June 18, 2018
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Gay marriage to the fore in Augusta

By Kevin Miller, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage once again will converge on the state capital this Wednesday for events intended to keep the focus on an issue that deeply divided the Maine electorate last November and continues to generate national headlines.

The National Organization for Marriage and the Maine Jeremiah Project will hold a rally in support of traditional marriage at noon Wednesday in Capitol Park, across the street from the State House.

The “One Man, One Woman” rally is the first stop on a bus tour of East Coast and Midwestern states planned by the National Organization for Marriage. NOM bankrolled much of the successful effort to repeal Maine’s gay marriage law during a statewide referendum in November.

NOM President Brian Brown said his group chose Augusta to kick off their 19-stop tour because of the “big victory” when voters repealed the Legislature’s gay marriage law by 53 percent to 47 percent.

“We felt it was important to start where people had voted to protect marriage but also to show that this isn’t over,” Brown said during an interview Friday.

Supporters of same-sex marriage, meanwhile, have scheduled a Wednesday morning press conference inside the State House to show they are not going away.

“NOM knows this,” said Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine. “NOM knows we are going to continue to fight for fairness and equality for all Maine families.”

November’s high-profile defeat at the polls, while not crushing in terms of vote totals, delivered a serious emotional blow to supporters of allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed in Maine. Since then, Smith said, same-sex marriage supporters have been trying to educate more Mainers about why they believe marriage equality is needed in the state.

“We will continue to do what we have been doing, which is having one-on-one conversations with friends, family and co-workers about why all Mainers should have these protections,” Smith said.

In 2009, NOM donated more than $1.9 million to Stand for Marriage Maine, the political group that led the fight to repeal the gay marriage law. Since then, NOM has been involved in a court battle with the Maine Ethics Commission over whether the organization is subject to Maine’s campaign finance laws.

NOM has argued that it did not raise money specifically for the Maine campaign but to defend traditional marriage in general and that disclosing the identities of contributors could have a chilling effect on potential donors.

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court in Boston ordered NOM to turn over documents about its donors and fundraising efforts to the state as part of an ethics commission’s investigation.

Brown called the Maine investigation “a witch hunt” and pledged that his organization would continue to oppose it through the courts. NOM’s opponents, however, accuse the organization of raising money for the Maine fight while promising to keep donors’ identities secret.

Meanwhile, the legal fight over gay marriage continues around the country.

Last week, a U.S. District Court judge in Boston declared that a federal gay marriage ban — the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress — is unconstitutional because it potentially forces states that recognize same-sex marriages to discriminate against its own citizens when administering federal benefits.

“What’s happening is the courts are threatening all of the votes by people to protect marriage,” Brown said. While the primary motivation of the bus tour is to energize supporters, Brown said, NOM is also raising money to continue its fight against gay marriage.

As for the issue in Maine, Smith said there are no immediate, concrete plans to make another attempt to legalize same-sex marriage. But Smith added that she believes it is only a matter of time before all couples in Maine — regardless of sexual orientation — are granted the same rights and privileges.

In addition to Brown, the other speakers at the NOM rally will be the Rev. Bob Emrich, who helped lead Stand for Marriage Maine’s campaign, and Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute. The bus then heads to Manchester, N.H., on the next leg of a tour that ends in Washington, D.C., in mid-August.

Among the organizations participating in the Maine Freedom to Marry Coalition press conference include: EqualityMaine; the Maine Civil Liberties Union; Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders; the Maine Women’s Lobby; and Engage Maine.

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