ORRINGTON, Maine — Opponents of gay marriage kicked off their fundraising efforts Sunday with collections at scores of churches throughout the state including Calvary Chapel, located on Route 15 in a former school.
After the 10:30 a.m. service, many worshippers dropped cash and checks into a wooden box at the back of the church. Church member Kent Smallwood, 31, of Corinth stood at a table by the box and handed out fliers featuring nationally known religious leaders such as the Rev. Mark Harris, president of the North Carolina Southern Baptist Convention, expressing support for the Maine campaign against same-sex marriage.
Ken Graves, senior pastor, urged people to contribute because “the family is under attack.”
Between 150 and 200 churches were expected to participate in the Father’s Day event.
“ We have intentionally chosen Father’s Day to emphasize the stark differences between those who support Biblical marriage and those who are attempting to redefine marriage,” Pastor Bob Emrich, chairman of Protect Marriage Maine, said last week in a letter to fellow members of the clergy. “We believe God designed and utilizes the differences between men and women to establish the ideal environment to raise a family. The other side believes moms and dads are replaceable by generic adults.
“They have raised over $500,000 in nearly a year,” he continued. “We have no illusions of matching that amount, but I believe it is critical for the state of Maine to see our Christian community and its churches enthusiastically support Protect Marriage Maine.”
As of June 1, Mainers United for Marriage, supporters of same-sex marriage, had raised about $359,000 compared with the nearly $10,000 raised by Protect Marriage Maine, according to documents filed with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. Since then, same-sex marriage supporters raised more than $120,000 to match a $100,000 contribution from a co-founder of Facebook.
Supporters of same-sex marriage in Maine said earlier this year that they expect to raise $5 million or more for their campaign. Opponents have said they expect to raise far less, but collection plate offerings will go a long way toward helping fund the campaign, Carroll Conley, director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said last month.
Additional collection-plate offerings at churches are expected in the months ahead, he said.
How much money was raised on Father’s Day won’t be known until later next week, organizers have said.
Mainers United for Marriage, the organization campaigning for passage of the referendum, also has the support of churches, clergy and religious groups. The Religious Coalition Against Discrimination is made up of ministers, churches and lay leaders who have voiced support for the legalization of same-sex marriage.
More than 100 Maine Catholics marched Saturday in the 26th annual Southern Maine Pride Parade in Portland. Prominent Catholics who participated included Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, former Gov. John Baldacci, former Speaker of the House Glen Cummings, and former Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert, according to a press release issued by Catholics for Marriage Equality after the parade.
Churches in Maine and elsewhere have raised money from parishioners for political campaigns in the past on issues including gay rights, doctor-assisted suicide, abortion and gambling, according to The Associated Press.
Federal law prohibits churches and other 501(c) (3) charitable organizations from supporting or opposing candidates running for office, either through financial contributions or endorsements.
In many ways, this year’s fight over same-sex marriage is a repeat of a battle over the same issue three years ago.
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 Baldacci in the spring of 2009. After the loss at the ballot box, EqualityMaine, a member organization that works on issues of importance to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, began an outreach campaign to talk about the issue and began gathering signatures in August 2011 to put a question before voters.
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. Earlier this year the secretary of state’s office confirmed there were enough valid signatures to put the issue to the voters.
The draft referendum question was issued Thursday by Secretary of State Charlie Summers. It reads: “Do you want to allow same-sex couples to marry?” The public has 30 days to comment on the draft. Summers’ office will issue the final working 10 days after that.
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.