Opponents of Maryland's same-sex marriage law on Tuesday turned in 113,000 signatures against the measure -- more than twice the number required to place the issue on the ballot in November, foreshadowing a fierce battle this fall over the definition of marriage in the state.
The Maryland Marriage Alliance, which organized the petition drive, said its extensive roll of signatures shows just how motivated Marylanders are to overturn the signature legislative achievement of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.
"People are upset; people are upset about the governor and his position," said Derek McCoy, executive director of the group and a pastor at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville. "This is not just a sampling. This is a very clear message."
The signatures must be verified by the State Board of Elections, but the surplus of names against gay nuptials all but ensures it will go before voters in the fall -- adding even more significance to a presidential election in which social issues received greater prominence after President Obama publicly endorsed same-sex matrimony.
And O'Malley, with national political aspirations of his own, banked much of his political clout on delivering results to liberal supporters on the social issue.
"There's still more work to be done and we are not taking anything for granted," said O'Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. "Recent poll numbers indicate that more and more Marylanders support marriage equality and religious freedom."
A survey from liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling last week found 57 percent of Marylanders would vote in support of the gay marriage law. The poll found 55 percent of black voters would back gay nuptials.
If that were to prove true on Election Day, same-sex marriage likely would be cemented in Maryland law. The most resistance to same-sex matrimony in Maryland has come from black voters, particularly in Prince George's County and Baltimore, and rural areas.
McCoy said most of the signatures collected came from Baltimore County. More than 10,000 signatures were from Montgomery County, whose lawmakers largely pushed through the measure in the General Assembly this year.
Opponents of same-sex marriage say history is on their side, as voters who have decided the issue at the state level have rejected gay nuptials each of the 32 times they have weighed in on the issue.
In 2006, Virginia enshrined a law defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman. The District and seven other states, including Maryland, allow gay marriage.
Supporters of gay nuptials dismissed the initial batch of signatures as a sampling of the most vocal opponents of the law rather than a representation of mainstream voters.
"When the public at large has their say, we know we're going to win," said Del. Heather Mizeur, an openly gay Montgomery County lawmaker. "It's not hard to collect 56,000 signatures. We're having a little bit of a perfect storm coming together across the country and an evolving discussion on this issue. It will be different this time."
Petitions for a voter referendum require 55,736 valid signatures.