ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine and other college campuses around the state might play an important role in the passage or rejection of Question 1 in November, according to opponents of the referendum.
Question 1 seeks to reject the new state law allowing same-sex couples to marry. The law also allows clergy and churches to decline to perform the ceremonies.
Signed by Gov. John Baldacci in May, the law was scheduled to go into effect in September, but has been suspended pending the outcome of the vote. A yes on Question 1 would eliminate same-sex marriage in Maine. A no vote would keep the law on the books.
Organizations on both sides of the issue have diverse operations that include phone banks and canvassing. Perhaps the biggest difference between the operation of the campaigns is that while the No on 1 campaign, led by Protect Maine Equality, has actively courted college students, the Yes on 1 campaign has not.
At a gathering earlier this month on the UMaine campus, community organizers from No on 1 talked about ways to get UMaine students to vote. The organizers asked students to take it upon themselves to talk to their peers about voting.
According to the organizers, the strategies focus more on getting college students to vote instead of persuading people to change their position on same-sex marriage. The organizers said 270,000 people need to vote no on Question 1 for it to fail.
Rachel Rier, a fourth-year math student at UMaine, spoke of her experience approaching students on the mall. Rier said she “was really nervous at first,” but got over her initial apprehension.
“You’re just starting conversations. You’re not trying to persuade people,” Rier said. “You’re just talking to people who already care.”
Another method, which the No on 1 campaign calls “class raps,” involves students talking to classes about Question 1. Aimee Martin, an organizer for No on 1, said class raps are one of the most effective ways of getting the message out, because the students are a captive audience.
Mark Sullivan, communications director for No on 1, said every college campus in Maine has an active student base opposing Question 1.
“Young people get this issue. It’s something I think many young people feel very passionately about,” Sullivan said.
Paul Hogarth traveled to Maine from California to volunteer for No on 1 as part of its Volunteer Vacation program, under which people take time off from work to volunteer for the campaign. He thinks college students could be the demographic that gives No on 1 the votes it needs.
“This is going to be an incredibly close election that’s going to come down to a very small handful of voters, and if students at the University of Maine turn out and vote — and we expect most students to be against Question 1 — that they could be the margin of victory for defending marriage equality in Maine,” Hogarth said.
Unlike No on 1’s network of college organizers, Yes on 1 has not actively worked to woo college voters. Campaign spokesman Scott Fish said he did not know whether any of Maine’s college campuses had a student group working for Yes on 1.
Representatives from both sides of Question 1 were scheduled to debate on the UMaine campus Oct. 8, but Yes on 1 decided on Oct. 6 not to attend.
“Statistically, going in front of college students doesn’t make the most sense,” Fish said. “Do we appear on a television debate, do we appear on MPBN, all of which we’re doing? Or do we appear in smaller forums, especially where the audience is statistically not going to be voting yes on one? I think common sense just gives you the answer to that question.”
Although referendum questions are nonpartisan, the UMaine chapter of College Democrats has been active against Question 1, according to its president, Joseph Nabozny.
Nabozny said the College Democrats have distributed No on 1 materials and worked to educate the student body about the other questions on the ballot. Zachary Jackman, president of UMaine’s College Republicans, said the organization hasn’t taken a stance on Question 1.
“There’s a lot of people who feel differently about it,” Jackman said. While there are members of the College Republicans who support Question 1, Jackman said he did not know of any organized support for the referendum on campus.
Hogarth said he has seen a big difference in the way Maine’s Yes on 1 and California’s No on Proposition 8 campaigns have been conducted. Proposition 8 added an amendment to the California Constitution defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.
“I’m incredibly critical about how the No on 8 campaign in California screwed up that election,” Hogarth said. “I think it was theirs to lose and they blew it.”