Maine voters stun pundits, reject 'gay marriage' law
AUGUSTA, Maine (BP)--Supporters of traditional marriage in Maine shocked the political world and even some of their own supporters Nov. 3, overcoming a slew of obstacles to overturn a new law that had legalized "gay marriage."
By passing Question 1, 53-47 percent, Mainers rejected the law signed by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci in May and became the first state ever to reverse a legislatively enacted "gay marriage" statute. It was the first time voters in a Northeast state had considered the issue.
The law had yet to go into effect but would have done so, immediately, if Question 1 had lost. In fact, local officials already had new marriage licenses in hand that removed the terms "bride" and "groom."
It was another major setback for homosexual activists, who have never won at the ballot box on "gay marriage" and vowed not to allow what happened in California last year happen in Maine. They had numerous advantages, led by a fundraising edge of $4 million to $2.5 million. They had a ground game and phone bank system whose organization far surpassed what they had in California, and they also had the support of the state's leading politicians and newspapers. They led in four of the final six pre-election polls, including an 11-point edge in one late-October survey. Perhaps most significantly, they had the benefit of trying to get approval for "gay marriage" in liberal Maine, the third least religious state in the country according to a Gallup survey. (California was No. 13.)
But in the end, what would have been a landmark victory turned into another stinging defeat. "Gay marriage" has now lost in all 31 states in which it was put to the voters, including left-leaning states like California, Oregon, Wisconsin and Michigan. Five states have legalized it, although the change in law in those states came either through the courts or the legislature, not the ballot.
The defeat is a significant roadblock in the effort by Boston-based GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders) to have all six New England states legalize "gay marriage" by 2012. Maine is now a holdout, joining Rhode Island.
"They were targeting New England and then wanted to use the momentum to go nationwide. We said, no, you're not going to pull it off here," Tim Kezar, pastor of New Covenant Baptist Church in North Berwick, Maine, told Baptist Press.
Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, said the importance of the win "cannot be overstated." The group gave more than $1 million to the Yes on 1/Stand for Marriage Maine campaign.
"If we can win in Maine, we can win anywhere," Brown said in a statement.
Stand for Marriage Maine won in part by borrowing a theme from the California debate and consistently warning voters that if Question 1 lost, "gay marriage" would be taught as normative in public schools. Of the six Stand for Marriage Maine TV commercials, five included the public school theme.
"That was a big issue," Bob Emrich, a spokesperson for Stand for Marriage Maine, told BP. "... This was going to have an impact on children -- the way that children think, what children are taught. The people of Maine responded to that."
That point was underscored in the final days when a public high school counselor, Donald Mendell Jr., learned he might lose his social worker's license because he appeared in a TV commercial supporting Question 1. The commercial did not mention the school's name.
Despite the Maine loss, homosexual activists did pick up some big wins on Election Night:
-- A same-sex "everything but marriage" law in Washington state seems headed for approval as officials continue to count the state's vote-by-mail ballots. Referendum 71, as it is called, leads by a slim 51-49 percent margin, but a large number of outstanding ballots come from pro-Referendum 71 areas, according to an analysis by The Seattle Times. If it passes, then a new law will stand that gives homosexual couples all the legal benefits of marriage, minus the name.
-- A candidate for mayor of Houston who is an open lesbian advanced to a runoff. City Controller Annise Parker, who received a plurality of the vote with 30.5 percent, will face City Attorney Gene Locke (24.6 percent). If Parker wins, Houston would become the largest U.S. city with a homosexual mayor.
-- Chapel Hill, N.C., elected a homosexual mayor, Mark Kleinschmidt.
-- Kalamazoo, Mich., voters passed a homosexual/transgender anti-discrimination ordinance, 62-38 percent. Critics said the measure's language on public accommodations would allow men to use women's restrooms and would open women up to harassment.
But the vote in Maine was the biggest prize of the night for both sides of the "gay marriage" debate. Despite the loss, supporters of "gay marriage" were vowing not to give up and said they'd press the issue again in the legislature. A couple hours after midnight, Jesse Connolly, campaign manager for No on 1/Protect Maine Equality, sent out an e-mail urging supporters to "stay the course."
"We're in this for the long haul. For next week, and next month, and next year -- until all Maine families are treated equally," wrote Connolly, who had taken a leave of absence as chief of staff to House Speaker Hannah Pingree to run the campaign. Pingree was a leading force in the move to pass the bill.
Question 1 was placed on the ballot through a petition drive thanks to a unique "People's Veto" law that gives Mainers the opportunity to overturn new laws simply by collecting signatures. But unlike California Prop 8, Question 1 was not a constitutional amendment -- meaning that the legislature can simply pass a "gay marriage" law again. Practically and politically, though, that is unlikely in the immediate future. There are statewide elections in 2010, and the gubernatorial and legislative races will have a big impact on the future of the issue. Baldacci is term-limited and can't run again.
"It will be a couple years before they do, but they will be right back trying to bring it up again unless we can change the makeup of our legislature," Emrich, pastor of Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church in Plymouth, Maine, and director of the conservative Maine Jeremiah Project, said. "We need to stop it there."
Question 1 passed on a night when local and national media members were practically cheering in anticipation of its defeat, conservatives said.
"I had to channel-hop quite a bit to find out the result on the marriage referendum in Maine," Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told BP. "If the other side had won, it would have been trumpeted as a great victory for same-sex marriage, but since traditional marriage won, it was scandalously under-reported. Once again the bias of the media is apparent for all who have eyes to see and ears to hear."
Joey Marshall, pastor of Living Stone Community Church (SBC) in Standish, Maine, said Christians "must rejoice and give God the glory" for the win and also must also make clear why they oppose redefining marriage.
"For us, the homosexual movement is not an issue of equality, but a social issue concerning moral values," he told BP. "I want our opponents to understand that this is not a personal attack on same-sex couples, but rather the expression of our belief that marriage is between one man and one woman as God intended. God loves all people, but He calls this lifestyle inappropriate. ... The issue of redefining marriage does not just affect same-sex couples, but it will have ongoing effects and consequences that will impact every single family within our society."
The next battlegrounds apparently will be New Jersey and New York, both of which have movements in the respective legislatures to pass a "gay marriage" bill by year's end.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. With reporting by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.