Gay marriage petitioners use Election Day to their advantage

Abbie Strout (left), a volunteer with EqualityMaine watches as voters leaving the polls at the Bangor Civic Center sign a petition to bring the gay marriage question to voters again next year during the November elections.
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Abbie Strout (left), a volunteer with EqualityMaine watches as voters leaving the polls at the Bangor Civic Center sign a petition to bring the gay marriage question to voters again next year during the November elections. Buy Photo
By Eric Russell, BDN Staff
Posted Nov. 08, 2011, at 7:07 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Supporters of same-sex marriage hoped to use the critical mass of voters on Election Day to reach their goal of gathering more than 75,000 petition signatures to put a question on next year’s ballot.

In August, a coalition led by EqualityMaine launched a petition drive for a citizens’ initiative that would ask Mainers the following question on the November 2012 ballot:

“Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?”

Before Tuesday, EqualityMaine Director Betsy Smith said nearly 60,000 signatures had been gathered. On Election Day, dozens of volunteers were stationed at polling places across Maine with the aim of finishing the effort.

In Bangor, David Des Isles was collecting signatures as voters came in to cast their ballots. At about noontime, more than 200 people had signed the petition, he said.

He’s hoping the issue of same-sex marriage will return to the ballot as early as next year.

“I feel confident that it’s going to be on the ballot,” Des Isles said outside the Bangor Civic Center. “I’m just out here collecting signatures because I believe it’s a good thing.”

Another volunteer, Stacia Saniuk of Topsham, said she received a lot of positive response from signers in Portland.

“I think some people have been a little confused because we already voted on this,” she said, referring to the 2009 people’s veto that overturned a law passed by the Maine Legislature that would have permitted gays and lesbians to marry. “But minds are changing all the time.”

Smith agreed and said the recent passage of same-sex marriage laws in Connecticut and New York have helped supporters gather momentum.

“This is a civil rights issue and while we’re always going to have people who aren’t behind this, sooner or later, we won’t be talking about which states allow it and which don’t,” she said. “It will be universally allowed.”

An exchange outside Brunswick Junior High early Tuesday afternoon highlighted the emotional divide between Mainers on the issue of same-sex marriage.

A petitioner there asked several people as they walked by if they would like to sign. One man, when he was told what the petition was for, said sharply, “Nope. I don’t support that,” and kept walking. The next person, an older woman, said, “What difference does it make if people love each other? Let me sign that.”

Supporters have until January to amass at least 57,277 signatures, which must then be validated by the Secretary of State’s Office.

In 2009, 53 percent of Maine voters opposed same-sex marriage in a statewide people’s veto effort that was backed by a coalition of evangelical Christian churches and the Catholic Church of Maine.

It’s not yet clear who will lead the opposition next year should the signature gatherers be successful.

EqualityMaine was brought into the discussion about this year’s Question 1 after the Maine Republican Party created ads that questioned why an “advocacy group for gay/lesbian marriage” would support keeping Election Day voter registration.

Some denounced those ads as distasteful and even homophobic, but Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster stood by them.

Same-sex marriage supporters were not the only petitioners at polling places on Tuesday.

A coalition known as Maine Citizens for Clean Energy gathered signatures for a ballot initiative that would require Maine’s utilities to get 20 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2020. The requirement is now 10 percent.

Volunteers representing a national group known as Americans Elect gathered signatures related to third-party candidates for president. The little-known but well-funded group is trying to gather nearly 3 million signatures nationwide to create a placeholder for a third-party candidate.

BDN writer Ryan McLaughlin contributed to this report.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/11/08/politics/gay-marriage-petitioners-use-election-day-to-their-advantage/ printed on September 17, 2014