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Maine Same-Sex Marriage Measure: Prop. 8 Rerun

by Joe Garofoli

Maine is the latest battleground for same-sex marriage, with voters deciding next month whether to approve a measure overturning their state Legislature's decision in May to legalize such marriages.

The campaign for the measure, known as Question 1, looks like a rerun of last year's Proposition 8 in California, which struck down same-sex marriage. TV ads for the measure are the work of the Sacramento firm of Schubert Flint Public Affairs, which ran the successful California campaign.

On the other side of the Maine campaign, same-sex marriage supporters see the similar campaigns as a boon. They've learned from the missteps of the campaign against Prop. 8 and are responding to ads against same-sex marriage within 36 hours.

"In California, it took us two weeks to get a response ad up," said Julia Rosen, online political director for Courage Campaign, a liberal California online hub that supports same-sex marriage.

The No on 1 campaign's ads feature gay families from Maine. Critics of California's anti-Prop. 8 campaign say its ads contained few gay families.

After spending several days helping organizers of the No on 1 campaign in Maine last week, Rosen was impressed with how the campaign is learning from California's mistakes. But leaders of the campaign to repeal Maine's law disagree.

"They may be responding faster, but I wouldn't say smarter," said Jeff Flint, whose firm helped create the Yes on 1 ads. "Their campaign still hasn't answered the fundamental question of this campaign. There's a lot more at stake for society when you're restructuring marriage."

Carbon copy

The campaign for the measure is a virtual carbon copy of the California effort, which ended with 52 percent of voters in favor of Prop. 8. If voters approve the Maine measure, the state's same-sex marriage law, which has been suspended pending the outcome of the election, would not take effect.

One TV ad supporting the measure features Robb and Robin Wirthlin, a Massachusetts couple concerned that their 8-year-old son came home from school talking about how boys can marry boys. A very similar TV ad, with the same clip of the Wirthlins, appeared in last year's California campaign. The main difference between the ads is that a different teacher introduces the couple.

Yes on 1's first TV ad featured Scott FitzGibbon, a professor at Boston College Law School, who said, "Homosexual marriage could be taught in public schools whether their parents like it not." Nothing in Maine's law compels public schools to teach same-sex marriage.

The Yes on Prop. 8 campaign in California ran a TV ad featuring Pepperdine University Law Professor Richard Peterson asserting, much as FitzGibbon does, that same-sex marriage would be "taught in the public schools" and "churches could lose their tax exemption."

'Like it or not'

The "like it or not" allusion is familiar to Californians who remember one of the most powerful TV spots for Prop. 8 last year. It featured San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom telling an audience after the state Supreme Court overturned California's 8-year-old, voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage that "it's going to happen, whether you like it or not."

When asked if the allusion to Newsom's line was intentional, Yes on 1's Flint said, "No comment" and laughed. "His (Newsom's) arrogant tone of voice made that a very powerful ad" in California, Flint said.

Jesse Connolly, who is on leave from his job as chief of staff to Maine's speaker of the House of Representatives to manage the No on 1 campaign, said his team studied the Prop. 8 effort closely.

"We figured (proponents of the repeal would) come with some of the same stuff, and we were ready to respond," he said.

Same-sex marriage proponents from California are getting involved in Maine's campaign. Last weekend, they made 10,000 phone-bank calls to Mainers, and over the next few weeks dozens of volunteers - and a few paid organizers - are heading east to help.

States different

"They will be there at the end of the campaign just to help implement the locally produced campaign," said Marc Solomon, marriage director for Equality California, where 11 field organizers have been raising money to go to Maine.

Despite the similarities in the two state's campaigns on the issue, Maine isn't California. The state's 1.3 million population is a fraction of California's and is 95 percent white. There are no evangelical Christian mega-churches the size of those in California from which to draw same-sex marriage opponents and no major cities - where many of Prop. 8's opponents were based.

Unlike California, Maine does not have a large number of Mormon churches, whose members mobilized heavily for Prop. 8.

Both sides in the Maine campaign say polls show the measure too close to call.

"A lot of this stuff about advertising may mean something to political reporters and insiders," said Flint, "but to a lot of Mainers dealing with this around their kitchen table, that doesn't matter."

Solomon, a force behind the same-sex marriage law in Massachusetts, added: "With this issue, people want to see genuine stories about how this affects their life."

Same-sex deja vu in Maine

Critics say the campaign for a Maine measure to repeal legal same-sex marriage in that state is virtually a carbon copy of the successful campaign for Proposition 8 in California last year. Here are links to TV ads for each of the campaigns:

Yes on Prop. 8: Ad that ran in California: links.sfgate.com/ZIIE

Yes on Question 1: Ad running in Maine: links.sfgate.com/ZIIF

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