Correction to This Article
The Maine's gay-marriage battle incorrectly said that the National Equality March in Washington is Saturday. The march is Sunday.
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Maine Proves a Low-Key Battleground — and Bellwether? — for Gay Marriage

Jesse Connolly heads the effort to affirm Maine's new law allowing same-sex marriage. A referendum is set for Nov. 3.
Jesse Connolly heads the effort to affirm Maine's new law allowing same-sex marriage. A referendum is set for Nov. 3. (Pat Wellenbach - AP)
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"We don't have the votes to [repeal] DOMA," he said, referring to the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law explicitly stipulating that marriage is between a man and a woman. "We do have the votes to pass hate crimes, the employment non-discrimination acts and get domestic-partner benefits for federal employees. To divert energy for that, to a bill we have no possibility of passage, doesn't sound smart to me."

But new gay leaders in Washington make no distinction between Maine and Congress. They want equality everywhere -- and now.

Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a gay freshman representative, has broken with Frank and emerged as a spokesman in Washington for a bolder agenda. Along with lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and nearly 100 other members of Congress, he has signed on to legislation introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, (D-N.Y.) that would repeal DOMA.

Polis's allies are directly involved in the Maine effort. Andy Szekeres, his campaign's deputy finance director, is now the Maine campaign's finance director.

"Some of the next generation of LGBT opinion leaders think more boldly than the preceding generation," said Polis. "We grew up in a different environment than people who grew up in the 1960s or the 1970s. The new generation grew up in a post-AIDS-crisis world. I don't know anybody who died of AIDS, and for a gay man 20 years ago, that would have been a shocking statement. But most of my peers don't either. We're not characterized by being survivors."

Downtown Portland, which is the state's reliable bastion of social liberalism and the center of gravity for gay Maine, reflects that view. In coffee shops, baristas and their tastefully tattooed clientele wear buttons supporting gay marriage. Signs urging a "no" vote on the referendum hang in storefronts. Rainbow lights advertise "Pride" directly under neon Miller Lite signs in gay-bar windows. A much-anticipated gay-marriage benefit concert with all the best local bands will be held on Oct. 17 at the Empire Dine and Dance.

"I know ridiculous amounts of people who are supportive," said Conor Tubbs, a 22-year-old bartender who recently nursed a shot glass filled with ice chips to numb a new piercing between his lip and nose. He sat at Styxx, a gay club off Spring Street, and said opposition will surely wane. "Those voices are being heard less," he said. "A lot of people in my generation are going to be in charge soon anyway."

But Portland is hardly indicative of Maine's 16 counties. Throughout the rural terrain that Mainers call Upcountry -- places like Piscataquis, Washington and Somerset -- gay marriage is still a foreign idea.

Democratic Gov. John Baldacci signed the legislation last May after a history of opposing gay marriage. Soon after, opponents of gay marriage collected enough signatures to force a referendum, which he predicts will be decided by the narrowest of margins. He sought to dampen expectations.

"Results do matter, but this is an issue that will continue to evolve," said Baldacci, who nevertheless made his pitch in moral terms: "When history's light shines on you, whether you are a representative, senator or governor, you can either push things ahead or hold things back, and they have to think about that long and hard."

Or you can just dodge it. No one seems to know where Maine's two moderate Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, fall on the issue. ("Good question," said Connolly when asked.) Collins's office said she does not weigh in on state referendums. Snowe's office said she would leave it up to voters.

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