Gay marriage supporters, opponents ready for fight

Posted Feb. 03, 2009, at 9:11 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The bill proposing same-sex couples be allowed to marry in Maine has not been printed yet, but supporters and opponents already are mobilizing to influence legislators and voters about the issue.

Equality Maine, which supports the measure, is holding organizational meetings around the state this week. About 50 people attended the first of four meetings Monday night at the Hammond Street Congregational Church in Bangor.

Groups that oppose same-sex marriage and support traditional marriage will hold a rally at 6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 15, at the Augusta Civic Center. Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., will speak.

Members of the Maine Marriage Alliance, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and the Maine Family Policy Council, which all oppose the bill, are expected to attend.

Networking and advocacy are the keys to winning for both sides, organizers said this week.

Monique Hoeflinger, the campaign manager for Equality Maine, asked the people who attended Monday’s meeting to invite at least 20 people to their homes for house parties where campaign staff would talk about “why same-sex marriage matters.” People also would be asked to sign postcards that would be sent to legislators. Those 20 people would then each talk to 20 or more people and ask them to sign postcards.

“Our goal,” Hoeflinger said, “is to collect 20,000 new postcards by April 1.”

Equality Maine announced a few days after the Nov. 4 election that volunteers had collected 33,000 similar postcards at the polls.

Hoeflinger also urged people to tell their own stories, even if it is uncomfortable.

“We have to step out into that place to reach the people whose hearts and minds you have to change,” she said. “Don’t make assumptions about what people will say.”

Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, said that the organization had been planning the campaign since 2005 when a referendum to include sexual orientation in the Maine Human Rights Act won with 10 percent of the vote. She said that 17 people are working full-time on the campaign around the state.

The opponents of gay marriage are not yet as well organized as supporters are. Right now, they are using the Internet as a networking tool.

The Maine Marriage Alliance’s home page on its Web site at www.mainemarriage.net not only urges visitors to contact legislators and tell them to vote against the bill, it also asks them to tell everyone in their address book about the issue.

The Portland Diocese this week launched a section on its Web site, www.mainemarriageinitiative.com, to educate Catholics about the bill. The Maine Family Policy Council, formerly the Christian Civic League of Maine, has devoted a section of its Web site to the subject.

The Rev. Bob Emrich of the Maine Marriage Alliance said that the event on Feb. 15 would be an organization meeting to help people talk about what concerns supporters of traditional marriage.

“We’re not going to be talking about homosexuality or homosexual sex,” he said Tuesday. “We’re going to be talking about traditional marriage, which is best for children and the best way to have stable families and a stable society.”

He said that supporters of traditional marriage want a respectful debate about the bills and want to start a broader conversation about marriage and its role in society.

Same-sex marriage became a possibility in Maine last month when Sen. Dennis S. Damon, D-Trenton, announced at a press conference that he would sponsor a bill to legalize it in Maine. The bill also would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

A competing bill that would extend to couples on Maine’s Domestic Partner Registry the same legal rights and benefits as married couples was introduced by Rep. Leslie Fossel, R-Alna. It would not create civil unions, according to Jay Finegan, spokesman for the House minority office.

Because both bills were submitted on Jan. 16, the last day bills could be submitted to the Revisor of Statutes Office, they most likely will be some of the last bills printed. A hearing before the Judiciary Committee is not expected to be held before April 1.

Supporters of traditional marriage had expected to submit a bill that would create an amendment to the state Constitution that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. They did not find a legislator to sponsor the measure before the deadline to submit bills.

If same-sex marriage were to become law, opponents have said they would launch a People’s Veto effort and ask voters to repeal it.

Info

Tickets for the Feb. 15 rally are available at www.mainemarriage.net or from local pastors. For more information about efforts in support of the bill, visit http://equalitymaine.org/ or www.mainelymarriage.org.

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