Organizers of a petition against Maryland’s same-sex-marriage law are expected to submit their first batch of signatures to the state Board of Elections on Tuesday.
The Maryland Marriage Alliance, which is leading an effort to force a November referendum on the law, has until June 30 to submit 55,736 valid voter signatures to the state in order to have the law decided by a public vote on Election Day. At least one-third of those signatures - 18,579 - must be turned in by Thursday.
Many gay-marriage supporters and opponents say the law is likely to go to referendum. The legislation passed the General Assembly in February but is not scheduled to go into effect until January.
MMA officials said earlier this month they were more than two-thirds of the way to their ultimate goal and expect to easily clear this week’s initial hurdle.
“We’re going to put this thing to rest,” said Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., Baltimore County Democrat who opposes gay marriage. “Once it’s put to rest, these politicians who are coming out in favor of this are going to be debunked and embarrassed.”
Gay-marriage opponents are attempting to mount just the state’s second successful petition effort in the past 20 years. Last year, opponents of the Dream Act - a law that would allow many college-age illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition - gathered more than 100,000 signatures to force the issue to a vote this fall.
Both petition drives have many of the same organizers and have benefited from use of a website that allows voters to print and distribute their own copies of the petition.
Gay marriage is expected to go on the ballot in four states this fall, and it has failed in each of the more than 30 states that have put the issue up for a public vote.
Most polls in recent months have shown Marylanders to be almost evenly divided on the issue, but a survey released last week by Public Policy Polling showed a drastic increase in state voters who support legalizing gay marriage.
The poll by the Democrat-leaning, North Carolina-based firm showed that 57 percent of Maryland voters surveyed would vote in favor of gay marriage this fall while just 37 percent would vote against it.
The poll, which surveyed 852 likely voters and had a 3.4 percent margin of error, showed vastly different results from one conducted by the firm in March, which showed gay-marriage supporters with just a 52 percent to 44 percent lead over opponents in the state.
Opponents seized upon last week’s poll as propaganda from a biased polling firm, but supporters said the numbers are a sign of growing public acceptance.
“People’s opinions are evolving as there’s a larger community discussion of this,” said Delegate Heather R. Mizeur, Montgomery Democrat who is openly gay. “When people see an issue in the news and talk about it at their kitchen tables, they are better able to wrestle with the issue at hand.”