One question at a time: At risk of referendum, same-sex marriage proponents should skip 2012

About 200 Maryland conservatives held a daylong conference at a hotel in Annapolis a couple of Saturdays back (sounds like a party, doesn't it?), and the various speakers seemed to agree that the Muslim Brotherhood, illegal immigrants, environmentalists and Democrats are the cause of just about all our problems. "One speaker went so far as to call Prince George's and Montgomery counties and Baltimore city, 'The Axis of Evil,'" according to The Capital's account of the event.

The confab was called "Turning The Tides," and, according to The Capital, its organizer was Tonya Tiffany, a Howard County woman affiliated with the Maryland Conservative Action Network. Ms. Tiffany declared the state Republican Party "too liberal" and said Bob Ehrlich, the Republican who served as governor from 2003 to 2007, would have won a second term had he been more to the right.

The conference conducted a straw poll of GOP presidential candidates, and Herman Cain won with 51 percent of the vote; his nearest challenger was Ron Paul, with 25 percent. (The conference was held Oct. 29, two days before the first allegations of sexual harassment against Mr. Cain were publicly reported.)

Of course, you couldn't have a con-con in Maryland without Pat McDonough, the loquacious Republican state delegate who represents parts of Baltimore and Harford counties in the General Assembly. He was among conservative leaders who led the successful petition drive to get the Dream Act to referendum. The Dream Act, passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, allows undocumented immigrants to get the state resident discount on tuition at Maryland colleges, provided the students and their families meet certain conditions.

Assuming it survives a court challenge, the Dream Act referendum will go before voters next November. Mr. McDonough believes the Dream Act will be rejected, and if I were betting today, a year out, I'd go with his prediction.

"Nationally, this has tremendous implications," The Capital quoted Mr. McDonough as saying. "It is a slap in the face to Obama's favorite governor in the United States [O'Malley]. ... It is immense, and millions and millions of dollars will be poured into the state."

Having achieved some success with the Dream Act, Mr. McDonough and other conservatives have been emboldened. Using the Internet, they've found a route to voter nullification of laws passed by the Democrat-dominated legislature; conceivably they could petition any law they don't like onto a general election ballot.

Which gets me to same-sex marriage.

A couple of days before Tonya Tiffany's Turning The Tides Talkfest in Annapolis, Doug Gansler, the Maryland attorney general, predicted that, with the long-overdue support of Mr. O'Malley, the General Assembly would legalize same-sex marriage next year. Mr. Gansler made the remarks at a forum of the Center for American Progress, according to The Washington Blade.

But just as he predicted passage in the legislature, the attorney general warned that "opponents of marriage equality would 'very likely' be able to obtain the necessary signatures to place the referendum on the ballot."

"As we just found with the Dream Act, you can do that over the Internet — get signatures — so it would be very likely that it would actually be put on referendum," Mr. Gansler said.

And should that happen, voters sufficiently primed to reject the Dream Act might also reject same-sex marriage. So that would make 2012 a bad year for another effort to legalize same-sex marriage; supporters might win in the legislature but lose at the polls.

Of course, in terms of its blueness, with more than twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans, Maryland might very well approve a same-sex marriage referendum.

But when the Dream Act question is on the same ballot? That's where it gets complicated.

A reader named John Jackson, who described himself as a liberal, told me that, should both questions be on the 2012 ballot, he would vote for same-sex marriage but against the Dream Act. Certainly, others would vote the same way.

And certainly, some might vote for the Dream Act and against same-sex marriage.

Certainly, many would vote for both measures.

But John Jackson thinks the majority would vote against both. "The two issues need to be split in different years," he said. "Otherwise both fail." If I were betting today, a year out, I'd go with his prediction.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of Midday on 88.1 FM WYPR. His email is

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