The political debate over gay marriage in Maine is heating up as dueling ads from the two sides begin filling the television and radio airwaves.
With a recent poll showing Mainers deeply divided over the issue, attempts to sway voters with political advertisements will likely only intensify as Election Day nears.
Stand for Marriage Maine, the leading opposition group to Maine’s same-sex marriage law, released its first ad last week featuring a law professor predicting serious consequences unless voters overturn the law on Nov. 3.
Supporters of the new law quickly fired back with an ad seeking to debunk the opposition’s ad. They then followed up on Friday with a nine-page memo — signed by legislative leaders, two former attorneys general and other law professors — further rebutting the Stand for Marriage Maine “consequences” ad.
“I think it’s important for folks to know the context in which the other side is communicating and that the theme of their ad is, we think, really a red herring,” said Jesse Connolly, campaign manager for No on 1/Protect Maine Equality, the organization leading the effort to keep same-sex marriage legal in Maine.
“It’s just wrong to say there won’t be any [consequences],” Bob Emrich, one of the Stand for Marriage Maine organizers, shot back on Sunday. “How can you possibly say there won’t be? How can’t there be?”
The ad in question features Scott FitzGibbon, a professor at Boston College Law School, predicting “real consequences” unless the law is repealed.
FitzGibbon said legal experts predict those consequences could include a “flood of lawsuits against individuals, small businesses and religious groups,” as well as churches losing their tax-exempt status and the teaching of gay marriage in public schools.
Viewers can expect more ads from gay marriage opponents as early as this week, according to Emrich.
“We will be continuing the same theme talking about consequences,” he said. Emrich added that Stand for Marriage Maine leaders are convinced that “changing the definition of marriage” will have consequences and that voters deserve to know about them.
The “No” campaign’s response ad accuses same-sex marriage opponents of using “outsiders” to try “to harm our kids in schools by deceiving families about what is taught in Maine classrooms.”
The nine-page rebuttal further states that classroom curriculum in Maine is governed by statewide learning standards that do not include any guidelines on marriage education. The memo also dismisses the prediction on litigation, pointing out that Massachusetts has not seen a flood of lawsuits since it began allowing same-sex marriages.
The memo’s authors also point out that religious institutions are already protected by existing law. Additionally, the same-sex marriage law passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. John Baldacci states that churches and clergy members cannot be punished for refusing to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.
“We believe it is paramount that voters make decisions based on fact and belief, but not on conjecture and distortion,” reads the memo. “We can agree to disagree on this matter, but we would suggest the conversation return to how Maine wants to treat its loving committed gay and lesbian partners who are also coworkers, neighbors and family members.”
A recent poll shows a close campaign but indicates that 6 percent of likely voters are still undecided.
The campaign to overturn Maine’s same-sex marriage law had a narrow, 2-percentage point lead over gay marriage supporters in the Daily Kos survey of 600 people. But 52 percent of respondents who described themselves as independents indicated they supported Maine’s same-sex marriage law.
The poll had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
Both camps are also busy filling their campaign war chests.
The campaign to defend Maine’s same-sex marriage law has received a significant fundraising boost from the Web site ActBlue.com, which functions as a clearinghouse for Democratic campaigns.
The site has helped No on 1/Protect Maine Equality raise more than $600,000 to date. The campaign was listed on Sunday as the third busiest campaign during the past week at ActBlue.com.
Connolly said the site has been helpful but that he still expects his campaign to be outspent.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, meanwhile, asked churches last week to hold a second collection in support of the repeal effort. Emrich said the money was still being calculated and carefully tracked for campaign finance reporting purposes.
“From what I hear, it sounds like it went well,” Emrich said.