Opponents of gay marriage on Wednesday cleared a threshold that sets Maine as the next battleground in the ongoing, contentious national debate.
On Nov. 3, voters in the state will be asked by Proposition 1 to consider repealing a same-sex-marriage law that was due to take effect this month, but had been put on hold.
The bill to allow same-sex marriage was approved by the Maine Legislature and signed by the governor in May. The victory was bittersweet, however, for gay and lesbian couples hoping to get married.
Before the law could take effect, many found themselves involved in a political campaign to protect a right they had yet to exercise. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine, along with several national conservative organizations, mobilized a signature-gathering effort to repeal same-sex marriage.
Organizing The Opposition
Working out of an unmarked office in a small business plaza, they call their coalition Stand for Marriage Maine. As of mid-July, the group raised about $350,000, more than twice the money as same-sex-marriage supporters. Nearly all of the money, 99 percent of it, came from three sources: the National Organization for Marriage, the Maine chapter of Focus on the Family and the Portland diocese.
The figure is a fraction of what each side says will be necessary to prevail.
"It isn't about anything other than the definition of marriage, what it's going to mean to us and how it's going to be defined in society," says Marc Mutty, the executive chairman of Stand for Marriage Maine.
Mutty is on loan from the diocese, which believes that legalizing same-sex marriage will lead to a new curriculum in the schools.
"Many certainly feel uncomfortable about that, and about the fact that children as young as 7 or 8 years old are being taught about gay sex in some detail," he says.
But Jim Bishop, a supporter of and volunteer for the Vote No On 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign, dismisses that claim.
"This is one of these great lines we get," he says. "That's the kind of stuff I find really offensive — saying that we're going to teach about gay marriage and gay lifestyle in the schools, and that we're going to try to convert. This is just absurd."
If and when same-sex marriage becomes legal in Maine, Bishop is hoping to marry Stephen Ryan, his partner of 33 years.
"It's really about civil rights, about having the same things that every other loving couple has," Ryan says. "I have full confidence that the people of Maine will do the right thing and honor our commitments and honor civil rights for all Mainers."
A Nationwide Fight
More than 80,000 Maine voters have pledged to support Protect Maine Equality. At the ballot box nationwide, however, opponents of gay marriage generally appear to outnumber supporters. Since 2004, more than two dozen states have passed referendums to prohibit same-sex marriage, including California, where consultant and strategist Frank Schubert helped opponents claim victory last fall.
Schubert has come to Maine to attempt the same thing.
"The reality is that this is a national campaign. People around the country and internationally are looking at what's going to happen in Maine," he says. "Both sides are doing what they can to marshal support wherever they can find support. It will be a pitched battle."
Schubert says unlike in California, the Mormon Church will not be involved in Maine's campaign. Both sides in the state are also hoping for a more civil debate in a battle that shows no signs of letting up even after Nov. 3.