Published 9:53 am on July 10, 2009
Maine gay marriage referendum push kicks into high gear
By Peter Elliott
The push to get a gay marriage referendum on the November 3 ballot in Maine kicked into high gear this week when petition-gathering opponents gathered well more than the required signatures in little more than a month.
Gay marriage opponents are required to have 55,087 validated voter signatures on petitions by Aug. 3 to prompt a “People’s Veto” and send the issue to Maine voters.
Earlier this week, about 70,000 signatures had been gathered, with more expected, according to Bob Emrich.
Emrich is a pastor and founder of The Jeremiah Project, a Christian-based public advocacy group. He is one of the leading organizers affiliated with the Stand for Marriage Maine coalition of religious leaders leading the charge against gay marriage, which was approved by the state legislature and signed Gov. John Baldacci in May.
In June, Emrich had said he and other organizers would like to get at least 70,000 signatures to account for any duplications or otherwise invalid petition signatures. It’s likely that number will be exceeded.
“Right now we know we have around 70,000 signatures and many more still out in the field collecting signatures,” he said Thursday.
Signatures have to be submitted to local town clerks to be validated against voter rolls and then submitted to the Secretary of State for further screening.
When the signature gathering began in late May and early June, whether or not enough signatures would be gathered in time to get the measure on the November ballot was in doubt. A longer period of time to gather signatures would have resulted in it heading to a June 2010 vote dovetailed with primary elections.
That, however, now is unlikely. As a result, marriage licenses which originally could have been granted to same-sex couples by Sept. 12 can no longer be issued.
“I am a little surprised, pleasantly so, that it has gone as well as it has so far,” he said. “The level of support throughout the state and the hard work of the folks circulating the petitions has been tremendous. Even today I’m still getting calls from people who want to circulate petitions even though our numbers are where they’re at. … There’s a groundswell of support out there that we’ve tapped into.”
Doing the petition drive over the summer, signatures can’t be gathered outside polling places as they might during a primary or general election, removing a key magnet for participation. That has required volunteers to go to places such as post offices and school board meetings in addition to the traditional door-to-door approach.
“Every place we’ve been, the reports are that we are that we’ve been getting a pretty good response,” Emrich said. “There are instances where people have refused to sign, but from what I’ve heard there hasn’t been a large amount of anger or animosity.”
Church groups have been central to gathering signatures, Emrich said, and many petition signatories have a Christian background. However, secular voters may be swayed by the argument that the legislature overreached as part of a power grab instead of directly putting gay marriage in front of voters in the first place.
“There are a number of issues on the ballot, including a tax reform issue,” Emrich said.
“Maybe we’re becoming a little bit like California,” he chuckled. “There is an opinion out there of, ‘Why do we have to vote on all these issues and referendums if the legislature can’t figure it out on their own the first time?’.”
Drawing an analogy to California is timely.
Last year, California voters approved Proposition 8, which negated a State Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage/. The court upheld Prop 8 in a lawsuit brought by gay marriage advocates. A lawsuit in federal court is challenging Prop 8 and may set the stage for an eventual U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.
Whether or not the same protracted legal battle over the outcome of the Maine vote is unforeseeable right now, but it is clear arguments will need to be tailored to reach a secular audience and there will be significant sums of money spent on doing so.
“It’s hard to put a number on what the motivation is for people signing the petition along religious or secular lines, but I would say the majority of people from a Christian point of view feel that a very serious line has been crossed and that’s why we’ve seen churches be such a big part of gathering signatures,” Emrich said. “For the campaign I think the advertising will take a secular bent because most religious people don’t need to be persuaded on this issue. As with a lot of issues, undecideds tend to approach things from a more secular point of view.”
Issues such as the impact of how homosexuality might be addressed differently in public schools and the importance of traditional marriage as a social institution will likely come up in the campaign.
Stand for Marriage Maine communications director Scott Fish said there are numerous issues which are being brought out.
“From my experience and following this issue from its inception as a bill through the legislature and its signing by the governor, there are a lot of people that are looking forward to voting for many different reasons,” he said. “For example, there are people who really believe the bill should have gone out initially to referendum. There are others who feel it has really destroyed a defense of marriage law Maine passed not all that long ago. People who even support same-sex marriage otherwise could feel there should have been more debate and public hearings. There are plenty of issues which cut across religious and secular lines.”
Emrich confirmed that financial contributions are coming in and will be needed from outside of Maine to fund the campaign. He said he expects that will be brought up by gay marriage proponents as well, but argued that that the initial funding for bringing the gay marriage debate to Maine came, to some degree, from out-of-state funds as well.
Last week National Organization for Marriage executive director Brian Brown told Everyday Christian that NOM would help with campaign logistics, fundraising and advertising in Maine. NOM had done all three in the Prop 8 fight and has subsequently in other states where gay marriage has been an issue, most recently New York.
On Wednesday, NOM posted a blog on its site encouraging contributions to Stand for Marriage Maine.
Emirch said Brown has been “very helpful” in helping build a support base in Maine, as has Colorado-based Focus on the Family. Focus has contributed financially and helped with mailings, Emrich said, and will continue to do so heading into November.
“The interesting about this campaign is that you have to be succinct and get into it quickly to make your point,” Stand for Marriage Maine’s Fish added. “Soup to nuts, this is going to be a very concentrated effort.”
There is also a human element that helps opponents and proponents of gay marriage with a short four-month campaign instead of a more protracted battle languishing into next summer.
“There is a weariness factor with a long campaign, to be sure,” Emrich said. “People in the public get tired of hearing about it and listening to it. People working on the campaign can get burned out. For most us, this issue is not our livelihood. Most people are busy trying to make a living, I have a church to pastor, for example.
“The longer this goes on there can also be division within families and it can be divisive within locations, and we’ve already seen a little bit of that. The shorter the campaign, the better we can tamp down on some of those feelings for everyone.”
Yet as quickly as the signatures have been gathered, neither Fish nor Emrich feel that there will be any coasting to an easy victory.
“I don’t think anybody is taking anything for granted, and that is magnified by the short time we have to run the campaign,” Fish said. “To get the signatures in about a month’s time is good, but it absolutely is not cause to say, ‘Game over,’ not by any stretch of the imagination.”
Emrich added, “There is a whole lot left to be accomplished. However, when the dust all settles, I believe marriage in Maine between will be defined as between a man and a woman because that’s what Maine people believe.”
Stand for Marriage Maine: http://standformarriagemaine.com/
The Jeremiah Project: http://www.mainejeremiahproject.com/
National Organization for Marriage: http://www.nationformarriage.org/site/c.omL2KeN0LzH/b.3836955/k.BEC6/Home.htm
Focus on the Family: http://www.focusonthefamily.com/
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