ANNAPOLIS — As Gov. Martin O’Malley prepares to sign legislation legalizing gay marriage, opponents of the bill have cleared one of the first hurdles to asking voters to overturn the law.
The State Board of Elections has approved the language opponents will use when collecting signatures to bring the law to referendum, Mary Cramer Wagner, director of the board’s Voter Registration Division, said Wednesday. The governor was expected to sign the bill into law the next day.
Wagner said petition drafts filed by the Maryland Marriage Alliance and Del. Neil Parrott have a few typos that need to be corrected, but are other otherwise compliant with state petition regulations.
Opponents said they will wait for written confirmation from the board to begin collecting signatures.
Parrott, R-Washington, and Maryland Marriage Alliance leaders hosted a news conference Wednesday afternoon. They said they will work together to collect the nearly 56,000 valid voter signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot.
Maryland Marriage Alliance, a group up of religious organizations and supported by the National Organization for Marriage, is expected to lead the signature-gathering effort. A website Parrott developed last year, mdpetitions.com, will be used to electronically disseminate petitions.
The website uses voter rolls to fill out a potential signer’s information as it appears in state records, a requirement for a signature to be considered valid by the elections board.
In Maryland, petition signers must provide and sign their name exactly as it appears on their voter registration information. The Court of Appeals last year loosened that standard somewhat by declaring that signatures did not have to be legible.
“We’re supporting the infrastructure, we’re supporting the back end,” Parrott said. “But on the front end it will be Maryland Marriage Alliance, which is (helpful) because they’re going to take it not only through the petition effort, but through the campaign and to November.”
Derek McCoy, director for the Marriage Alliance, would not say how much he expects the group will spend on its campaign to overturn the law and any monetary figure he could provide now would likely be inaccurate.
Supporters of gay marriage in Maryland said they expect to spend more than $500,000 to upholding the law.
McCoy said his group will count on religious leaders to encourage their congregations to support the referendum effort, adding that they will likely be asking church goers to sign the measure at services as early as early as Sunday.
“You don’t get to the right to choose marriage and what it means for everybody and that’s really where we are,” McCoy said.