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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Maine seeks to regain marriage equality

Dana Rudolph -

For the first time in history, LGBT activists are initiating a ballot measure to win marriage equality.
EqualityMaine and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) announced Thursday, June 30, that they are taking steps to place a citizen’s initiative on the November 2012 ballot. The measure will ask Maine voters to approve a law giving same-sex couples the right to marry.
The move comes a year and a half after a referendum in November 2009 overturned a law passed by the legislature and signed by Governor John Baldacci (D) in May 2009. Because repeal activists immediately began petitioning for a “People’s Veto” against the law, the law was put on hold and ballot Question 1 asked voters if they would like to repeal that law.
Fifty-three percent of voters cast ballots in favor of repeal, with forty-seven percent against.
But LGBT advocates say they have been working since that time—canvassing, phone banking, and more—to change people’s attitudes. Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, said, “We have been going door to door talking to them and hearing their journey towards support.”
They seem to be succeeding. Two recent polls show 53 percent of likely 2012 voters now say they support marriage equality.
To begin the initiative process, GLAD and EqualityMaine submitted an application to the Maine Secretary of State, Charles Summers Jr., on June 30. Once he approves the wording of the initiative, EqualityMaine will begin collecting the more than 57,000 signatures currently required to put it on the November 2012 ballot.
The proposed language of the ballot question reads, “Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?”
EqualityMaine and GLAD will also be ramping up their public education efforts in the coming months, tailored by findings of research they have been conducting to test various persuasive messages.
This summer, they will continue going door to door throughout the state to have one-on-one conversations with voters. Amy Mello, field director of EqualityMaine, said at a press briefing that they believe “this is the most effective and strategic way to change minds.”
They have also launched a new Web site,, that includes created videos of Mainers—LGBT and straight—telling their personal stories of what marriage equality means to them.
“In the coming months, we’re going to continue to help same-sex couples, their family members, and their friends share their stories and talk about why marriage matters to them,” said Matt McTighe, Maine director of public education for GLAD, in a statement. “We know that, as more people come to understand the love and commitment that gay and lesbian couples share, we will continue to change hearts and minds.”
A leading face of the campaign will be United Methodist Pastor Michael Gray of Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Gray said he used to hold “a very traditional view of what marriage meant,” but after meeting same-sex couples in his parish and beyond, he said, “I now realize that the love and commitment in their relationships is as strong as the love and commitment my wife and I share, and I support their right to marry if they are lucky enough to find someone they love.”
McTighe said at a press briefing that the purpose of the new pro-equality campaigns was not only to build support, but to “inoculate against” opponents’ attacks and be prepared to respond to them.
In the earlier campaign to rescind marriage equality for same-sex couples, opponents launched a heavy barrage of television and radio ads warning that approval of same-sex marriage would lead to public schools teaching children about gay marriage.
Equality Maine field director Mello said the door-to-door campaigners are taking on some of the “hard subjects,” such as what children will learn in school, and why marriages are better than civil unions. They will be discussing these topics even with supporters, “to ensure they really are with us and that we can count on their support.”
Demographics may also play a role in the outcome of the initiative. Presidential election years garner a larger portion of voters under age 40 than in off-year elections such as 2009, according to Goodwin Simon Strategic Research, one of the firms that conducted a poll for EqualityMaine. And younger voters are much more likely to support marriage equality than the oldest voting cohort.

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