A group of about 20 Maine Republicans announced their support for same-sex marriage at a press conference on Monday, which advocates hope is "another way of showing how people have changed their minds on this issue over the last few years," according to Matt McTighe, the campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage.
In fact, many of the Republicans United for Marriage who pledged to champion the issue and vote "Yes" on the ballot question (Do you want to allow same-sex couples to marry?) this November were already proponents of the freedom to marry; termed-out state representative Stacey Fitts, of Pittsfield (who no longer has to worry about alienating his conservative base), offered perhaps the most dramatic conversion story.
"I voted against same-sex marriage in 2009, but I changed my mind," he said at the State House. "I know some gay people and I've talked with them and my family, and I've thought about it a lot. As a husband and a father, I've come to believe that two people who love each other should have the freedom to get married."
Whether or not these Republicans are longtime defenders of marriage equality or only recently came to that position, McTighe says the organization's existence shows that "you can be Republican and support marriage — those things are not in conflict." In fact, McTighe suggested that certain Republican tenets — such as the preservation of personal liberties — mesh well with the goal of same-sex marriage for all.
The Christian Civic League of Maine (CCL), which opposes same-sex marriage, struck back immediately, questioning the Republican credentials of the group, which includes prominent members of the business community (like real estate mogul Greg Boulos) and political big-wigs (like Jim Nicholson, former treasurer of the Maine Republican Party). "They've found some of the most left-leaning Republicans that they could," said Bob Emrich, a pastor and leader of the CCL's Protect Marriage Maine campaign. "It looks like a sorry attempt."
Emrich specifically criticized the involvement of Dan Demeritt, former spokesman for Governor Paul LePage. Emrich claimed that Demeritt offered his consulting services to the CCL last year. But Demeritt says he only wanted to work on the CCL's anti-abortion initiatives; in a September 2011 email to Emrich and CCL executive director Carroll Conley, Demeritt wrote: "While I understand and respect the position you will be taking on the gay marriage question, we will differ on the issue . . . Clearly our differences would prevent us from working together on this issue."
In a phone interview, Demeritt said, "I've been quietly supportive of marriage for everybody on a personal level" for some time.
This effort in Maine is part of what looks like a larger groundswell of Republican support for gay marriage. Last month, in a New York Times piece about Paul Singer, a New York hedge-fund billionaire (and Republican) who has given millions of dollars to gay-rights initiatives across the country (including here in Maine), columnist Frank Bruni suggested that GOP leaders are seeing the political (if not moral) advantage of supporting gay marriage. There is "a growing awareness among prominent Republicans that embracing marriage equality could broaden the party's base and soften the party's image in crucial ways," Bruni wrote. "Many swing voters who find elements of Republicans' limited-government message appealing and have doubts about Obama's economic stewardship are nonetheless given serious pause by the party's stances on abortion, birth control, immigration and homosexuality."