PLYMOUTH, Maine — The race to get enough signatures to put a question on the ballot this fall that would ask voters to repeal the same-sex marriage law has begun.
Pastor 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 that the signatures are valid.
Emrich spent Saturday at Emmanual Baptist Church, the church he serves, at the crossroads of Routes 7 and 69 in Plymouth, so people could stop by to sign petitions or pick them up for circulation.
“We have distributed close to 5,000 petitions [of the 8,000 printed] so far,” Emrich said. “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.”
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 he could sign a petition at the Plymouth church.
Members of EqualityMaine, which led a coalition that succeeded in passing the bill, will hold meetings at 6 p.m. today at Hammond Street Congregational Church in Bangor. Meetings also will be held this week in Portland, Lewiston-Auburn and York County.
Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, said Sunday that the purpose of the meetings is to brief volunteers on the people’s veto process and to continue work that began last November identifying voters who support same-sex marriage.
“We will not run a decline-to-sign campaign,” she said, “but we will be going door-to-door, reaching out to voters at events and continuing to educate people about the issue.”
The Legislature gave final approval to the same-sex marriage bill, and Gov. John Baldacci signed it on May 6. The next day, opponents filed the paperwork to begin the people’s veto process. The implementation of the law has been stayed until an election is held or opponents fail to gather enough signatures.
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, organizers of the people’s veto effort 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 certify the petitions so the question could go on the ballot.
If not enough signatures are 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 2010.
“I think we will be able to do it,” Emrich said Saturday, “and I think that we’ll win.”
Smith is just as confident that Maine voters will not repeal the law.
“We trust the voters,” she said Sunday. “When it comes time to vote on this, they will do what the Legislature and the governor did — support same-sex couples and end marriage discrimination.”
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 that petitions would be available in parishes around the state the weekend of June 6 and 7 or June 13 and 14.
“We’re anxious to get the signature gathering done and get on with our campaign,” Emrich said Saturday.