- - Tuesday, September 11, 2012

ANNAPOLIS | Gay rights activists, religious leaders and politicians are gearing up for two months of campaigning on the Maryland referendum to strike down same-sex marriage legislation that passed in March.

Hot off the political conventions in Tampa and Charlotte, volunteers will be staffing nightly phone banks, canvassing door-to-door and finding ways to make same-sex marriage a personal issue for voters.

“This is not something that’s esoteric or theological,” said Maryland Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, who supports same-sex marriage. “These are real people who are living in our state that are unable to receive the benefit that others have simply because of their sexual orientation.”

Maryland became the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage when Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act in March. But the act takes effect in January, allowing opponents to petition it to a referendum.

Those who oppose same-sex marriage gathered more than 113,000 signatures for a petition to put the issue on this fall’s ballot.

Both sides are concerned about the language on the ballot. The wording can be confusing for voters, said Delegate Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore, an opponent of same-sex marriage.

Voting “yes” on the ballot question is a vote against legalizing same sex-marriage.

Ms. Glenn said she will hold town hall meetings explaining the language of the referendum and providing speakers from both viewpoints.

“The more questions we can answer, the easier it is for people to come to a better understanding of what they believe,” Ms. Glenn said.

Ms. Glenn and Mr. Kittleman are in some ways exceptions, as neither has taken the stance traditionally associated with their party. January 2012 polling data by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies found 62 percent of Democrats supported same-sex marriage and 76 percent of Republicans opposed it.

Glenn’s opposition does mirror that of many others in the black community who are more likely than whites to oppose same-sex marriage.

Proponents of same-sex marriage call it a civil rights issue that comes down to equal treatment for all. Detractors counter that it’s about protecting the sanctity of marriage. Those same rights, they say, could be found through alternate paths such as civil unions.

Maryland Marriage Alliance, a non-partisan interfaith coalition dedicated to preserving the traditional definition of marriage, has an office in Annapolis and will open others throughout the state to facilitate volunteer training, workers and phone banks.

If the referendum fails, Maryland would be the first state south of the Mason-Dixon line to legalize same-sex marriage, and potentially the only state where same-sex marriage survived a vote at the ballot box. Each of these mile markers is significant on its own, said Kevin Nix, spokesman for Marylanders for Marriage Equality.

“The fact that Maryland could be first would be monumental,” Mr. Nix said. “It would just be another sign that the country is moving toward equality and fairness, not away from it.”

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