Focus of Gay-Marriage Fight Is Maine

Published on
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The New York Times

Focus of Gay-Marriage Fight Is Maine

by
Abby Goodnough

Stace McDaniel, a a retired school teacher from Atlanta, worked on the No on 1 campaign in Portland. (Craig Dilger for The New York Times)

Less than a week before Maine voters decide whether to repeal the state's new same-sex marriage law, donations and volunteers are pouring in to sway what both sides call a nationally significant fight.

Supporters of the marriage law, which the Legislature approved in
May, have far more money and ground troops than opponents, who have
been led by the Roman Catholic Church.
Yet most polls show the two sides neck and neck, suggesting that gay
couples here, as in California last year, could lose the right to marry
just six months after they gained it.

Although Maine's population is a tiny fraction of California's and
the battle here has been comparatively low profile, it comes at a
crucial point in the same-sex marriage movement. Still reeling from
last year's defeat in California, gay-rights advocates say a defeat
here could further a perception that only judges and politicians
embrace same-sex marriage.

If Maine's law is upheld, however, it would be the movement's first
victory at the ballot box; voters in about 30 states have banned
same-sex marriage.

Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont allow gay couples to
marry, but courts and legislatures, not voters, made it possible.

"It's a defining moment," said Marc Mutty, chairman of Stand for Marriage Maine, which is leading the repeal effort. "What happens here in Maine is going to have a mushrooming effect on the issue at large."

Maine had planned to allow same-sex marriage starting in September,
but put it off until the referendum is decided. It is the only state
with a same-sex marriage question on its ballot this fall.

The outcome could have particular resonance in California, where
same-sex marriage supporters have been debating how soon to seek a
repeal of their own state's ban.

Mr. Mutty's group has repeatedly warned voters that if same-sex
marriage survives in Maine, public schools will most likely teach
children about it. That strategy proved effective in California, and
even after Maine's attorney general announced this month that the state
would not require same-sex marriage to be taught, opponents have
continued raising the possibility.

One of their television advertisements
warns that in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been legal
since 2003, some teachers answer "thoroughly and explicitly" when
students ask about gay sex.

But Stand for Marriage has not been able to advertise nearly as much as the lead group campaigning to save the law. That group, Protect Maine Equality,
has raised $4 million, compared with Stand for Marriage's $2.6 million.
Its overarching message is that all people, including gay men and
lesbians, should be treated equally under the law.

"You may disagree," a gray-haired lobsterman says in a Protect Maine Equality advertisement, "but people have a right to live the way they want to live."

The group has raised much of its money on the Internet, where it has
also recruited volunteers from around the country with a Web site, www.travelforchange.org.
Stace McDaniel, a retired teacher from Atlanta, said he decided to
spend a few weeks volunteering for Protect Maine Equality after
attending his first same-sex wedding this summer.

"I can't believe I'm doing this," said Mr. McDaniel, 57, who said he
took out a $5,000 home equity line of credit to finance his trip. "It
was a chance to do something really important. I don't know anyone in
Maine, but here I am."

One of the volunteers working phones at the Stand for Maine offices
last Thursday was Bonnie Johnstone of Portland, who said she had
decided to help after hearing about the campaign at her Mormon church.
But while Mormons played a huge role in California's same-sex marriage
ban - providing reserves of money and volunteers - they appear to be
far less involved here, partly because the Mormon Church has a much
smaller presence in New England.

The repeal effort has drawn a small number of volunteers from other states, Mr. Mutty said, including a group of students from Brigham Young University, a Mormon institution in Utah.

Stand for Marriage hired the same consulting firm that ran the
California campaign against same-sex marriage, Schubert Flint Public
Affairs, based in Sacramento, to produce its advertisements. And more
than half of its financial support has come from the National Organization for Marriage, a conservative Christian group based in New Jersey that has fought same-sex marriage in other states.

But the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland has played the most
tangible role in the repeal movement, even urging its parishes to
collect donations by passing a second collection plate during Mass.

The Maine Ethics Commission is investigating whether the National
Organization for Marriage has violated the state's campaign finance
laws by keeping its donors anonymous. The group has responded with a
lawsuit challenging Maine's financial reporting requirements.

With no big races drawing voters to the polls this year, both sides
say that get-out-the-vote efforts will be crucial. Supporters of
same-sex marriage are counting on college students, while opponents are
focusing on older voters from the state's more conservative central and
northern regions.

"Their voters are going to be weather-dependent, mood-dependent," Mr. Mutty said. "Our voters tend to vote no matter what."

Since polls have historically undercounted opponents of same-sex
marriage - and none have shown supporters of the law more than a few
points ahead, anyway - Protect Maine Equality is taking nothing for
granted.

"We have every reason to think this will be a razor-thin election," said Jesse Connolly, the group's campaign manager.

Katie Zezima contributed reporting from Portland, Me.


 

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