While much of the world’s attention last night was focused on the electoral map and what would eventually become a landslide re-election for President Barack Obama, history was also made right outside Washington D.C in the state of Maryland. About 52 percent of the voters said “yes” to Question 6 and choose to uphold the state’s same-sex marriage law, according to the Maryland Board of Elections.
“This is incredible,” Laurel resident Tonya Parker told EBONY.com. Parker and her same-sex partner have been together for three years and hope to marry. “This confirms that Maryland is the state that I always knew it was. I’m proud to live here.”
Maryland was only one of several huge wins last night for the nation’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Voters in Washington and Maine also chose to upheld marriage equality. Those three states will join Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia. The votes mark a sea change in the battle for gay rights. Referendums banning same-sex marriage had been upheld 32 times in a row.
The shift also marks a change in demographics. Both sides targeted African-American voters —“who were expected to make up 25 percent of the state electorate Tuesday,” reports the Baltimore Sun. Black voters tend to be more religious and have historically have been slow to accept gay marriage. But national and regional polling has suggested that Black support for equal marriage has dramatically increased after President Obama and the NAACP’s historic announcements supporting the position.
“The question isn’t if marriage equality will prevail—the only question is when,” said NAACP President Ben Jealous. “The rising generation of young voters is the most diverse and inclusive we’ve seen. It’s only a matter of time until the laws catch up with them.”
One example: Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo—who is biracial—emerged as one of the most articulate supporters of gay rights in pro sports. “Being gay is no big deal,” he wrote at the Huffington Post in 2009. Since then the three-time Pro Bowler recorded several television commercials for marriage equality and has become a prolific Twitter influencer for gay rights. “When question 6 passes I better get some invites to weddings!” he tweeted last night.
Nowhere was the battle for Question 6 fiercer than in suburban Prince George’s County—more than 65% Black and home to the nation’s largest Black middle class. PGC also boasts a sizeable and affluent Black LGBT population similar to that found in the adjacent District of Columbia,
Marriage equality supporters released a radio commercial in late October that featured President’s voice. The ad was saturated “across the airwaves” in PGC, reports the Baltimore Sun.
On the opponents’ side: A number of high-profile, anti-gay pastors in PGC such as Bishop Harry Jackson and Pastor Derek McCoy led the coalition to oppose the referendum. Alveda King, the niece of the late civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., claimed in radio ads that “an ‘unholy alliance’ has been formed between gay advocates and the NAACP leadership.”
Question passed with a “nearly 2-to-1 lead” in the neighboring largely White and upscale Montgomery County but “trail[ed] slightly in Prince George’s,” reports the Washington Post. The unofficial tally in PGC was “131,619 votes for and 137,626 votes against.” Blacks were split almost evenly on the measure.
“We’re ecstatic that Question 6 passed. We want our love to be acknowledged and cannot wait to get married,” ShaDonna Jackson told EBONY.com last night.
Jackson and her partner Lakisha Smith will celebrate their fifth anniversary in March. They are both Black—just like Tonya Parker and her partner—and live in PGC’s Hyattsville. The couple developed a website to encourage their friends and family to support marriage equality in Maryland. Jackson and Smith connected with Freedom to Marry, which invested resources in reaching out to Maryland’s sizeable Black community.
“I’m so happy right now,” Smith told EBONY.com. “For us to be able to marry is a testament to Maryland’s values. We’ve already started planning our wedding and are financial planning. It’s almost like Question 6’s passage was our engagement.”