Gay marriage repeal effort progresses

Posted July 08, 2009, at 1:22 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The coalition leading a campaign to overturn Maine’s recently enacted gay marriage law said Wednesday that they have gathered enough signatures to place the issue on the November ballot.

Organizers of the Stand for Marriage Maine coalition said the month-old petition drive will continue for several more weeks but that they had already collected more than the 55,000 signatures.

Once submitted, the petitions will be reviewed by the Secretary of State’s Office to eliminate any duplicate and invalid signatures. Certification of at least 55,087 signatures will automatically suspend the law allowing same-sex couples to marry in Maine as of Sept. 12.

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“The fact that we’ve gathered all these signatures in just a month to proceed with the people’s veto suggests that the people of Maine, like those in 43 other states, want to restore marriage to its historical and time-honored definition as between a man and a woman,” Bob Emrich, founder of the Maine Jeremiah Project and an executive committee member of Stand for Marriage Maine, said in a statement.

“We look forward to submitting the measure for certification and engaging Mainers in a vigorous defense of marriage.”

Supporters of the new law are also gearing up for a fight that is expected to be watched closely by parties on both sides of the issue nationally.

Jesse Connolly with Maine Freedom to Marry said people understood that winning passage of the same-sex marriage bill in the Legislature and picking up Gov. John Baldacci’s support were only the first steps. The bill legalizes gay marriage in Maine but does not require clergy to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.

Bill supporters fully expected opponents to gather the necessary signatures, so last month Connolly took a leave of absence from his job as chief of staff to House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, to lead a political action committee. Connolly also led the successful campaign in 2005 to retain Maine’s gay rights law.

“We are hiring staff, raising money and have a lot of grassroots action taking place,” Connolly said. “We are feeling pretty good about where we are.”

In early May, Maine became the fifth state to recognize gay marriages. But the bill’s critics contend that the odds are on their side going into November’s election. A same-sex marriage law has never survived at the ballot box in other states. Opponents also hired an out-of-state firm that helped defeat gay marriage at the ballot box in California.

The Secretary of State’s Office has urged the petitioners to submit signatures for certification by early August in order to give office staff time to review them and still have the question on the November ballot.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Wednesday that he does not give out advice to petition drive leaders about how many extra signatures they should gather in order to ensure that they have at least 55,087 valid signatures. But he said most petition organizers are familiar with the process.

If certified, the gay marriage repeal will appear on the November ballot alongside at bond proposals and least four other questions. Those measures ask voters whether they want to: decrease the excise tax, repeal the school consolidation law, adopt a Taxpayers Bill of Rights and expand Maine’s medical marijuana laws.

Critics of a tax reform bill are also gathering signatures for a possible people’s veto of that law this November.

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