Petitioners begin seeking signatures to repeal gay marriage

Posted May 30, 2009, at 4:33 p.m.

PLYMOUTH, Maine — The race to get enough signatures to put a question on the ballot that would ask voters to repeal the same-sex marriage bill passed by the Maine State Legislature and signed into law by Gov. John Baldacci on May 6 began in earnest this week.

The Rev. Bob Emrich, a spokesman for a coalition of groups that support traditional marriage, traveled the state last week distributing petitions and explaining the rules circulators must follow to ensure the signatures they collect are valid.

Emrich spent Saturday at Emmanual Baptist Church at the crossroads of routes 7 and 69 in Plymouth where people could stop by to sign petitions or pick them up for circulation.

“We have distributed close to 5,000 petitions so far,” Emrich said Saturday. “We’re suggesting people have an open house and invite friends and neighbors to stop by for coffee and to sign a petition. That gives them a way to talk about the issues and answer questions.”

Members of EqualityMaine, which led a coalition that succeeded in passing the bill to allow same-sex couples to marry, will hold meetings next week in Bangor, Portland, Lewiston-Auburn and York County. The topic of discussion will be what the next phase of the campaign for same-sex marriage should be, according to information on the Portland-based organization’s Web site.

To place the question on a statewide ballot, petitioners must gather 55,087 valid signatures of registered voters. The goal, Emrich has 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 Secretary of State Matthew 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 to certify the petitions so the question could go on the ballot.

If not enough signatures were gathered by Aug. 1, petitioners still would have 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 2010.

“I think we will be able to do it,” Emrich said again Saturday. Groups that support same-sex marriage and lobbied for the bill’s passage said after the ballot question was announced on May 19 that they are just as sure voters will not repeal the new law.

Emrich said he is working with Marc Mutty, director of public policy for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, on the signature-gathering campaign. Mutty said earlier this week the petitions would be available in parishes around the state the weekend of June 6-7 or June 13-14.

Roy Bishop stopped by Emrich’s church Saturday afternoon with his wife and daughter to sign a petition.

“This is an issue that is close to my heart,” Bishop, 47, of Carmel said. “I don’t like the fact that people want to destroy marriage.”

The Carmel man said he is not a member of Emrich’s congregation, but had heard that he could sign a petition at the Plymouth church.

“We’re anxious to get the signature-gathering done and get on with our campaign,” Emrich said.

Wording of people’s veto question approved by Maine election officials: “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?”

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