Getting Back On The Horse In Maine: Gay Marriage On The Ballot For 2012

Those who were closely following the nationwide battle for marriage equality in 2009 maybe experiencing some déja vu about now. New York, which was the scene for a heartbreaking marriage defeat in December, has just succeeded in legalizing it. And now Maine, where Question 1 on the ballot turned into a voter veto of legislatively introduced same-sex marriage, activists may now be coming back to the ballot for round two.

While the defeat that time was and still is painful, there’s a growing consensus of people who think that times have changed. According to two different polls, 53% of Mainers now support marriage equality; two years ago, that was the statistic of people who opposed it. The climate of the US overall on this issue is changing, demonstrated perhaps most glaringly by the Gallup poll from May that indicates that for the first time ever, the majority of Americans overall support gay marriage. Since the vote in Maine in November of 2009, same-sex marriage has been legalized in the District of Columbia, New Hampshire and New York; Prop 8 was overturned; and civil unions achieved in Illinois, Hawaii and Rhode Island. (Civil unions will become a legal reality in Delaware on January 1, 2012.) Is that enough change to make a difference in Maine?

Campaign strategy may also be an important factor in the outcome of the vote. Marriage equality campaigns across the board in 2008 and 2009 were criticized after their failure for poor strategy and lack of connection with voters. Geoffrey Kors of EQCA admits that the campaign in California was too politically minded and not rooted in the community; some critics of the Maine campaign have had similar complaints. But along with the seemingly increased goodwill, activists are knocking on doors in 2011. “We know this because we’re going door-to-door, talking with Mainers, about why marriage matters to gay and lesbian people,” says Betsy Smith, Executive Director of EqualityMaine, which will be leading the petition drive to get a same-sex marriage initiative on the ballot, along with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders–or GLAD.

Of course, not everyone is as optimistic – opinions on the fate of a ballot initiative in Maine vary wildly. With initiatives like this, political climate and personal contact has to face off with financial clout. In 2009, NOM and other contributors to the anti-marriage equality team raised $5.8 million, as opposed to the equality activists’ $3.8 million. The fight against Prop 8 was a great example of how huge amounts of money can trump moral truth when you have the resources to bombard voters with sensationlist and false information about your opponent. And not everyone is of the opinion that things are different this time around:

The Rev. Bob Emrich, pastor of Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church in Plymouth and one of the leaders in the last campaign veto the law, on Thursday disputed the notion that more Mainers now support same-sex marriage. “I don’t believe opinion has shifted at all. I think if anything people are more resolved to say ‘leave marriage alone, the definition is what it is,’” said Emrich. “The resistance to this is there, it’s very real. It’s too early to say what form it will take for sure — but I think it will be a broader coalition than it was last time.”

It will take a while to find out whose assessment of the situation is on point; right now marriage equality supporters are still in the stage of gathering signatures just to get the issue on the ballot. But if they succeed at that, and then succeed at the even bigger proposition of winning a majority vote for marriage, they will have accomplished something that no one else ever has: a popular vote of the people that supports equality. Marc Mutty, the director of the office of public affairs for the Portland Diocese of the Catholic Church, has said: “The people of this country have rejected same-sex marriage in all cases where the issue has been put on the ballot; there is no reason why we should expect a different outcome this time.” But someone else disagrees:

[Pastor Mark Gray of the Old Orchard Beach United Methodist Church] used to describe himself as a born-again Christian and follower of conservative talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. But over time, he says, he’s changed his mind about letting same-sex couples marry.

“I not only support their right to have the freedom to marry if they are lucky to find someone that they love, I also think that it is imperative that the state treat and protect these relationships and the families that they create in the same way that my family is treated and protected,” he said.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

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  1. I’m from Maine and I think this has an excellent chance of passing in 2012. Mainers are generally a live and let live group of people but there is a great “don’t tell us what to do” attitude. I think the legislature passing the marriage bill didn’t fit well with that Yankee mentality, and that didn’t help with the popular vote. Also, the astounding fear campaign that the opposition put on the airwaves scared the bejesus out of people and the last couple of weeks before the vote they aired on tv constantly.

  2. Cool, I’m from Maine,too, and I tend to agree with you. I know a lot of people were very disappointed to see the bill fail and were hopeful it would return to the ballot.

  3. Yay other Mainers! I’m still not over my disappointment from 2009 and am really, really hoping we succeed in 2012. Will it happen? Maybe. I’m kind of afraid to have hope.

  4. *Waves to other Mainiacs*
    Don’t be afraid to have hope!

    I’m from southern Maine, on the border with NH. I’ll do anything I can from here in Texas, which may amount to just donating some $$.

  5. Woo! Another Mainer here. I think this has a better chance of passing now. Every day that goes by, more people are coming out and those who otherwise didn’t care about LGBT rights are now reconsidering when they find out that someone they love is gay. I came out last year and have gathered a nice group of supporters who have said they would now vote in favor of marriage equality. I would be so proud of my state if this passed!

  6. I agree. Once you get to know an actual person, and not a stereotype, it makes a difference.

    I was disappointed that I didn’t live in Maine when the vote came up in ’09. If it passes in ’12, I may have to make a visit home to celebrate. Then it would truly live up to it’s motto:
    the way life should be.

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