AUGUSTA, Maine — One day after failing at the polls as the nation watched, supporters of same-sex marriage in Maine said Wednesday they were dispirited but not defeated as they vowed to continue what they regard as a civil rights fight.
Click here for a map represention of the Maine 2009 vote.
During an emotional press conference in Portland, leaders of the No on 1 campaign said they were not prepared to analyze the reasons behind Tuesday’s vote to repeal Maine’s same-sex marriage law or to discuss possible strategies going forward.
“We are proud of our message. We stand by our message,” said Patricia Peard, a member of the No on 1 executive committee. “Let us not forget that 47 percent [of voters] stood up and said that gay and lesbian people deserve equality in this state. I assure you, we are going to build to a larger number.”
Organizers of Stand for Marriage Maine said they believe the Yes on 1 camp’s victory — by roughly 5.6 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results — should settle the debate over gay marriage in Maine, at least for now. But there was also some discussion Wednesday about a possible constitutional amendment in Maine defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
“It’s more important to see what the other side is going to do,” said Bob Emrich, a Baptist pastor from Plymouth and Stand for Marriage Maine leader. “If the other side continues to bring it up, then we might need to do that. But I think the emotions have to settle.”
So what were the keys to the Yes on 1 campaign’s success?
According to the last campaign finance report, filed two weeks before the election, the No campaign had raised $4 million versus $2.5 million for the Yes campaign. No on 1 also had a network of an estimated 8,000 volunteers — far more than the Yes side.
But Emrich said ultimately it came down to people all over the state who volunteered for Yes on 1 and talked to their neighbors about the issue. The campaign’s numerous ads warning of gay marriage being taught in schools and a late-breaking controversy over a complaint against a guidance counselor featured in a Yes on 1 ad likely helped, he said.
Not surprisingly, the opposition had a different take on the Yes campaign’s tactics.
“Their bar was set really low,” said Jesse Connolly, campaign manager for No on 1. “All they had to do was raise some doubts, and they did. We are very proud of our campaign and everything we did.”
Opinions may differ on particular strategies. But the unofficial results show that, as with many other cultural issues, whether Mainers voted for or against same-sex marriage largely depended on where they call home.
Rural Maine voted heavily to overturn Maine’s law allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed.
In the most extreme example, 73 percent of the nearly 27,000 Aroostook County voters who cast ballots voted “yes” on Question 1. Roughly two-thirds of voters in Piscataquis, Somerset and Washington counties also favored repeal.
The opposite was true in many of Maine’s more populated areas.
In Cumberland County, 60 percent of voters opposed the repeal and in Portland, Maine’s largest city, that figure swelled to 73.5 percent. Roughly 54 percent of voters in Bangor and Scarborough cast votes against the repeal of the same-sex marriage law.
Gay marriage also had strong support in college towns, picking up 73 percent of voters in Orono and 63 percent in Brunswick.
One notable exception to the rural-urban divide was in the heavily Roman Catholic and Franco-American neighborhoods of Lewiston and Auburn, where 59 percent and 54 percent of voters, respectively, favored the repeal.
University of Maine political scientist Amy Fried pointed out that those returns were a change from 2005, when Lewiston voted in favor of preserving anti-discrimination laws protecting Maine’s gay and lesbian residents.
Fried was also intrigued by the partisan message — or lack thereof — in the 2009 referenda.
Two anti-tax measures failed while changes to the state’s medical marijuana laws passed — all of which Fried said could suggest a strong turnout among more liberal-minded Mainers. But the defeat of gay marriage could suggest a strong conservative presence at the polls, she said.
“That’s if you want to think of it in those terms, and maybe we shouldn’t in Maine because we are ticket-splitters,” she said.
Coastal counties were typically more evenly divided. The exceptions were Waldo County, where the Yes campaign won 54 percent, and Hancock County, where the No camp won 53 percent.
Kay Wilkins, who headed up the No on 1 campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort in Hancock County, said she was proud of those results, which she credited to other “super organizers” both past and present.
But that local success offered the Ellsworth resident little comfort given the overall election results. She and her partner of 21 years, Diana Kate, had been hoping to have a wedding as soon as the now-repealed law took effect.
“I’m very sad about that, and as we are an older couple, I really begin to wonder whether it is going to happen in our lifetimes,” said Wilkins, who is 69.
Maine’s referendum over same-sex marriage attracted national attention, driven by the few high-profile elections elsewhere around the country and the potential for a first-ever upset by gay marriage supporters.
Instead, the defenders of “traditional marriage” maintained their perfect record of 31 wins and zero losses when gay marriage is put to a statewide vote.
Opinions varied on the national importance of the Maine referendum, however.
Suzanne Goldberg, a professor specializing in sexuality and gender law at Columbia Law School in New York, didn’t see the results as all gloom and doom for the gay rights movement.
The relatively close vote shows that support is growing for same-sex marriage, said Goldberg, who has written extensively on legal arguments for marriage equality. While Goldberg said the loss is undoubtedly painful for gay and lesbian couples and their families in Maine, she believes the trajectory is a positive one.
“This was not a landslide for the vote against marriage equality,” she said. “I suspect, going forward, that we are on the verge of being at the tipping point.”
But Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, a conservative group that funded much of the Yes on 1 campaign, said Tuesday’s result shows “that even in a New England state, if the voters have a chance to have their say, they’re going to protect and defend the common-sense definition of marriage.” Four of the five states that have legalized same-sex marriage are in New England.
Brown also suggested that the outcome in Maine will give pause to lawmakers in New York and New Jersey, where gay-marriage legislation is pending.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.