Just the beginning

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  August 4, 2009

Six days later, the state Senate passed the first version of the bill 21-14; on May 5, the House did so 89-57; a procedural return trip to the Senate saw an opponent absent, giving a 21-13 final vote on the morning of May 6. Later that day, Governor John Baldacci signed the bill into law. "In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions," Baldacci said in a statement. "I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage."

The moment Baldacci put pen to paper, the marriage battle in Maine morphed. What had been a political effort, fought primarily in the halls of the State House and in small meetings in legislative districts, was now a statewide referendum campaign, with both sides intently focused on winning the hearts and minds of average Mainers.

That very afternoon, the opposition issued a release announcing their own intentions — to file a People's Veto to overturn the bill. "Governor Baldacci's misplaced signature on this legislation is not the end of this debate, it is the beginning," said Bob Emrich, a pastor and director of the Maine Marriage Alliance (which now goes by Stand for Marriage Maine). "Our coalition is committed to giving the voters of Maine the opportunity to veto this bill with our votes. There has never been a state whose electorate has authorized gay marriage and Maine is not going to be the first one. Every state that has given voters the opportunity to decide this issue has decided that marriage should remain between a man and a woman. We are committed to preserving marriage in Maine."

On July 31, following months of damp signature-collecting by paid staff and unpaid volunteers, the folks at Stand for Marriage Maine delivered more than 100,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's office for certification, all but confirming what everyone has expected for months — that this November, a question will appear on the ballot, asking voters if they want to "reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?"

In an attempt at preemption, the Maine Freedom To Marry Campaign held a press conference on Thursday, officially launching the "No On 1: Protect Maine Equality" campaign, and announcing that more than 60,000 Mainers have already pledged (with their signatures) to protect the marriage bill and vote against the ballot question in November.

"It's not a big deal for us," No On 1 campaign manager Jesse Connolly says of his opponents' signature delivery. "We knew it was coming." Indeed, Connolly (along with many members of the pro-marriage team) has been preparing for this since he successfully ran the Maine Won't Discriminate campaign in 2005. "This didn't just happen overnight."

connolly main
COUNTERING THE NUMBERS No On 1 campaign manager Jesse Connolly announces the support of 60,000 Mainers for same-sex marriage.

And so here we are today, on the eve of a three-month referendum campaign. If No On 1 succeeds, and gay marriage stays on the books in Maine, this would be the first state where same-sex marriage survives at the hands of voters (as opposed to legislatures or courts). Of course, opponents hope that the Pine Tree State will follow in the footsteps of California, Oregon, and nine other states where voters have passed bans on gay marriage. But equal-marriage supporters say that Maine is different.

"Maine has a tradition of casting our ballots based on common sense," says No On 1 spokesman Mark Sullivan.

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