AUGUSTA, Maine — Sounding a theme of small government and individual liberties, the campaign working to legalize same-sex marriage in Maine on Monday introduced a group of 20 Republicans who plan to vote in favor of same-sex marriage in November and campaign on the ballot measure’s behalf in the coming months.
“I certainly agree with the core Republican values of small and limited government,” Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, said at a State House news conference. “I find this to be the perfect match.”
Fitts is among three Republican elected officials who have signed a pledge indicating they support the November ballot measure to legalize same-sex marriage. Others who signed the statement of support include Gov. Paul LePage’s former communications director, a former state senator, the executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association and a Republican state House candidate from Portland.
Mainers United for Marriage, the primary group campaigning for the same-sex marriage measure on November’s ballot, collaborated with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine to launch the Republicans United for Marriage campaign.
Not all of the Republicans who spoke Monday have always supported same-sex marriage rights. Clare Payne, an attorney from Holden who is a registered Republican, said she her mind has changed over time.
“As a Republican, I do not believe that government should prevent a same-sex couple from marrying,” she said.
In 2009, Fitts voted against a same-sex marriage bill that passed the Legislature, was signed by former Gov. John Baldacci and was later repealed by voters. He said he cast the vote out of loyalty to the Republican caucus. At the time, he said, it was the clear the measure would pass.
Since then, “I’ve thought about it a lot,” he said. “It’s OK to change your mind.”
The other lawmakers at Monday’s gathering, Rep. Meredith Strang Burgess of Cumberland and Rep. David Richardson of Carmel, voted in support of the 2009 same-sex marriage measure. Strang Burgess was a co-sponsor of the bill.
With same-sex marriage legal in other northeastern states, Maine is at a “competitive disadvantage” in the region when it comes to attracting some of the economic activity that accompanies same-sex weddings, said Strang Burgess.
“Being the outlier is never a good place for Maine to be,” she said.
None of the three lawmakers who signed the Republican support pledge is running for re-election this fall. Fitts and Richardson can’t run due to term limits, and Strang Burgess has decided against running for re-election.
Even if they were waging re-election contests, Fitts and Richardson said they would still have signed the Republican pledge of support for same-sex marriage. Their votes on same-sex marriage didn’t prove to be pivotal issues during their re-election bids in 2010, they said.
“At this point in my life, I don’t feel limited or intimidated,” Fitts said. “For some people to step forward, it can be uncomfortable.”
The Rev. Bob Emrich, an executive committee member of the Protect Marriage Maine campaign that opposes same-sex marriage, said the introduction of Republicans United for Marriage “does not signal any kind of a change or momentum shift.
“It’s the same old thing,” he said. “It’s another excuse to have a press conference.”
While recent polls on same-sex marriage show a majority of voters say they plan to vote in favor of same-sex marriage in November, a minority of Republicans share that view. A recent poll by the Portland firm Critical Insights found that 64 percent of Republicans oppose the same-sex marriage ballot measure while 30 percent of Republicans support it.
“I’m sure that we could find an equal number of Democrats who support real marriage,” Emrich said. “If we did the same thing and had a handful of registered Democrats, that’s not going to change anybody’s minds.”
Same-sex marriage supporters have held a number of press conferences recently. At the end of June, they announced their campaign had raised $1 million and had 100,000 conversations with voters. Last week, the campaign announced its coalition of businesses and organizations supporting same-sex marriage had grown.
Fundraising reports for the campaigns are due later this week and are expected to show a substantial fundraising advantage for same-sex marriage supporters.