AUGUSTA, Maine — The draft referendum question for November’s ballot concerning gay marriage was issued Thursday by the Maine secretary of state’s office. It reads: “Do you want to allow same-sex couples to marry?”
Proponents of same-sex marriage who submitted enough signatures earlier this year to put the issue on the ballot suggested the question should be: “Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, and that protects religious freedom by ensuring that no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?”
Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, said the draft question addressed just half the issue petitioners asked to be put before voters.
“The secretary of state has issued a simple, straightforward draft question that captures one of two parts of the ballot initiative,” he said in an email. “Unfortunately, the question does not address the parts of the proposed law that protect religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.
“More than 105,000 Maine voters signed petitions that included information about both parts of the law,” he added. “Ideally, the language of the question would reflect that full explanation.”
Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, also expressed concern over the simplicity of the draft question.
“We believe this language is a step in the right direction,” he said in an email. “It correctly removes the attempt to deceptively allay legitimate concerns regarding religious liberty issues surrounding the attempt to legalize so-called ‘same-sex’ marriage. It doesn’t, however, go far enough in addressing the fact this referendum is indeed an attempt to redefine marriage, and we would like to see the ballot specifically include that wording.”
The question was drafted by the secretary of state with assistance from senior staff and the attorney general’s office, according to a press release issued Thursday by the secretary of state’s office.
The public has 30 days to comment on the proposed wording. Secretary of State Charlie Summers then has 10 days to craft the final wording of the question.
On Tuesday, Summers won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. Earlier this month in response to a Bangor Daily News candidate survey, Summers said he supported the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.
That definition of marriage now is the law on the state and federal level. If the referendum is passed by Maine voters in November, the state’s Defense of Marriage Act in essence would be repealed.
David Farmer, spokesman for Mainers United for Marriage, said Thursday that he did not think Summers had politicized the process for presenting the draft question to the public. Farmer is a columnist for the Bangor Daily News.
In an email response to a question about whether Summers’ own stand on same-sex marriage influenced the wording of the draft question, Megan Sanborn, spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, said, “The question was constructed prior to the [primary] election.”
Same-sex marriage proponents were required to gather at least 57,277 valid signatures, or 10 percent of the total number of people who cast ballots for governor in the last gubernatorial election.
Advocates turned in petitions from 453 towns and cities on Jan. 26. Of the 96,137 signatures submitted, 10,921 were determined to be invalid, Summers said in a press release. Petitioners had until Jan. 30 to submit the signatures, according to provisions of the Maine Constitution. The secretary of state’s office had 30 days from Jan. 26 to validate the signatures and certify the petitions.
In New England, same-sex marriage is allowed in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Vermont, and civil unions for same-sex couples are allowed in Rhode Island. Other states that permit same-sex marriage are New York, Washington and Iowa, along with Washington, D.C. The Maryland legislature voted earlier this year to allow same-sex marriage.
In February, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill to allow same-sex marriage in that state.
In the states where same-sex marriage is allowed, the laws all came through either court orders or legislative votes, not through a statewide popular vote.
A constitutional ban on gay marriage passed in North Carolina on May 8. Voters in Minnesota will consider a constitutional ban in that state on Nov. 6.