President Obama's campaign gave a boost on Thursday to ballot measures to grant same-sex couples' marriage rights, endorsing Washington and Maryland referenda and a Maine initiative to do so. His campaign earlier announced his opposition to a constitutional amendment in Minnesota.
The support is not a significant surprise in light of President Obama's May announcement that he personally supports marriage equality, although welcomed by the marriage equality campaigns in the states. Today's statements more likely are a sign of the Obama campaign's confidence that his support for gay rights will not hurt him in the close presidential contest.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, opposes marriage equality, and a senior campaign adviser this past weekend reiterated Romney's support for a federal constitutional amendment banning states from granting same-sex couples' equal marriage rights.
The Obama campaign statements, several of which were released this afternoon, use similar language to each other and to statements issued in the past, but, also as in the past, the statements came not from the president or a national spokesperson but instead from campaign spokespersons in the states facing the measures.
In Washington state, voters will decide in Referendum 74 whether to approve the marriage equality bill passed and signed into law earlier this year. From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Thursday:
The President endorsed Referendum 74 in a statement by Press Secretary Paul Bell, “While the president does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the president believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect. Washington’s same-sex marriage law would treat all Washington couples equally, and that is why the President supports a vote to approve Referendum 74.”
In Maryland, voters will likewise vote on a referendum, Question 6, to decide whether to vote for the marriage equality bill passed and signed into law this year. Obama earlier voiced support for it at a rally in June — a little more than a month after Obama announced his personal support for marriage equality. From the Baltimore Sun:
"We’re moving forward to a country where we treat everybody fairly and everybody equally, with dignity and respect," Obama said according to a transcript of the speech. "And here in Maryland, thanks to the leadership of committed citizens and Governor O’Malley, you have a chance to reaffirm that principle in the voting booth in November. It’s the right thing to do."
On Thursday, an Obama campaign spokesperson made that support explicit, as the Baltimore Sun reported:
“While the president does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the president believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect," said Obama for America spokesman Frank Benenati. "Maryland’s same-sex marriage law would treat all Maryland couples equally, and that is why the president supports Question 6.”
In Maine, after having lost a referendum vote in 2009, supporters of marriage equality have affirmatively pushed forward an initiative on the measure, Question 1. The Portland Press Herald reported on Thursday that Obama supports that as well:
"While the president does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the president believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect," said Michael Czin, Northeast regional press secretary. "The president believes same-sex couples should be treated equally and supports Question 1."
The Maine initiative vote is the first vote of its kind in the country, and it came about because lawmakers and the governor in the state did not support moving the measure forward. As such, this is the first vote for marriage equality initiated by its supporters, and Obama's support, thus, arguably is the furthest position he has taken in support of efforts to advance marriage equality at the state leve.
Finally, in Minnesota, Obama has been on record opposing the amendment to ban same-sex couples from marrying since April. As reported in Metro Weekly at the time:
"While the President does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the record is clear that the President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples." In the statement provided to Metro Weekly, she continued, "That's what the Minnesota ballot initiative would do -- it would single out and discriminate against committed gay and lesbian couples -- and that's why the President does not support it."
[NOTE: This article was updated to reflect a later statement released on Thursday regarding Maryland's measure.]
Chris Geidner is a Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Chris Geidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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