Battle over Maine gay marriage law coming down to wire

Posted on 22 Jan 2009 at 2:59pm
By Lisa Keen | Keen News Service LisaKeen@aol.com

Polls show more than 50 percent of likely voters oppose repeal of law recognizing same-sex marriage

CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC | Pat Peard, a leader of many of Maine’s LGBT community’s battles for equality through the years, says efforts to defeat a repeal of that state’s same-sex marriage law seems to be going well, but “Nobody’s being cocky.” (JOEL PAGE/Associated Press)

Less than two weeks away from the vote on Maine’s marriage equality law, things are looking up for marriage equality supporters, but they’re not letting down their guards.

“Nobody’s being cocky, I can tell you that,” said Pat Peard, who has been a leader in many of the LGBT community’s ballot battles in Maine over the past decade.

“Personally, I’m extremely cautiously optimistic,” said Peard. “We have done very well raising money, and we have these endorsements, but the poll numbers mean nothing to me.”

As of the latest poll, conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 7, 51.8 percent of “likely” voters in November say they will vote “No” on Measure 1, which would repeal the same-sex marriage law approved by legislators; 42.9 percent say they will vote “Yes,” and less than 6 percent say they are undecided.

The conventional wisdom among pollsters on ballot measures is that, when support for a ballot measure falls below 50 percent, the proposal loses — at least seven times out of 10.

Del Ali, a pollster with Research 2000 who has surveyed in Maine and other states with anti-gay marriage measures, says the numbers look good for gay civil rights supporters in Maine right now. But he, too, was cautious about relying on the so-called “50 percent rule.”

“On any other ballot measure, there is no question that the ‘No’s’ would win,” said Ali. “But on this issue, it’s hard to say for sure. I think it’s close.”

Opponents of California’s Proposition 8 could toss in a large measure of caution, too. In October 2008, two weeks out from voting, only 47 percent of all voters said they’d support Proposition 8. But then, on Nov. 4, 52 percent did and the measure passed.

Still, the polling numbers in Maine this month are an improvement over last month.

In early September, Research 2000′s poll of 600 likely voters found “Yes on 1″ with a thin lead: 48 percent were ready to vote yes, and 46 percent to vote no, with 6 percent undecided.

That’s the thing about polls: They tell only what the temperature is in the voting pot at that moment, not whether there’s about to be a fire ignited or put out and, thus, change the political temperature dramatically and quickly.

One fire that the “Yes on 1″ campaign is now stoking is a television ad — similar to one used for Proposition 8 in California — that warns parents that allowing same-sex marriage will mean that gay marriage and “gay sex” will be forced into the curricula of public schools.

The “Yes on 1″ ad most recently hitting the airwaves uses a broadcast from the well-respected National Public Radio to make its point. In the 30-second spot, an NPR reporter says that, four months after gay couples could marry in Massachusetts, “Already, some gay activists are working on a gay-friendly curriculum for kindergarten and up.”

She talks to a Brookline, Mass., teacher, Deb Allen, who tells her the debate around gay marriage has prompted kids to ask a lot more questions, “like, ‘What is gay sex?’”

The reporter then says Allen answers the students’ questions “thoroughly and explicitly.”

The television ad shows a Maine teacher listening to the NPR segment then turns to the camera and says, “Vote yes on Measure 1 to prevent this from happening in Maine.”

The Stand for Marriage Web site no longer carries the television ad, indicating, “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by National Public Radio.”

However, it can be viewed on YouTube. In the search window, type in “Yes on 1 tv ad” + “give me a break”.

It’s a powerful tactic for the anti-gay marriage side, one that has gotten considerable traction in California and elsewhere.

A poll in Maine this month of 401 “likely voters” found it was gaining some traction there, too. The poll showed that 75.6 percent of those prepared to vote “Yes” to repeal the state’s new marriage equality law said they believe the law would require gay marriage to be taught in the public schools. (Of those prepared to vote “No,” only 23.9 percent believed gay marriage would be taught in schools.)
“We knew this was coming,” said Peard, ” and we prepared for it.”

The “Yes on 1″ campaign in Maine is being run by the same public relations firm, Shubert Flint, as was the pro-Proposition 8 campaign in California. “So, we knew a lot of the California ads were being recut and used again,” said Peard.

When the “Yes on 1″ “gay sex” ads started airing, “No on 1″ quickly prepared and rolled out their counter-ads. Those ads show a wide variety of family configurations — straight and gay — and urge voters to use their “common sense,” saying that “Maine schools wouldn’t allow something inappropriate to be taught.”

The ad also highlights an Oct. 17 endorsement for the “No on 1″ campaign from the well-respected Bangor Daily News, which called the fears about school curricula “baseless.” And it noted that the Attorney General on Oct. 15 issued a report saying the marriage equality law has “no impact” on school curricula.

The counterpunch was also helped by a YouTube message posted Oct. 11 by Belinda Carlisle, former lead singer for the Go-Gos, who asked voters, “as a mom” of a gay son, to reject Measure 1 and donate to “No on 1.”

The Bangor Daily News endorsement said

Maine’s new marriage equality has “moved Maine toward tolerance and fairness.”

“Repealing this law,” said the paper, “would move the state backward while denying guaranteed rights to a small minority.”

It went a dramatic step further, too, chastising the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland for attempting “to force its views on all Maine’s residents, whether they are Catholic or not.”

The Diocese is currently the largest funder behind the “Yes on 1″ campaign.

According to the most recently filed campaign disclosure statements, the diocese has contributed $634,367 in cash to the campaign — 38 percent of the $1.7 million cash raised. The second largest chunk has come from the National Organization for Marriage, which is under investigation for alleged violations of campaign disclosure laws.

NOM has reported donating $340,000, or 20 percent of the “Yes on 1″ campaign coffers.

Campaign finance reports show that the “No on 1″ campaign has raised significantly more cash: $3,747,646. Its largest contributor is the Equality Maine group and political action committee, which has funneled $924,515 into the campaign, representing 25 percent of “No on 1″ cash. The Human Rights Campaign is the second largest contributor to “No on 1,” with $229,347, or 6 percent.

Absentee voting has already begun around the state, and “early voting” — when voters can go to town hall and cast their votes on a voting machine — begins Oct. 26. Election Day is Nov. 3.

“We’re assuming nothing but that this race is going to be a tight race,” said Peard, “and that we’re going to have to do everything in our power to turn out our voters.”

© 2009 Keen News Service

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 23, 2009.

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