AUGUSTA, Maine — As leaders on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate descended on the capital Tuesday in preparation for today’s legislative hearing on the issue, an independent poll showed that Mainers are evenly divided over whether same-sex couples should be allowed to wed.
The Judiciary Committee is to hear testimony beginning at 9 a.m. today at the Augusta Civic Center on LD 1020 that would define marriage as between two people regardless of their sex, and LD 1118, which would extend to people on the state’s Domestic Partner Registry the same rights and benefits of married couples.
The poll, conducted by a Portland-based firm earlier this month, showed that 47.3 percent of those surveyed support changing Maine statutes to allow marriage licenses to be issued to any two people regardless of their sex while 49.5 percent oppose it. The rest of the Maine residents polled hadn’t made up their minds on the issue. The poll has a margin of error rate of 4.9 percent.
The Rev. Bob Emrich of the Maine Marriage Initiative dismissed the poll results Tuesday evening at an event to welcome three experts who will testify against the bill today.
“It was a small sample with a high margin of error rate,” he said. “The second question about the whether people preferred civil unions or same-sex marriage was confusing. I don’t think it means much.”
The second question asked those polled which statement came closest to describing their “position on the issue of marriage for gay and lesbian couples and civil unions?”
The poll showed 39.3 percent selected, “Support for full marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples.” Another 34.5 percent said they, “Support gay and civil unions or partnerships, but not gay marriage.” Twenty three percent of those polled said they, “Oppose any legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples.” The remaining survey respondents checked, “Don’t know.”
The most recent Pan Atlantic SMS Group Omnibus Poll was conducted between April 6 and 14. A randomly selected, stratified statewide sample of 400 Maine adults was interviewed, according to a company press release.
The polling firm compared data from a similar poll on the same subject in March 2004. Since then, support for same-sex marriage has increased 9 percent while support for same sex unions has risen just 1 percent.
Maine residents that oppose both same-sex marriage and civil unions fell from 31.8 percent in 2004 to 23 percent in 2009, while the people who don’t know which they prefer rose from 2.5 to 3.3 percent.
Data from the poll showed that 49.5 percent of Mainers between the ages of 18 and 34 support same-sex marriage while just 31.7 percent of those over 55 do. Democrats — 50.3 percent of them — are more likely to favor the proposed change in marriage laws than Republicans.
Only 18.3 percent of those polled who identified themselves as members of the GOP said they support same-sex marriage. A similar gap exists geographically, with more supporters in southern Maine than in the northern and Down East regions supporting same-sex marriage.
Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union that supports LD 1020, called the poll encouraging news.
“We are really encouraged by the poll results,” she said. “Clearly Maine people are ready to consider the question of [same-sex] marriage. Attitudes are moving toward acceptance.”
Members of the Maine Marriage Alliance, a coalition of religious and secular groups and individuals dedicated to preserving traditional marriage, held a reception Tuesday night at the St. Paul Center in Augusta for three out-of-state experts expected to testify today.
David Parker is a father from Lexington, Mass. He said that once same-sex marriage passes in Maine, parents who oppose it will not be able to keep their children from being “indoctrinated to concepts related to gender preference.” Parker showed copies of picture books that included same-sex parents that his 5-year-old son was given in a Massachusetts public school.
Parker said Tuesday that he and his wife discovered there were many books introducing gay relationships and gay marriage throughout the entire school. The Parkers did not seek to have the books eliminated from the curriculum, but requested that the school notify them any time issues related to same-sex couples and marriage were raised in class by teachers, so that they could remove their son from the classroom.
The school rejected their request on the grounds that same-sex marriage was legal in Massachusetts and that therefore the school could teach about it without parental permission or notification. The Parkers sued the school district in U.S. District Court in Boston, Mass., but lost the case.
“The Parkers’ concern has nothing to do with marriage,” Bellows, who is familiar with his story, said. “His concern is over a public school curriculum that teaches tolerance for lots of different types of families.”
Two conservative attorneys, William C. Duncan, director of the Marriage Law Foundation in Lehi, Utah, and Austin R. Nimocks, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., also will testify today against efforts to repeal the Maine Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.