Maine rescue effort fails at ballot box

WiG and AP Reports

PORTLAND, Maine — The stars seemed aligned for supporters of gay marriage. They had Maine’s governor, legislative leaders and major newspapers on their side, plus a huge edge in campaign funding. So losing a landmark referendum was a devastating blow for activists in Maine and nationwide.

“Our freedoms have been stripped away, but we must and will win them back,” said Jennifer Chrisler of the Family Equality Council in Boston.

In an election that had been billed for weeks as too close to call, the northeastern state’s often unpredictable voters repealed a state law Nov. 3 that would have allowed same-sex couples to wed. Gay marriage has now lost in all 31 states in which it has been put to a popular vote — a trend that the gay-rights movement had believed it could end in Maine.

“Today’s heartbreaking defeat unfortunately shows that lies and fear can still win at the ballot box,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the D.C.-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Gay-marriage foes had 53 percent of the vote. They prevailed in many of Maine’s far-flung small towns and lost by a less-than-expected margin in the state’s biggest city, Portland.

“The institution of marriage has been preserved in Maine and across the nation,” declared Frank Schubert, chief organizer for the winning side.

Attention will now turn to other states, including California — where Schubert was an instrumental strategist a year ago in the successful campaign to overturn -ordered same-sex marriage.

Gay-rights activists have been planning to go back to the ballot in California, either in 2010 or 2012, in another attempt to legalize gay marriage. But the Maine result was not the victory they had been hoping for to fire up their troops.

Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, a conservative group that steered substantial funds to fight gay marriage in both California and Maine, was elated by the Nov. 3 vote, saying it shows “that even in a New England state, if the voters have a chance to have their say, they’re going to protect and defend the commonsense definition of marriage.”

At issue in the referendum was a law passed by the Maine Legislature last spring that would have allowed gays to wed. The law was put on hold after conservatives launched a petition drive to repeal it.

Five other states have legalized gay marriage — Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Iowa — but all did so through legislation or court rulings, not by popular vote.

Richard Socarides, who was an adviser on gay-rights issues in the Clinton administration, said the loss in Maine should prompt gay-rights leaders to reconsider their state-by-state strategy on marriage and shift instead to lobbying for changes on the federal level that expand recognition of same-sex couples.

In Maine, gay-marriage supporters conceded early Nov. 4.

“I am proud of the thousands of Mainers who knocked on doors, made phone calls and talked to their family, friends and neighbors about the basic premise of treating all Maine families equally,” said Jesse Connolly of the No on 1 campaign. “And I’m proud of this campaign because the stories we told and the images we shared were of real Mainers — parents who stood up for their children, and couples who simply wanted to marry the person they love.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” Connolly continued. “For next week, and next month, and next year — until all Maine families are treated equally.”

A similar note was sounded by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, who signed the bill into law.

“If we don’t get to the top of the mountain tonight, we’ve made a significant stride. And we’re going to get there,” he said. “We will get to the top of the mountain.”

Both sides in Maine drew volunteers and contributions from out of state, but the money edge went to the campaign in defense of gay marriage, Protect Maine Equality. It raised $4 million, compared with $2.5 million for Stand for Marriage Maine.

As was the case in the Proposition 8 fight in California, a substantial amount of money to repeal the legislation came from religious organizations and institutions, specifically the Catholic Church.

On Nov. 4, the leader of the Catholic Church in Maine, Bishop Richard Malone, thanked Mainers for reaffirming marriage as it’s been understood “for millennia by civilizations and religions around the world.”