Maryland made history yesterday as the first state to approve gay marriage at the ballot box. The outcome on Question 6 was notable not just for what it will mean for thousands of gays and lesbians whose relationships will now be recognized as equal to those of their heterosexual peers but for what it says about the state of gay rights in America. There is good reason to believe that yesterday's vote was not just a victory for equality but a turning point.
Technically, Maryland appeared to be tied for the first-in-the-nation distinction, as a similar measure was poised for passage in Maine on the same day. Another was on the ballot in Washington. Considering that the electoral record for same-sex marriage up until yesterday was 0 wins and 32 losses, those victories are remarkable. The vote in Maryland in particular is a sign that the growing acceptance for marriage equality is starting to break down old barriers and may portend a rapid shift in the political and legal landscape.
If advocates were looking for a test case, Maryland in 2012 would probably not have been the time and place they would have picked. Although the state is reliably Democratic, it contains large numbers of African-Americans, who have historically been less inclined to support same-sex marriages. That was particularly worrisome given that President Barack Obama's presence on the ballot was expected to boost their turnout. Many blame that same phenomenon for the success of a constitutional amendment against marriage equality in California four years ago.
The result in Maryland suggests that the shift in attitudes among African-Americans that was reflected in the polls this year after Mr. Obama and the NAACP endorsed gay marriage was real. If marriage equality can succeed at the ballot box here, chances are it can succeed in many other places as well...
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