AUGUSTA, Maine — State election officials announced Wednesday that opponents of Maine’s gay marriage law had gathered enough signatures to trigger a statewide vote on the issue this November.
Maine has already attracted the attention — and money — of national groups on both sides of the debate over same-sex marriage. That focus is bound to intensify now that the campaign to repeal Maine’s gay marriage law has secured a spot on the November ballot.
Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Wednesday that foes of Maine’s same-sex marriage law had surpassed the 55,087 signatures needed for a referendum. Stand for Marriage Maine had filed more than 100,000 signatures with the state. However, Dunlap’s office stopped counting at around 60,000 due to time constraints.
“Preserving the definition of marriage as between a man and woman is far too important an issue to be left solely in the hands of elected officials without the input, consent or, perhaps, even knowledge of Mainers,” Marc Mutty, chairman of Stand for Marriage Maine, said in a statement.
The issue will now appear as Question 1 on the Nov. 3 ballot. Certification of the people’s veto suspends enactment of the law until after the statewide vote. The law was to take effect Sept. 12.
The question on the ballot will appear as follows: “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?”
Last spring, more than 3,000 people packed into the Augusta Civic Center for a public hearing on a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry without requiring clergy or churches to perform the ceremonies. The vast majority of those in attendance supported the bill during the daylong hearing that featured emotional and passionate testimony from both sides.
Opponents of the bill announced plans to force the issue onto the ballot as soon as Gov. John Baldacci signed the measure into law in May.
Supporters of Maine’s law said they were not surprised by Wednesday’s announcement. In fact, organizations in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry have been airing ads in Maine for several weeks without referring directly to the widely anticipated ballot measure.
Jesse Connolly, campaign manager of NO on 1/Protect Maine Equality, said in a statement that groups have already gathered 80,000 signatures from Mainers who support the law. He derided the opposition’s campaign as a “cynical, pay-for-every signature approach that doesn’t reflect the homegrown values of our state.”
“By contrast, we have put our trust in the common sense and fair-mindedness of our friends, neighbors and co-workers,” Connolly said. “And that’s why we believe voters will reject Question 1 because here in Maine, we believe everyone should be allowed to live their lives and be treated equally under the law.”
Bob Emrich is director of the Maine Jeremiah Project and opposes same-sex marriage. He accused Protect Maine Equality of being disingenuous because it is also receiving financial and campaign support from national groups.
Emrich said in an interview that Stand for Marriage Maine plans to begin airing television ads after raising additional money but that the campaign strategy will stay largely the same.
“I think our focus will remain on the grass roots, people talking to people and their neighbors and passing the word from person to person,” Emrich said. While the organization’s fundraising will continue, “the real show of support is having 100,000 people sign the petitions.”
Stand for Marriage Maine raised $346,000 between June 3 and July 3, according to the last campaign finance reports on file with the state. Nearly all of that money came from a few organizations.
Maine Freedom to Marry — the political action committee defending Maine’s law — reported raising more than $138,000.
Baldacci signed a proclamation on Wednesday setting up the Nov. 3 vote.
“I fully support this legislation and believe it guarantees that all Maine citizens are treated equally under our state’s civil marriage laws,” Baldacci said in a statement. “But I also have a constitutional obligation to set the date for the election once the Secretary of State has certified that enough signatures have been submitted. I am confident that Maine voters will make the right decision on this important issue when they cast their ballots in the fall.”
Maine became the fifth state to allow gay marriage when Baldacci signed the bill on May 6, and New Hampshire became the sixth when Gov. John Lynch signed a bill less than a month later. New Hampshire’s law goes into effect Jan. 1. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Iowa also allow same-sex couples to marry.
The gay marriage vote in Maine is one of five referendums on the November ballot.
Other proposals seek to reduce automobile excise taxes, mandate voter approval for state and local tax and spending increases over certain limits, repeal the state’s school district consolidation law and make changes to the state’s medical marijuana law.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.