AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine election officials on Tuesday approved the question that would appear on the ballot if opponents of the recently enacted same-sex marriage law collect enough signatures.
Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced that the question that will appear on petitions is “Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?”
Groups seeking to overturn the law, including the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland; the Maine Family Policy Council of Maine, formerly the Christian Civic League of Maine; and Maine Marriage Initiative could begin circulating petitions seeking to put the question on the ballot as early as Friday.
“We most likely won’t have petitioners out until after Memorial Day,” the Rev. Bob Emrich of the Maine Marriage Initiative said Tuesday afternoon. “We have to get petitions printed and distributed around the state. We also want to make sure that folks are properly trained in circulating petitions.”
Marc Mutty, director of public policy for the Catholic diocese, said he expected petitions would be available at weekend Masses by May 30 and 31 or June 6 and 7.
To place the question on a statewide ballot, petitioners must gather 55,087 valid signatures of registered voters.
The goal, Emrich said, is to put the question on the Nov. 3 ballot. To do that, however, organizers of the people’s veto effort would have to submit the petitions to Dunlap’s office by Aug. 1 because the ballot must be printed 45 days before the election. Election officials would have 30 days to verify that enough valid signatures were obtained and certify the petitions so the question could go on the ballot.
If not enough signatures were gathered by Aug. 1, petitioners still would have until 90 days after the adjournment of the Legislature — scheduled for June 17 — to submit them. It then would be up to lawmakers to decide whether the repeal question would go on the ballot in June or November of 2010.
Groups that support same-sex marriage and lobbied for the bill’s passage said after the ballot question was announced that they are sure voters will not repeal the new law.
“We are confident that Maine people will vote to uphold this law, which grants equality to all Maine couples, and we are looking forward to continuing the conversation with Maine people about the importance of this new law,” Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, said Tuesday in a press release. “Tens of thou-sands of Maine voters have already shown their support for marriage equality.” She apparently was referring to postcards that supporters of same-sex marriage gathered at polling places in Maine last June.
Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, pointed out that LD 1020, the gay marriage legislation sponsored by Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Trenton, had 60 co-sponsors.
“We have been very moved by the level of support for marriage equality that we encountered during the drive to pass the legislation,” she said. “We are confident that Mainers, if they are asked to vote on it, will back the new law. We will be talking with people, neighbor to neighbor, from Kittery to Aroostook [County], and we are confident we will prevail.”
On May 6 Gov. John Baldacci signed LD 1020 — which allows same-sex couples to marry in Maine and exempts religious institutions from having to perform the ceremonies — into law after the measure passed the Senate by a 21-13 vote and the House 89-57.
Groups seeking to overturn the law through the people’s veto process filed the necessary paperwork with the Secretary of State’s Office the day after the governor signed the bill. The filing of the application for petitions stayed the enactment of the law, so same-sex couples will have to wait to get married until after voters have a chance to weigh in on the question.
“This isn’t an easy process,” Dunlap said in a statement Tuesday, referring to the drafting of a ballot question. “We draw on suggestions from supporters of the veto as well as opponents, from the Attorney General’s office, and from volunteers who give their expertise on the Ballot Clarity Advisory Board.
“The goal we’re seeking is informing a voter who may be unfamiliar with the subject matter, but who cares enough to make an informed vote, what the net effect would be of a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote,” he said.