands to Maryland, giving thousands more loving couples the opportunity to make lifelong commitments through marriage,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which poured almost $3 million into the Maryland ballot issue.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who pushed for gay marriage, said to Maryland’s children, “please know that you and your families matter to the people of our state. Whether your parents happen to be gay or straight, Democratic, Republican or independent, your families are equal before the eyes of the law.”

In Maine, Question 1, which also approves gay marriage, was ahead 52 percent to 48 percent, with 60 percent of the precincts counted.

“Maine voters chose freedom over fear,” said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

In Minnesota, an amendment to limit marriage to only one man and one woman was in a dead heat: With 53 percent of the votes tallies, 48 percent approved the amendment, 48 percent rejected it and 4 percent left it blank. The amendment must have 50 percent or more affirmative votes to be adopted.

In Washington state, the fourth state with a gay marriage measure on the ballot Tuesday, early returns showed voters approving gay marriage 52 percent to 48 percent. The mail-in votes, however, could take days to be completed.

The measures sparked intense opposition in every state, with social conservatives rallying to try to preserve traditional marriage.

But gay marriage advocates were banking on Tuesday night’s votes to give their movement its first victories at the polls.

“Will we look back on Election Day 2012 as the tipping point in the fight to win marriage equality in every state across the country?” asked Carolyn Simon, a digital media team leader at the Human Rights Campaign.

“We can win all four!” said thefour2012.com, a website dedicated to the gay marriage battles in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington state.

Supporters of traditional marriage were rallying their troops, too, in a bid to keep their perfect record at the ballot box intact.

“We need every vote,” the National Organization for Marriage said in an Election Day email. “These are critical, and close, close races.”

Voters have “the awesome responsibility” to step up to the ballot box and steer the course of the nation, including restoring “the crucial, long-standing, God-ordained definition of marriage in our land,” said Penny Nance, chief executive and president of Concerned Women for America.

In Maryland, support for gay marriage in Maryland was the strongest in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery and St. Mary’s counties, but fell below 50 percent in others, including Prince George’s County.

The gay marriage ballot question passed in Maryland and Maine as President Obama was carrying both states easily against GOP rival Mitt Romney.

Earlier this year, Maryland’s Democratic-led legislature passed a bill to permit gay marriage, and it was signed by Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat.

The Maryland Marriage Alliance swiftly collected more than 120,000 signatures to place the new law before voters. Marylanders for Marriage Equality urged voters to approve Question 6.

A recent Baltimore Sun poll said support for gay marriage was in a “dead heat,” even though support for the measure had once been 49 percent to 39 percent.

Gay marriage is now slated to become legal Jan. 1.

Riverdale Park voter Steve Abot, who identified himself as a “born-again Christian,” said that he came out to vote against same-sex marriage because of his faith.

“After all, what is man and woman?” he asked.

But Efren Flores of Riverdale Park said that he went to the polls to support same-sex marriage. “Everyone should have equal rights,” he said. “People should not be treated differently depending on who you love or who you want to be with.”

Stuart Tart, 44, of Germantown said he voted for Mr. Obama in the morning and then volunteered for Marylanders for Marriage Equality to get voters to the polls. Mr. Tart said he has a partner of 10 years, and that he has been fighting for gay rights ever since he was in college 20 years ago.

“This is very important to me,” he said. “My partner and I need the same ability as other committed couples to visit each other in hospitals, to inherit property, to share insurance benefits.”

In Maine, the gay marriage measure gained steam late after trailing in the very early returns.

In January, Maine Freedom to Marry Coalition (now Mainers for Marriage Coalition) collected more than 105,000 signatures to place a citizens initiative on the ballot.

Protect Marriage Maine and Christian Civic League of Maine are among the groups that opposed Question 1.

The latest poll from Public Policy Polling found 52 percent of likely voters supported Question 1, 45 percent opposed it and 3 percent were undecided.

With Tuesday night’s approval by voters, gay marriage in Maine should commence in early December.

Megan Poinski and Tim Devaney contributed to this report.