Civil Liberties

When Civil Liberties Collide: Gay Marriage vs. Gambling in Maryland

Why is a national gay organization trying to block a vote on gambling?


The possibility of finally getting a victory in a public vote to recognize same-sex marriage has led to a rather odd outcome in Maryland. Gay activists are encouraging citizens to oppose a legislative vote to expand gambling in the state and keep it off the November ballot, away from the marriage vote.

Maryland will be voting in November whether to repeal same-sex marriage laws passed by the legislature and signed by the governor earlier this year. So far polls show Maryland may be the first state where same-sex marriage recognition survives a public vote.

The governor is also pushing for a sixth casino in the state and to allow existing casinos to add table games along with the slots. The bill made it through the state Senate Friday and is currently being marked up in the state's House of Delegates. Voters would have to approve the final legislation in November.

Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed took note last week of a mailer the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's PAC sent out to Maryland voters. It asks them to show support for marriage equality by calling their state legislators to oppose placing the casino vote on the ballot:

"If the gaming bill is on the ballot, opponents are likely to spend millions identifying and turning out voters who don't like gambling … and who also don't like Marriage Equality! So all the 'no' votes on gaming could also be 'no' votes for us," the mailer states. "Numerous polls confirm this, and several bloggers and political pundits in Maryland have said the same thing."

Geidner contacted Task Force Communications Director Inga Sarda-Sorenson for a comment on the mailing. She responded, "The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund believes an uncluttered ballot is the best ballot, and provides for the best chance for securing marriage equality in Maryland."

To which, "Where the hell do you get off, lady?" seems to be the appropriate response. (A call to Sarda-Sorenson has not been returned as yet. That won't be one of the official questions if she calls.)

Of all the groups that would try to block somebody else's participation in the democratic process when it has nothing directly to do with them, we've got a gay group trying to knock a civil liberties vote off the ballot? Yeah, yeah, I know libertarians are fairly alone within the political spectrum as treating gambling as a liberty issue. But still, the idea that some people should have to wait for a vote on their issues until it's not inconvenient to others is a pretty damned rich argument from a gay rights organization. How are they going to respond now to conservatives saying that federal recognition of gay marriage isn't an important issue to tackle in light of the country's various economic and employment crises?

Geidner points out that the actual Maryland organization overseeing the pro-gay marriage campaign isn't exactly happy with the mailer:

The Marylanders for Marriage Equality campaign took issue with the mailer, with campaign manager Josh Levin telling BuzzFeed, "Turnout in heavily Democratic Maryland will be determined by the presidential race – not any other issue, including gambling should it be on the ballot. Opponents of the gambling expansion are clearly using the marriage issue for their own political gain. What's important here, however, is that we remain focused on expanding our 14-point lead and growing the momentum for marriage in Maryland."

Typically the biggest challenge to the development of casinos and expansions to gaming are not, as we've shown here on Reason, anti-gambling moralists, but competitors trying to use the system to cling to their market share. As Jonathan Capehart pointed out at The Washington Post, casinos spend millions trying to keep others off their turf. So did any of those five existing casinos help bankroll this mailer? (That actually will be one of the questions should Sarda-Sorenson call back.)