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Outside groups join in Md. same-sex marriage fray

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The fight over Maryland's same-sex marriage law is being waged not just in the state but throughout the country, as campaigns on both sides are courting national groups and out-of-state donors to take part in a battle that could set the tone for other states.

Recent polls have suggested that Maryland voters narrowly favor legalizing same-sex marriage. If the poll results translate to votes, Marylanders could make their state the first to approve it by ballot measure, reversing the trend in 32 other states where voters have chosen to keep marriage between a man and woman.

The campaign against same-sex marriage launched a TV ad campaign this week financed largely by low-key donors and socially conservative groups like the National Organization for Marriage. Gay marriage supporters have waged a more visible campaign of Internet videos and splashy fundraisers featuring influential Democrats, celebrities and national gay rights groups.

Both sides say they are focused mainly on winning support from small donors in Maryland who will vote on Election Day, but acknowledge that the national battle will go a long way toward victory.

"There are a lot of individuals who have given[from] outside of the state," said the Rev. Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which has led the campaign against same-sex marriage. "We're excited about that and we welcome the support, but clearly it's going to be up to the constituents."

Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington will hold referendums on gay marriage this Election Day and the issue in Maryland has attracted nationwide interest.

Both the Maryland Marriage Alliance and pro-gay-marriage group Marylanders for Marriage Equality say they have raised millions in dollars for their campaign efforts, covering everything from administrative costs to grass-roots flyer distribution and door knocking to million-dollar ad campaigns.

The two sides have declined to give specifics on how much they have raised and from where it has come. That information will become public this week when the groups submit required disclosure records to the state Board of Elections.

Gay marriage advocates said during the summer that they would need as much as $7 million to wage a winning campaign. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley implored supporters last month to raise an additional $2 million by Nov. 6, Election Day.

Mr. McCoy said he expects that his group will spend more than $1 million on TV advertising alone before Election Day.

Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, initially proposed the legislation to legalize same-sex marriage and has played a visible role in the campaign. He has hosted fundraisers in other states, including one last month in New York with attendees including actress Susan Sarandon and filmmaker John Waters.

The campaign has also received support from Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who pledged $100,000 to the cause last week.

"It's only a small part of a larger picture," said Marylanders for Marriage Equality spokesman Kevin Nix. "There's been any number of fundraisers inside of the state. Our focus is on the low-dollar grass roots in the state of Maryland."

Gay marriage opponents have also done well out of state, with help coming largely from the National Organization for Marriage. The group said recently that it has an anonymous donor ready to give $2 million to defeat gay marriage on state ballots throughout the country.

While both sides have benefitted greatly from out-of-state support, they have been somewhat reluctant to publicly embrace the money that has been poured into the state. Each has accused the other of being bankrolled by powerful out-of-state interests who are determined to advance a political agenda, but have little interest in the effects on the lives of Marylanders.

"They're smelling an ability to try and win on this issue, and they know it takes dollars and cents," Mr. McCoy said. "We are probably not going to out-raise them, but we're going to have to make sure we raise as much as we can."

While the battle will only determine policies in a single state, both sides predict it will have major national ramifications.

A victory for same-sex marriage could add fuel to the argument from supporters that national opinion is moving in their favor, while another loss would be heralded by opponents as evidence that defenders of traditional marriage aren't going anywhere.

"I think this could send shock waves across the country," Mr. Nix said. "But this is going to be a close race. Despite the positive polls [in favor of supporters], this will be a close race."

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