Best known as "Bunk" from the TV series "The Wire," Wendell Pierce is now working to rebuild his old neighborhood, Pontchartrain Park, one of New Orleans' first middle-class African American communities.
Yesterday, voters in North Carolina approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage and civil unions. Now national attention will focus on Maryland, where activists are racing to compile enough signatures to bring a referendum to repeal same-sex unions on the November ballot. We explore the looming showdown between defenders of marriage equality and traditional marriage.
- Josh Levin Campaign Manager, Marylanders for Marriage Equality
- Derek McCoy Executive Director, Maryland Marriage Alliance
MR. MARC FISHERFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sitting in for Kojo.
MR. MARC FISHERA little later in the hour, writer Augusten Burroughs, but first, the nationwide conversation about legalizing same-sex marriage and its implications for the Washington region. Yesterday North Carolina voters approved an amendment to their state constitution banning same-sex marriages. And in just a few months voters in Maryland will cast ballots on a referendum to repeal a law passed in Annapolis this year that allows same-sex marriages in the free state.
MR. MARC FISHERSupporters of the law are determined that Maryland will break this losing streak. Thirty-one states have voted on same-sex marriage and 31 have said no. This has persisted despite national polls that indicate attitudes are shifting in favor of accepting same-sex marriage. Joining us to explore what's at stake in Maryland is Josh Levin. He's campaign director for Marylanders For Marriage Equality. We'll also be hearing shortly from Derek McCoy who runs the Maryland Marriage Alliance on the other side of the issue.
MR. MARC FISHERJosh Levin, thanks for joining us. What lessons are you taking, if any, out of the vote in North Carolina yesterday?
MR. JOSH LEVINMarc, thanks for having me on this morning. I think that looking at North Carolina and looking here at Maryland, you're comparing apples and oranges. Here in Maryland, we start out with a 52 percent in favor of supporting marriage equality here. We've got great momentum that's building over the last year, thanks to the efforts of Governor O'Malley and so many of the other folks who have been working to move this forward. And we feel confident heading into the fall.
FISHERAnd this fall vote, is it now certain that it will be on the November ballot along with the presidential election and everything else or could it be a different date?
LEVINWe anticipate that it'll be on the ballot in November. Our opponents are collecting signatures to put it on the ballot in the same way that we're collecting pledges from people who want to defend marriage equality in Maryland.
FISHERAnd speaking of your opponents, Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance. Welcome to the program. What is your view on what this North Carolina vote tells us, if anything, about what's going to happen in Maryland?
MR. DEREK MCCOYOh, thank you for having me. I appreciate being with you. I think what North Carolina clearly dictates to us is, you know, in the midst of a terrible ad campaign that went on there and many notable figures that came out in supporting the defeat of Amendment 1 or voting against Amendment 1 I think it clearly shows us that even when the people go to the ballot box they vote for marriage being defined between one man and one woman. Quite simply in the state of Maryland, we've already had that current law. And the law has not gone into effect and it won't go into effect as long as the voters stand up and speak loudly on it.
MR. DEREK MCCOYAnd I think they get the right and the opportunity and they deserve the opportunity to be able to vote on the issue.
FISHERJosh Levin, there is this strange dichotomy, I guess, between what we're seeing in national polling and in state polling about people's attitudes towards same-sex marriage where there does seem to be a clear shift toward a greater sense that this is something that ought to be legal. On the other hand, the record in state after state, in referendum after referendum is to the contrary. How do you explain that gap?
LEVINWell, I think, Marc, we've seen a lot of progress over the course of years here in Maryland and across the country as people's attitudes shift in favor of marriage equality. You know, this is about loving and committed couples who wanna be able to stand up and make that commitment to each other in front of their friends and their family in the same way that I could. And I think that it's important that the voters of Maryland stand up and make their voices heard on this issue when they get the opportunity in November and support marriage equality.
FISHERBut does this difference in what people tell pollsters and what they do in the privacy of the polling booth, does that give you any pause about whether when they're talking to a pollster people might be saying what they think someone wants to hear and then once they're inside the polling booth they speak with a different tone?
LEVINI don't think so. The polls show people moving in this direction. It has been a consistent move over time. The polling that we've done and we've released shows 52 percent of the state is in favor, registered voters. You know, if we look back at North Carolina, unfortunately the effort down there never had a lead and we start with on. And the more we communicate, the more that we make our case that these couples should have this opportunity, should be able to make this commitment, the more people are going to come to our side.
FISHERDerek McCoy, let me pose that question to you in kind of the opposite way. This difference between what we see in national polls and what people do when they have a state referendum is really quite striking. Do you think there is a genuine movement toward a greater understanding or tolerance for the idea of same-sex marriage? And if not, how do you explain these rather consistent poll results?
MCCOYWell, I think people's convictions are people's convictions. This isn't brain surgery. And this is something quite simple called the definition of marriage. And I think overwhelmingly when people begin to understand that this is truly about the definition of marriage -- we're not trying to relegate or even define how people love each other, how they live with each other and people have the right to choose to live how they wanna live. And that's absolutely fine. They just don't have the right to redefine marriage for the entire society. And I think what you find in the polling booth and in the ballot box is that people, while they talk to pollsters and the moderates say, well, you know, I wanna be open.
MCCOYEverybody wants to be fair. Everybody wants to have an equal perspective about how we all divide up the pool and how we all live together 'cause we all have to live together. And that's a common-sense aspect, I mean, regardless of this issue, the day after November 6 we also have to live together in the state of Maryland and in North Carolina they're gonna have to live together tomorrow. And I think what you clearly see is that when people go to the ballot box they do vote that marriage is between one man and one woman. There is a definite gap. And I think the other side actually knows this as well.
MCCOYBut I think also one thing that's not really told often is that there was another national poll done just last year. And six in ten respondents, when the simple question is given as do you believe that marriage should be defined between a unit of man and woman, we polled there and that was 62 percent of Americans believed that. And I don't think there's this big sway going on and the big thought process going on that all of a sudden everybody's on the other side of it. I think when the questions -- the question makes a big difference.
MCCOYAnd when you ask people the basic question, should it be defined between one man and one woman, they overwhelmingly agree, yes. And I think because they know that marriage is unique, it's special, it's different, there's no other relationship like it.
FISHERJosh Levin, there's been a lot of press in recent days about the comments by Vice President Joe Biden, in which he said on NBC over the weekend, I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying me, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights. And today President Obama, who has not made anything like that clear a statement, is giving an interview where he's expected to address this issue once again.
FISHERHow important would it be for your cause and how much of an impact do you think it might have on the vote in Maryland if the President did finally come out as a supporter of same-sex marriage after all this time having been evolving, as he puts it?
LEVINYou know, we would welcome the President's support and we would be happy to have him. But what we find already is that 70 percent of the voters who plan to support President Obama this fall already come our way and in favor of marriage equality. And perhaps, just as important, 30 percent of the voters who plan to support Mitt Romney are supportive of marriage equality, as well. So we have supporters who are Democrats. We have supporters who are Republicans. Many, many young people support this issue just overwhelmingly. And I think that the President being on the ballot -- hopefully we'll have his support, but the President being on the ballot is nothing but a good thing for us in the fall.
FISHERAnd Derek McCoy, as you watch the president's very uncomfortably struggle with this issue and with how public he ought to be in his statements of what many of the pro-same-sex marriage side believe is his ultimate feeling in favor of that view, what is this very public struggle mean to your cause and what does it say about the ability of proponents on the other side to push through their position?
MCCOYWell, I think, clearly, even when he ran the first time and California was going on, you know, he came out quite a few times and said that, you know, he believes marriage is defined between one man and one woman. He's also subsequently said, you know, his views are evolving on this and there's been a lot of question about it. But I think what we saw out of the exit polls out of California is that groups, historically African-American groups, Hispanic groups are very high supporters of marriage being defined between one man and one woman. And I think that's still going on.
MCCOYI think where the President is quite honestly, and I probably agree with Josh, well, I'll say it this way, it's quite interesting because I think even as I was watching the news today and reflecting upon Vice President Biden's statements, it was very clear that it puts President Obama in somewhat of a dilemma as far as where he is, how he's gonna be able to address this. Clearly, you know, this is a political quandary that he's in, that he has to try and make amends with a group that's politically financing quite a bit of what he's doing.
MCCOYAnd at the same time he's gonna have to try and, you know, resolve this in his internal self to say how does he actually equate this 'cause I think...
MCCOY...we understand, President Obama has a wife, has a daughter, couple of daughters and I think what he really believes has already been said. I don't think it's gonna have major effect one way or the other when he comes out or does not. I think the Marylanders and the voting constituents are gonna be clear on where they stand on it. And it's already a clear divide, even within the Democratic Party because...
MCCOY...one thing that's not...
FISHERWell, we're gonna have to leave it there, but Derek McCoy, thanks very much, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance. And Josh Levin, campaign director for Marylanders For Marriage Equality. Thanks to you both. When we come back after a short break, we'll visit with writer Augusten Burroughs, a memoirist who reinvented himself and is now out with a self-help book, a book of advice from a man who says that, well, maybe he's not the best person to be giving advice. We'll talk to him after a short break. I'm Marc Fisher on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
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