By Caitlin Johnston, CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE
Gay rights activists, religious leaders and politicians are gearing up for two months of campaigning on the Maryland referendum to strike down same-sex marriage legislation that passed in March.
"This is not something that's esoteric or theological," said Maryland Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-Howard), who supports same-sex marriage. "These are real people who are living in our state that are unable to receive the benefit that others have simply because of their sexual orientation."
Maryland became the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage when Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act in March. But the act takes effect in January, allowing opponents to petition it to a referendum.
Those who oppose same-sex marriage to put the issue on this fall's ballot.
Hot off the political conventions in and , volunteers will be staffing nightly phone banks, canvassing door-to-door and finding ways to make same-sex marriage a personal issue for voters.
Both sides are concerned about the language on the ballot. The wording can be confusing for voters, said Delegate Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore), an opponent of same-sex marriage.
Voting "for" the same-sex marriage referendum is a vote in favor of the current law and will allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license.
Glenn said she will hold town hall meetings explaining the language of the referendum and providing speakers from both viewpoints.
"The more questions we can answer, the easier it is for people to come to a better understanding of what they believe," Glenn said.
Glenn and Kittleman are in some ways exceptions, as neither has taken the stance traditionally associated with their party; 62 percent of Democrats supported same-sex marriage and 76 percent of Republicans opposed it, according to a poll from January.
Maryland voters are locked in a dead heat, according to the same January 2012 Gonzales poll data, with 49 percent supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage and 47 percent opposing. Given the plus-or-minus 3-percentage points margin of error, that leaves the issue up for grabs for either side.
The close race and potential implications nationwide have donors pouring millions of dollars into the state.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay-rights lobby, recently spent another $250,000 in Maryland, raising the organization's total spent on the state's battle over same-sex marriage to more than $1.6 million.
While funding is important, the key to winning this debate goes back to grassroots campaigning and making sure people are engaging in conversations, said Kevin Nix, spokesman for the Marylanders for Marriage Equality. And that's something both sides agree on.
Maryland Marriage Alliance, a non-partisan interfaith coalition dedicated to preserving the traditional definition of marriage, has an office in Annapolis and will open others throughout the state to facilitate volunteer training, workers and phone banks.
"We're going to be showing up at events, we're going to be engaging people from businesses to churches to organizations across the state," said Derek McCoy, spokesman for the Maryland Marriage Alliance.
Both McCoy and Nix said the fundamental goal for the fall is to be a catalyst for conversations.
"We're encouraging people of all walks of life to have those conversations," McCoy said. "Have them with your kids, have them with your friends. The important part is to have them."