AUGUSTA, Maine — Kansas crop farmer Terry Lawrence first read about Maine’s ballot box showdown over gay marriage from online news sites catering to conservative Christians.
Soon thereafter, the campaign to defeat same-sex marriage in Maine received $100 from Lawrence, who lives more than 1,400 miles away in America’s heartland.
“I just felt like the measure needed to come before the people,” Lawrence said. “While I do not favor it, if the people of Maine — after having heard both sides of the argument — if they vote for [gay marriage], then that’s fine.”
For retiree Douglas Montgomery, news of the upcoming vote on the other side of the continent would have been hard to miss. It’s been a hot topic in his area of San Francisco for months.
He offered up $250 to defend Maine’s gay marriage law.
“I have family in Maine and I have a great deal of respect for Maine,” said Montgomery.
On Tuesday, Maine voters will head to the polls to decide whether to join the four New England states and Iowa where same-sex marriage is legal — or fall in line with the 30 others where voters have rejected the concept.
Thousands of non-Mainers who, like Lawrence or Montgomery, contributed money to either side in the battle over Question 1 will be watching. Because Election Day 2009 is an “off-year” with only a few other high-profile races — and with several polls putting the race too close to call — it’s clear that the national media will be watching to see which way Maine goes.
To be fair, Maine’s vote on same-sex marriage is not getting nearly as much attention — or money — as the Proposition 8 vote in California last year. But for Maine, a state not accustomed to the national spotlight on Election Day, the attention is a change.
In recent weeks, Maine’s internal struggle over the issue of same-sex marriage has appeared on the pages of the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Miami Herald and dozens of other mainstream newspapers and magazines. Countless commentators, bloggers and online sites representing both sides of the gay marriage divide are also paying attention to the only place where gay marriage is on the ballot this fall.
Gov. John Baldacci, who reversed course and signed the gay marriage bill last May after hearing the impassioned public debate, has been in hot demand recently.
On Thursday, he made an appearance on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show — the nightly political talk show popular with those of a more liberal mindset. Maddow predicted that Maine “will have all eyes upon it on Tuesday night.”
This weekend, the governor is expected to make appearances on the ABC and NBC national nightly news programs and is the focus of the weekly Q&A feature in the Sunday New York Times magazine.
While acknowledging the heavy interest from outside the state, Baldacci said that ultimately Mainers must decide what is best for Maine — regardless of what others say or want.
“We’re not getting on a pedestal and telling other states what they need to do or what should happen nationally,” Baldacci said Friday in an interview. Rather, Mainers are voting based on “what it means to us.”
Still, both sides in the national debate see Maine as a key battleground.
If Question 1 succeeds, the track record for gay marriage supporters in statewide ballots will fall to 0-31. But a victory for the No on 1 campaign would likely be regarded as a milestone event in the gay rights movement nationally.
“This is significant on the national level because this is the first time voters are weighing in on a law where marriage has already been defined for them,” said Jenny Tyree, a marriage analyst with Focus on the Family Action, the lobbying arm of the conservative Focus on the Family organization founded by James Dobson.
Tyree said the outcome either way will be significant. A victory for the “Yes on 1” campaign would be voters reining in a state Legislature. A victory for the “No on 1” side, on the other hand, would break traditional marriage’s domination at the polls.
“Certainly, a win [for the “No on 1” campaign] gives a degree of momentum to those who want to redefine marriage,” she said.
As of Oct. 20, the campaigns over same-sex marriage had raked in more than $6.5 million in contributions — much of it from out of state. That is tiny compared to the more than $80 million spent on Proposition 8 in California last year.
But in California, which has a population of nearly 37 million, the two campaigns spent about $2.30 per person. In Maine, where the population is only about 1.3 million, the per capita spending on the race had already topped $5 two weeks before Election Day.
The two sides have also organized armies of volunteers.
The No on 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign claims to have more than 8,000 volunteers working to preserve Maine’s gay marriage law, which was suspended before taking effect due to the “people’s veto” effort.
Of those 8,000 people, about 100 to 125 are people such as Pam Perkins of Hendersonville, N.C., and Patrick Yaeger from Louisville, Ken., who are spending “volunteer vacations” in Maine.
Perkins said she first heard about the “volunteer vacation” program after she and her long-time partner were legally married on the top of Mount Mansfield in Vermont in September. The couple was honeymooning in Maine and decided to get involved.
“I fell in love with Maine and wanted to come back and help all Mainers” seeking marriage equality, Perkins said.
Perkins, a professional gardener now enjoying her “off season,” returned to Maine earlier this month with the help of donated frequent flier miles and lodging provided by a “No on 1” supporter. She has spent most of the month working full time helping coordinate the volunteer efforts out of the campaign’s Portland headquarters.
Likewise, Yaeger has been working in the campaign headquarters for weeks.
“It’s been very exciting and very stressful, and now everything is coming to a head,” Yaeger said.