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Four Same-Sex Marriage Referendums (Update)

October 27, 2012

With a week to go before Election Day, the prospects look good for four state referendums on marriage equality. This post updates my last survey, on August 31.

Voters in Maryland and Washington will decide on “voter veto” referendums – the question on the ballot is whether to reject marriage equality bills passed by the Maryland and Washington state legislatures earlier this year. Voters in Maine are voting directly whether to legalize same-sex marriage. And voters in Minnesota, where same-sex marriage is already prohibited by statute, are deciding whether to write that prohibition into the state constitution. In other words, the Minnesota referendum is the one that matters least – even if marriage equality wins in Minnesota, same-sex marriage will remain illegal there. As it happens, same-sex marriage is polling well in Maine, Maryland and Washington, and not so well in Minnesota.

Post-Labor Day polls in Maine show voters favoring marriage equality legislation by margins of 21, 18 and 12 percent, compared to 18 and 13 percent before Labor Day. The marriage equality lead is smaller in Maryland: ten, nine and eight percent. Previous polls showed leads of two percent and, immediately after President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, 20 percent. In Washington State, marriage equality leads by 27, 15 and six percent, compared to nine percent in an earlier poll.

In Minnesota, marriage equality is up four percent in one poll but down by three and one percent in two  others.  Before Labor Day, one poll showed marriage equality up by five percent while another showed marriage equality trailing by 15 percent.

Same-sex marriage polling has to be read in light of systematic polling bias found in a 2010 study that concluded that, as of 2009, polls overstated pro-marriage sentiment by an average of five percent. By that measure, it appears that marriage equality will prevail in Maine, Maryland and Washington, but not in Minnesota.

This is astonishingly good news. As I observed in my last post on the subject, marriage equality has lost in 33 out of 34 state referendums to date. The one success, in Arizona, was defeating a constitutional amendment that would have prohibited same-sex marriage as well as domestic partnerships whether same-sex or opposite sex. Winning three referendums on one day should fundamentally change the  discussion – no longer could the anti-equality Right decry marriage equality as a creation of judicial activists foisted on an unwilling public.

There is more good news in the polling. Traditionally, pro-equality sentiment peaks early, and anti-equality scare ads erode support as the campaign progresses.  This year, there is no discernible polling trend against marriage equality – same-sex marriage supporters are holding their own, and arguably gaining slightly as the election has neared.

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