AUGUSTA, Maine — The Nov. 3 vote on Question 1 may be recent history, but organizations on both sides of the issue are still busy raising money in preparation for the next showdown over gay marriage — whenever and whatever that may be.
For the past few weeks, Equality Maine and other groups have been trying to raise $10,000 to begin the process of identifying 60,000 new voters supportive of same-sex marriage. Gay marriage proponents fell about 30,000 votes short on Election Day.
The organization that led the successful effort to overturn the state’s gay marriage bill, Stand for Marriage Maine, is seeking donations for a different purpose: to pay off outstanding debts.
Stand for Marriage Maine raised more than $3 million but ended the campaign $73,378 in the hole. That figure has since shrunk to about $65,000, according to Marc Mutty, campaign chairman for SFMM.
In a written appeal for donations, Mutty and SFMM executive committee member Bob Emrich reference Equality Maine’s efforts “to reach 60,000 voters directly to convince them to change their minds on marriage.” The men write that the campaign was banking on last-minute contributions to pay off expenses that were deferred in the final days.
“Unfortunately, contributions we expected did not materialize and we find ourselves with a campaign debt,” they wrote. “Retiring this debt is our top priority. Then we can begin to lay plans to preserve our victory in the legislature and with voters.”
Although not the most expensive ballot initiative battle in Maine history, the fight over gay marriage was certainly costly according to Maine standards. Altogether, organizations involved in the campaigns spent roughly $9.5 million, according to reports filed with the Maine Ethics Commission.
The successful side — those opposed to gay marriage — were outspent by about $2 million.
Bolstered by their win on Question 1, the National Organization for Marriage — the largest single donor to the campaign — has indicated that it plans to get involved in Maine legislative and gubernatorial races to encourage election of candidates who support only “traditional” marriage.
Supporters of same-sex marriage have spent the past month and a half quietly discussing their next move. Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, indicated recently that gay marriage supporters are unlikely to attempt to introduce another bill in the Legislature that convenes this January or to challenge the existing law in court.
“Equality Maine will focus on the next election [in November 2010] to make sure people who support marriage equality get elected to the Legislature or re-elected,” Bellows told the audience at an MCLU awards ceremony held two weeks ago.
“In the fall, we will evaluate whether the next step is putting in a bill for civil unions or marriage or whether we want to try to gather signatures to put a referendum question about marriage equality on the ballot.”
Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, said Thursday that they have nearly reached the $10,000 goal. Same-sex marriage supporters knew at the outset of this year’s campaign that they would need to talk to a lot of Mainers prior to the election to address concerns and educate them about the importance of marriage equality, Smith said.
The results of the Nov. 3 election showed there is still more to be done — hence the campaign to reach 60,000 new voters, she added.
“We know that, in the next year, we need to continue to have those conversations,” Smith said. “And a lot of those will be in the more rural areas.”
Mutty said there have also been discussions about whether to keep Stand for Marriage Maine going in some form but that a final decision has not been made. But Mutty said there is no question in his mind that eventually the two sides on the emotional cultural and social issue will square off against each other again in Maine at some point.
“I’ve gotten a number of e-mails and phone calls from people who are concerned,” Mutty said. “This is an ongoing issue … and it is not going away.”