Same-sex marriage

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  March 25, 2009

If there's any issue that invites political surprises, it's gay marriage. For example, the opposition is counting on significant Republican support. Michael Heath, of the right-wing Maine Family Policy Council (formerly the Christian Civic League; the organization changed its name to more closely align and identify itself with the ultra-conservative James Dobson and his Focus on the Family group) met in February with senators Kevin Raye (R-Perry) and Jonathan Courtney (R-Sanford). According to a "news story" released by Heath's organization after the meeting, "All three of the men agreed that Senator Dennis Damon's proposal to eliminate Maine's Defense of Marriage Act must be killed." In that release, Heath is quoted as saying: "I was pleasantly surprised ... Senator Raye supports sexual orientation-based laws, often referred to as gay rights. It was encouraging to learn that he opposes same sex 'marriage'."

But some observers hope that Maine's Republicans aren't a sure bet. "The independence of the senate [Republicans] is going to be a huge advantage for those of us who favor equality," Bellows says.

That's a nicer way of hypothesizing that the lack of unity among state Republicans (note the leadership dust-up late last year, which displaced former GOP leaders Carol Weston and Richard Rosen in favor of Raye and Courtney) could lead to some high-profile party defections on this issue.

So far, the pro-marriage forces have only managed to rope in the solid support of one Republican — Meredith Strang Burgess, a representative from Cumberland. She was one noteworthy name on the list of 64 legislative backers, which was released earlier this month, and was characterized by the opposition as "theatrics" and "marketing 101." Other notable people on the list included John Nutting, a moderate Democrat senator from Leeds; Representative Donald Pilon, a relatively conservative Democrat from Saco; Representative Paulette Beaudoin, another conservative Dem from Biddeford; several members of the judiciary committee; and representatives from such thought-unlikely geographic locations as Lewiston and Skowhegan.

The political theater is only going to get more complicated (or entertaining, depending on your vantage point). The latest bit of drama is the rumor that a referendum provision — requiring that the marriage question go before Maine voters — will be written into the bill at the last minute. Of course, organizers practically expect opponents to challenge the bill, if it passes, at the polls. But they bristle at the suggestion that legislators should put this question to the people directly.

"There certainly is a high likelihood that if we pass the bill, our opposition will collect the signatures [to place a people's veto on the ballot]," Smith says. But she stresses that right now, the coalition is focusing on the 186 members of Maine's legislature. "That's what we elect them for," she says. The general public, she continues, doesn't "have the ability to study this issue like the legislature. We can't expect everyone out there to have the body of knowledge that the judiciary committee does. A decision to throw it out to referendum is just not an acceptable decision."

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