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Paul Cleveland (center) shares information with a voter in Cheverly, Md., as his wife, Fredi (left), looks on.
Photo by J.C. Derrick for WORLD
Paul Cleveland (center) shares information with a voter in Cheverly, Md., as his wife, Fredi (left), looks on.

'Prayer and education'

Marriage | African-American support could help defeat the redefinition of marriage in Maryland

BALTIMORE—Paul and Fredi Cleveland spent hours standing in front of the Hoyer Early Childhood Center in Cheverly, Md., on Tuesday looking for chances to do what they love to do: educate. 

“I don’t blame people for wanting hope, but they’re believing lies,” Fredi said, passing out literature against ballot initiatives that would allow casino gaming and same-sex “marriage” in Maryland. She said if people have the facts, they would make the right decision. 

As African-American Republicans, the Clevelands quickly acknowledge they’re in a minority, which is why they’re using their position as pastors of a church, Koinonia Congregation, to educate people about issues of biblical significance. “We need to approach voting with prayer and education,” Paul said. 

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Both sides of the same-sex “marriage” debate have been educating voters on their views since the Maryland General Assembly passed the Civil Marriage Protection Act last March. The Maryland Marriage Alliance responded by rounding up 162,000 signatures—nearly three times the necessary amount—to get a referendum vote on the ballot. 

Same-sex “marriage” and legalizing casino gaming are two of seven constitutional amendments that—along with a presidential election and good weather—had Maryland voters coming out in droves Tuesday. Long lines were a common sight, and conversations more often drifted to ballot initiatives than the presidential race (President Obama is expected to carry the state by a double-digit margin). 

While I talked with the Clevelands, who are working with the Maryland Marriage Alliance, an informal exit poll in Cheverly (a Washington, D.C., suburb) revealed local voters were breaking in favor of same-sex “marriage” by more than a 2-to-1 margin. The numbers were similar at nearby Spellman Elementary, where a sampling of voters favored the measure known as Question 6 by almost 3-to-1. 

But those stats don’t tell the whole story: 88 percent of Cheverly residents are registered Democrats. Traditional marriage is expected to have less support in metropolitan areas such as Baltimore and just outside the nation’s capital, and have considerably more support in the outlying areas of Maryland. A late-October Baltimore Sun poll showed a dead heat after Question 6 had enjoyed a double-digit polling lead as recent as September. 

In Linthicum, seven miles south of Baltimore, Bryan Burr waited in line for an hour to cast his ballot against same-sex “marriage.” “If you look at what the end result would be, it will not end well,” he said. “We have enough problems in this country keeping people married.” 

Rae Jones, an African-American who has been married for 28 years, also voted against the effort to redefine marriage, saying it offends her when people compare same-sex unions to the civil rights movement. “They’re not being harmed,” she said. “I don’t have anything against [homosexuals], but don’t go changing the definition of marriage that’s in the Bible.” 

The Maryland Marriage Alliance has relied heavily on support in the African-American community to buoy its cause. Chairman Derek McCoy has lobbied fellow African-American pastors to preach from the pulpit on the sanctity of traditional marriage—a sermon several voters told me Tuesday had been delivered at their churches. 

My informal exit polling showed gambling was picking up significantly less support than same-sex “marriage.” Democratic Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is pushing all seven state ballot initiatives, has said allowing casino gaming would provide a windfall for the state’s public schools. Jones isn’t buying it: “I’ve got friends in Louisiana and Detroit, where they have casinos, and their schools are in the toilet.”

In Cheverly, advocates on both sides of the gambling issue passed out conflicting literature and battled for voters’ attention. Omar Turner, dressed in a bright blue shirt advertising his cause, said he thinks Maryland residents should be able to keep the money that is currently going to casinos in nearby West Virginia and Atlantic City, N.J. Pat Nelson, wearing a bright red shirt opposing gambling, argued that the politicians are full of empty promises: “Historically, we know it’s not going to bring that much to the education trust fund,” she said. “The numbers don’t add up.”

J.C. Derrick
J.C. Derrick

J.C. is a reporter in WORLD's Washington Bureau. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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