BREWER, Maine — Supporters of same-sex marriage officially kicked off their referendum campaign Tuesday afternoon and began door-to-door canvassing.
Campaign officials have said that one-on-one conversations with voters are how they plan to persuade more than 50 percent of Mainers to vote yes on a referendum in November that would allow same-sex couples to receive marriage licenses while also protecting religious freedom.
“We know that Mainers are changing their minds about marriage,” Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, said in a press release Tuesday. “In the last year, we’ve had more than 72,000 one-on-one conversations. We will continue having those conversations until November, when voters will have a chance to vote ‘yes’ on marriage for loving, committed same-sex couples.”
A survey conducted by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling of 1,256 Mainers over the first weekend in March showed that 54 percent believe same-sex marriage should be legal, according to a previously published report. Forty-one percent said Maine should not allow gay couples to wed and 21 percent were not sure.
Organizationally, supporters of same-sex marriage are slightly ahead of opponents, the Rev. Bob Emrich, spokesman for Protect Marriage Maine, said Monday. Protect Marriage Maine opposes the referendum.
“We plan to go door-to-door later in the year, closer to Election Day,” he said.
Mainers United for Marriage opened field offices in Brewer, Lewiston and Portland and will be working to persuade those who are not sure where they stand on the issue to vote yes in November, according to Beth Allen, a field organizer for the group EqualityMaine.
Since January, she and other staff and volunteers for EqualityMaine have been working out of an office in the Twin City Plaza on State Street in Brewer now being used as the campaign headquarters for northern Maine. Allen, of Ellsworth, said her time is split between Mainers United for Marriage and EqualityMaine. Each organization pays half of her salary. She expects to be working full time for the campaign by the end of June.
Mainers on Nov. 3, 2009, voted 53 percent to 47 percent to repeal a law that allowed same-sex couples to marry. It had been passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Gov. John Baldacci in the spring of 2009. After the loss at the ballot box, EqualityMaine began an outreach campaign to talk about the issue and began gathering signatures in August 2011 to put a question before voters again.
Allen told a group of paid canvassers Tuesday afternoon that she made voter identification phone calls during the 2009 campaign but found it a bit frustrating.
“I wanted to have a conversation with them,” she told the 14 college students working on the campaign for the summer. “That’s why I started doing persuasion work. We carry a great deal of persuasive weight on our shoulders. There are a lot of undecided voters in the Bangor-Brewer area and northern Maine.
“On Saturday, you will be joined by 300-plus volunteers, so you have a huge team behind you,” she continued. “We have 174 more days [until Election Day].”
The campaign will hold a statewide Day of Action on Saturday at locations around the state, McTighe said in Portland. The campaign’s goal is to knock on 175,000 doors and have 90,000 conversations before Nov. 6, he said.
The goals for the Brewer canvassers Tuesday were “to knock on 48 doors, reach and talk to 16 people and change some hearts and minds,” Derek Lane, 20, of Augusta told them just before they headed to the streets of Bangor.
“I do this work for my gay and lesbians friends,” he said just after his team left the office in Brewer. “I want them to have all the opportunities to find and validate their love as I do.”
The field offices are located at 256 State St. in Brewer; 675 Main St., Unit 6, in Lewiston; and 343 Forest Ave. in Portland, according to a United for Marriage press release. A fourth field office in York County will open in June.
In addition, the campaign has donated space in Sanford, Waldo and Augusta in which staff and volunteers are working, according to the campaign.