Marriage suffers ‘stinging setback’ in Maine

Posted on 05 Oct 2009 at 6:25pm
By Lisa Keen | Keen News Service LisaKeen@aol.com

Voters repeal measure passed by state Legislature earlier this year


AGONY OF DEFEAT | Partners Lisa Brackbill, left, and Lisa Pugh, right, both from Buckfield, Maine, console each another along with Darlene Huntress, center, of Portland, after learning about the unofficial defeat on Question 1 at election night headquarters in Portland early Wednesday morning. (Associated Press)

PORTLAND, Maine — According to vote tallies from The Bangor Daily News, the effort to repeal same-sex marriage in Maine succeeded by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

The state’s Director of Elections Melissa Packard said her office would not report results publicly until they are certified in about 20 days. But the Bangor newspaper reported that ballots from 95 percent of the state’s precincts had been counted by early Wednesday morning, and outstanding precincts did not appear to have enough votes for marriage equality supporters to erase the lead of 32,000-plus votes the repeal effort held.

The vote marks a significant defeat for marriage equality supporters, who were hoping to regain ground lost last year when voters in California approved Proposition 8 by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

The Maine outcome also appeared to provide momentum to the anti-gay marriage movement, which is now attempting to stage an initiative against same-sex marriage in Washington, D.C., and which has a measure pending before the New Hampshire legislature to repeal a bill enacted there earlier this year.

There was some good news for gay rights supporters on Tuesday night. Voters approved an expanded domestic partnership law in Washington state. And in Kalamazoo, Mich., voters added sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.

But neither of those votes was consolation for the LGBT community in Maine.

Dueling campaigns
The campaigns for and against Maine’s equal marriage law had been under way since May when the legislature passed, and the governor signed, the law enabling same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses the same as straight couples.

Because repeal activists immediately began petitioning for a "Citizens’ Veto" measure, the law was put on hold and ballot Question 1 asked voters if they would like to repeal that law.

Many political observers praised the "No on 1" coalition for running a well-organized campaign, headed by Maine natives with considerable experience in Maine politics.

At the top of that campaign was Jesse Connolly, a 31-year-old straight married father, on leave from his job as chief of staff for Maine’s speaker of the House. Connolly had also run the successful 2005 campaign to vote "No" on a ballot measure seeking to repeal the state’s recently passed law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. The "No" vote that year won 55 percent to 45 percent.

The key focus of "No on 1" from the start was identifying voters who would vote "No" and making a concerted effort to get those voters to actually cast their ballots — either by absentee, early voting or at the voting booth on Election Day. Activists from as far away as Hawaii came to Maine in the last days of the campaign to help with that basic door-to-door, phone-by-phone effort.

Tambry Young, co-chair of the Family Equality Coalition of Hawaii, said she came to Maine on Wednesday, Oct. 25, because "at some point, we need to stand up and say, ‘We need to do the right thing.’"

But the "Yes on 1" campaign had considerable visibility for their messages throughout the state.

First, they launched a heavy barrage of television and radio ads warning that approval of same-sex marriage would lead to children being taught about gay marriage in the schools. Then, they staked out the simple message of "Yes on 1" in a highly visible supply of blue and yellow yard signs posted along many of the state’s busiest roads.

In contrast, "No on 1" often had only a lone pale green sign in noticeably smaller numbers.

Voter turnout was much heavier than expected. The Secretary of State had predicted about 25 to 35 percent of registered voters would turn out, but the Daily News estimates at least 57 percent of registered voters participated.

While spending by both sides appears to have been roughly similar — about $3.5 million each, there was a tremendous push for last-minute funding. The "No on 1" campaign sent out an e-mail sent out at 10 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 2, asking for another $25,000 in donations to pay for television ads to counter the "Yes on 1" campaign’s last-minute television buy. Supporters responded with $68,000 before the bank closed that day.

"Never did we think over 1,200 people would give a gift today," said Connolly, in a YouTube message taped Monday evening.

"I have never seen a campaign that has had this many volunteers from so many walks of life," said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Carey was in Maine on Tuesday helping with the get-out-the-vote effort. She said her door-to-door team included an older straight woman from Portland and a young woman from New Hampshire.

Mary Bonauto, too, thanked straight allies "who made this fight their own."

Bonauto, who lives in Maine, has been a key leader with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders in winning many legal battles for marriage equality in New England. She also represented the "No on 1" campaign in numerous televised debates during the weeks leading up to the vote.

But the latest ad by the "Yes on 1" group appeared to have hit its mark. The ad showed a rapid-fire sequence of newspaper clippings and official-looking documents while a female voice urgently warned that gay activists "are already pushing their agenda in Maine schools."

A radio ad warned that gay activists and their supporters will "push it on students."

The message was essentially a copycat of a message that had been effective in passing Proposition 8.

Ramifications beyond Maine
Many political observers saw the vote in Maine as a political compass for which way the country’s mood is heading on equal marriage rights for gay couples. The New York Times called it a "stinging setback for the national gay-rights movement." The San Francisco Chronicle predicted "Tuesday’s vote will influence the same-sex marriage issue in California, where voters approved Proposition 8, which struck down legal same-sex marriage last November after the state’s Supreme Court declared it a right."

There will, no doubt, be much analysis of why voters chose to repeal the law in Maine, but even before the voting booths had opened Tuesday, there were critics of President Obama’s lack of effort around the battle.

Longtime gay Democratic activist David Mixner put it most bluntly on his blog: "President Obama and his team were zero help in this critical battle and in the last week might actually have hurt us."

In fact, in February 2008, as the Democratic primary battle was in full swing, candidate Obama released an open letter to the LGBT community saying: "As your president, I will use the bully pulpit to urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws. I personally believe that civil unions represent the best way to secure that equal treatment. But I also believe that the federal government should not stand in the way of states that want to decide on their own how best to pursue equality for gay and lesbian couples — whether that means a domestic partnership, a civil union, or a civil marriage."

But at a national Human Rights Campaign dinner Oct. 10, the president had nothing to say about Maine or Washington state explicitly.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 06, 2009.

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