Immediately following the Thursday, Feb. 24 passage of a bill on Maryland's Senate floor that would grant same-sex couples in the state legal marriage recognition, opponents promised to take the issue to the ballot box.
“I don't think the votes on that board accurately represent the citizens of the state of Maryland,” Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R- Cecil and Harford) said, “I think the vote on referendum in 2012 will be the vote of the people and I think this deserves to go to the people, and I'm sure it will.”
According to Donna Duncan, director of the Election Management Division for Maryland’s State Board of Elections, opponents of the marriage bill can start collecting signatures immediately after the passage of the bill in the House of Delegates, before Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signs the bill.
“I would imagine that they would begin that process soon, and they can start collecting the signatures on the petition with the final act of the General Assembly,” Duncan told Metro Weekly, adding, “It does not have to wait on the signature of the governor.”
A House version of the marriage bill is working its way through committee currently, with a vote expected this week.
The petition form, with the marriage bill’s language attached, would be submitted to the Maryland’s State Board of Elections for review by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D).
“It’s an advance determination of sufficiency, of the language and format of the petition,” Duncan says of that review process.
“The total number of signatures necessary for statewide referendum is 55,736,” Duncan says, adding that one-third of those signatures must be submitted to John P. McDonough (D), Maryland's Secretary of State, by 11:59 p.m. on May 31.
“The remaining two-thirds, must be submitted to the Secretary of State, 11:59 p.m., on June 30, in the year in which the legislation is passed,” she adds.
“It has to happen in the year the legislation has passed, even though it wouldn’t appear until the 2012 election.”
Duncan says if the petition -- which states: “We, the undersigned voters, hereby petition to refer the bill identified below to a vote of the registered voters of Maryland for approval or rejection at the next general election” -- is successful it would be referred to the 2012 November General Election Ballot, Maryland’s next statewide election.
“Anybody could challenge the petition effort with a lawsuit," Duncan says, "which often happens.”
Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), co-author of the marriage bill, may be up for that challenge. After passage of the marriage bill on the Senate floor, he told Metro Weekly that if the marriage law does go to referendum, “then we'll run it like a campaign.”
“We will be the first state in America where same-sex marriage wins on the ballot.”
The Maryland State Board of Elections notes that materials, including the Statewide Referendum Petition, are currently being revised.
“There’s some debate on how a signature and information of the voter must be placed on the petition,” Duncan says. “So there were several court decisions that somewhat counter each other in how the information from the voter has to appear, and we are still awaiting further instruction from the Court of Appeals on that issue.”