By Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 2, 2009 4:33 PM
Maine residents will decide Tuesday whether to repeal a law allowing same-sex marriage, an effort that has succeeded in every state where it has been put before voters.
Public opinion surveys in Maine show a dead heat on Question 1, which would cancel the marriage statute that passed the legislature in May and was signed by Gov. John E. Baldacci (D).
In the five other states where gay men and lesbians are allowed to marry their partners, permission was granted by courts or legislatures. Baldacci expressed guarded optimism Sunday about the effort to defeat the Maine proposition.
"I believe it's something in the water or the air in this state that recognizes individual rights and anti-discrimination attitudes," the governor said by phone from Augusta, the capital. "It's more of a libertarian-type state than it is Republican or Democrat. We have two Republican senators, two Democratic representatives, and there have been two independent governors."
The campaign against same-sex marriage in Maine draws heavily from the effort that a year ago overturned a California Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex marriage. TV commercials produced by Schubert Flint Public Affairs, a Sacramento consulting firm, feature parents lamenting that their young children are being taught in school that marriage between two women or two men is normal. Nearly identical ads were highly effective in California.
"I refer to it as sustainable advertising, where you have the same themes," said Scott Fish, communications director for Stand for Marriage Maine. "It's the same issue, and many of the concerns were the same."
Advocates of same-sex marriage responded to the ads with an opinion from state Attorney General Janet T. Mills stating that the law would have no effect on what is taught in schools.
"No way, José," Mills said. "Allowing same-sex marriage does not require teaching of gay marriage in the schools any more than allowing divorce requires teaching of divorce in the schools, or allowing adoption requires teaching of adoption in schools."
Fish called the opinion irrelevant, because curriculum is largely decided by local school boards. "Neither does it say it won't be taught," he said.
Proponents of same-sex marriage are also playing on Mainers' wariness of outsiders, calling attention to the California consultants and the volume of the "Yes-on-1" campaign from out of state.
Questions about the largest contributor have sparked an investigation by the state ethics commission and a court battle. The National Organization for Marriage, or NOM, has contributed $1.6 million to Stand for Marriage Maine but has declined to reveal its own contributors, despite a federal district court decision last week that it must do so under Maine law.
Some groups for gays say the organization is a stalking horse for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormons, which dominated fundraising in the California campaign. Many of the actors in a nationally televised ad produced by NOM, called "Gathering Storm," turned out to be Mormon activists.
Weekend calls to the New Jersey-based organization and its attorney were not returned. But Fish said that after the backlash in California against the Mormon Church, its leadership decided not to become directly involved in Maine.
"I think they're outraising us two to one in terms of money," Fish said, referring to proponents of same-sex marriage. "Common sense would suggest anyway if the LDS were really behind this campaign -- and it's not -- that wouldn't be the case."
Both sides said voter turnout will be key. Baldacci said the "No-on-1" campaign has 8,000 volunteers working Tuesday, "only 120 or so of whom are from out of state."
"I've been encouraged by the canvassers and what they're getting for reaction," he said. Maine has relatively few of the socially conservative African American and Latino voters who helped tip the balance against the California law. But with the Archdiocese of Portland heavily involved in what the Maine constitution calls a "people's veto," Baldacci said the 20 percent of the population who are Catholic could swing the vote.
"Lewiston, in western Maine, that's a pretty large segment of Franco-American Roman Catholic, working-class kind of a community," he said. "Reactions and support has been pretty good, but that'll be an area we'll want to watch."
But Fish identified a "strong secular element" backing the veto, one grounded in resentment at a political establishment that pushed through the measure with a single hearing, held in the Augusta civic center and dominated by proponents of same-sex marriage. "If we're going to do such a major cultural shift as redefining marriage, we shouldn't have just one hearing, on a Wednesday," he said.