Question 6 and the march of equality

Last week, Maryland made history by delivering an unprecedented victory for marriage equality at the ballot box. The Human Rights Campaign and the NAACP were proud partners in this campaign, working together to build support for Question 6 across Maryland. Though success in this state was matched by others in Maine, Minnesota and Washington, the victory of the Vote for Question 6 campaign in particular provides an important blueprint for the future, especially as marriage equality inevitably moves forward in other states with significant African-American populations.

At its core, the Vote for 6 campaign was centered on a simple message about fairness, one that appealed to the better angels of Marylanders of all stripes. Even more importantly, the campaign built a statewide network of equality-minded congregations, businesses, civic organizations and ordinary people that the national adversaries of marriage equality simply couldn't match. And even though the forces opposed to equality ran the same misleading and emotionally charged ads they have in other states, here in Maryland voters were unmoved.

Frankly, these ads didn't work because the Vote for 6 campaign knew what to expect. This March, an internal memo revealed that the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage was focused on a long-term strategy to "drive a wedge between blacks and gays." The actions of several anti-equality groups have made this divisive and desperate political philosophy apparent for years.

In the wake of the sweeping victories for marriage equality this year, it is time for the NOM to realize that this strategy isn't just offensive, it's failing. Our organizations will always resist the urge to be manipulated by those who seek to divide us. And voters in this state refused to be misled because they saw in LGBT families the same values they see in their own.

They're the same values that led our two groups — the nation's oldest African-American civil rights organization and the nation's largest LGBT civil rights organization — to join forces to expand marriage equality in Maryland and around the country. We recognized early on that a coalition like this has to be a lot more than just two logos on a piece of paper. It's a partnership borne out of the values we share: a commitment to equal protection under the law and an obligation to call out unfair treatment wherever it emerges.

These are the values of Marylanders of all backgrounds. Recent NAACP polling of African-American voters in battleground states found that fully 57 percent of black voters support marriage for gay and lesbian couples, so long as protections for religious organizations are in place. This number jumps to 67 percent among African-American voters under 30.

Our coordinated campaign worked across this state to speak clearly about equal treatment and to emphasize the important religious protections that Question 6 included. In a statewide television ad, NAACP Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond spoke for those whose commitment to their faith doesn't restrict their commitment to fairness under the law, a message that echoed pro-marriage-equality pronouncements by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama earlier this year. The campaign phone-banked together, handed out literature together, and mounted a statewide campaign together — reaching unprecedented numbers of African-American voters in Prince George's County and the Baltimore area. We engaged honestly and forthrightly with the conversation about marriage equality taking place in the black community, and voters reacted favorably to a message that met them where they were. These pro-equality African-American voters turned out in force; exit polls found that African-Americans made up 28 percent of the state's electorate this year. Support among black voters in the Free State jumped at least 6 points since March.

This is a victory all Marylanders can share. Despite the efforts of organizations like NOM, which seek to drive an artificial wedge between two communities that share so much, voters across this state stood up for their LGBT friends, family, coworkers and neighbors and rejected the proposition that they are anything less than full and equal citizens.

There are still many battles to fight, from workplace discrimination to racial profiling. But this historic vote made it clear that there is a broad and growing pro-equality American majority — black and white, gay and straight, from coast to coast and everywhere in between — that is marching forward on this basic issue of fairness.

Chad Griffin is president of the Human Rights Campaign, America's largest LGBT civil rights organization. Ben Jealous is President of the Baltimore-based NAACP, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization.

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