In Maryland and elsewhere, poll numbers have shifted dramatically toward public support of same-sex marriage in recent months. According to CNN, the cause now leads by a 54-42 margin nationwide, while another poll finds voters in Maryland similarly split 52-39 on the general question, 57-37 on intended voting to uphold the law. Polls in other states with battleground ballot measures confirm the trend: 54 percent of voters are favorable in Washington state, while Minnesota voters oppose the proposed SSM ban in that state by a 49-43 margin.
So why are so many Republican and conservative officeholders in Maryland continuing to beat the drums against the state’s new marriage law? A few months ago it might have been possible for them to imagine that the issue united right-leaning voters while dividing those on the left. No longer. Per polling firm PPP, 28 percent of self-described Maryland Republicans and 24 percent of conservatives intend to vote in favor of gay marriage this November, while only 18 percent of Democrats and 14 percent of liberals intend to vote against it. Among other demographic groups, Catholic Marylanders intend to vote for the law by a 51-40 margin, Independents by 52-41, and parents of children under 18 by an emphatic 67-27.
Most of these opinion shifts have been in progress persistently over many years, a process documented in this useful analysis by Missouri Freedom Watch. According to PPP, however, the “movement over the last two months can be explained almost entirely by a major shift in opinion about same-sex marriage among black voters,” who shifted from 20-points-against to 19-points-in-favor following President Obama’s and the (Baltimore-based) NAACP’s endorsements of the idea. The “fan the hostility” or “reach black voters by bashing gays” strategy notoriously promoted by the National Organization for Marriage (which is a major backer of the Maryland anti-SSM drive) stands exposed as foolish as well as wicked.
This particular issue is shaping up a divisive loser for Maryland Republicans — and not just because it repels Democratic-leaning voters in downcounty Montgomery or college towns. It’s hard to imagine Republicans doing well statewide without a strong showing in places like Howard County, yet a poll there finds same-sex marriage favored by 56 percent of county voters.
As a state, especially one that must compete with nearby Virginia and other business-friendly states, Maryland suffers from high taxes, a stagnant and government-dependent job market, too much regulation and a host of other ills that call for fresh leadership in Annapolis. It’s not too late for a message of sound economics that brings Republicans, conservatives and libertarians together rather than dividing natural allies.