Irene Huskens has the wedding venue picked out: a charming bed-and-breakfast in Southern Maryland. But the wedding is no sure thing.
The plans made by Ms. Huskens, a 43-year-old police captain, and her partner, Leia Burks, hinge on whether Marylanders make history on Nov. 6 by voting to legalize same-sex marriage. A "yes" vote, and the wedding is on. A "no" victory? Ms. Huskens is loath to consider it.
"There are a lot of Marylanders who want to set the precedent of equality who will vote from their gut for fairness," she said at her colonial suburban home in Prince George's County, where she and Ms. Burks are raising two adopted children.
Dating back to 1998, 32 states have held votes on same-sex marriage, and all 32 have opposed it. Maryland is one of four states with Nov. 6 referendums on the issue — and gay-marriage advocates think there's a strong chance the streak will be broken.
In Maryland, Maine and Washington, it's an up-or-down vote on legalizing same-sex marriage. In Minnesota, there's a measure to place a ban on gay marriage in the state constitution, as 30 other states have done previously.
Groups supporting same-sex marriage, which has been legalized by court rulings or legislative votes in six states and the District of Columbia, are donating millions of dollars to the four campaigns. They're hoping for at least one victory to deprive their foes of the potent argument that gay marriage has never prevailed at the ballot box.
"Our opposition uses this talking point with elected officials and in courtrooms," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. The national gay-rights group is contributing more than $4.4 million to the four state campaigns.
"If we're able to win one of these four, it will be a narrative change — proof that the public has moved our way dramatically," Mr. Griffin said.
Opponents of gay marriage expect to be outspent in the four states, perhaps by more than 2-to-1 overall, yet they remain hopeful their winning streak can be preserved.
"We definitely can win all four if we can increase the fundraising," said Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, which has pumped more than $2 million into the campaigns against gay marriage. Its TV advertising is just beginning, including in the expensive markets that reach Marylanders in the D.C. suburbs.
All four states are expected to be carried in November by President Obama, who came out in support of same-sex marriage earlier this year.
In Maryland, as in Maine and Washington, the most recent polls show a lead for the supporters of same-sex marriage. But comparable leads in other states — notably in California in 2008 — evaporated by Election Day.
As in Maryland, the campaign in Washington state involves a measure signed into law by a Catholic governor, Chris Gregoire, and now being challenged by gay-marriage foes.
Maine's ballot measure marks the first time that gay-rights supporters — rather than opponents — have chosen to put same-sex marriage before voters. A gay-marriage law passed by the Legislature in 2009 was quashed that fall after opponents gathered enough signatures for a referendum; this year, gay-marriage supporters used the same tactic to give voters a chance to reconsider.
At stake in Minnesota is a proposed amendment that would strengthen the existing law against same-sex marriage by inserting it in the state constitution. If the amendment is defeated, it would still take a legislative act, court ruling or future popular vote to legalize gay marriage.