Final wording of same-sex marriage question issued

Posted July 26, 2012, at 5:32 p.m.
Last modified July 26, 2012, at 6:42 p.m.
Charlie Summers
Joel Page | AP
Charlie Summers

AUGUSTA, Maine — Question 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot will read: “Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?” Secretary of State Charlie Summers announced late Thursday afternoon.

That is similar language to the draft version of the question issued June 14. The draft question said, “Do you want to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

Proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage said Thursday they had no objections to the final wording of the question.

“We’re pleased the secretary of state took into account our concerns,” Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, a coalition of groups that support same-sex marriage, said Thursday in a telephone interview. “This wording more accurately reflects the contents of the petition question.”

“The new question makes it clear that the proposed law is about civil marriage and that no church or religious institution can be sued for refusing to recognize or perform a marriage that goes against its belief,” he said in a press release.

Proponents of same-sex marriage who submitted enough signatures earlier this year to put the issue on the ballot urged Summers to have the question say: “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?”

Same-sex marriage opponents said last month that the “religious exemption” isn’t legally necessary because it is covered by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Supporters have conceded that is true.

McTighe said Thursday the campaign would continue to talk about the religious exemption to make sure voters understand the law would not force clergy to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Opponents of same-sex marriage had urged the secretary of state to include language that said the intent of the proposal was “to redefine marriage.”

“That isn’t a very substantial change,” Bob Emrich, spokesman for Protect Marriage Maine, said Thursday of the final wording. “I still would have preferred a statement about redefining marriage, but I have no problem with that language. People will know what they are voting on.”

Summers said in a press release issued at 5 p.m. Thursday that the final wording was decided “with input from senior staff [who had] taken into account all the comments that were received.”

After the draft question was released last month, the public had 30 days to comment on its language. Summers then had 10 days to announce the final wording.

“The Secretary of State is charged with drafting the question to be posed to the voters on the ballot,” Summers said in the press release. “Maine law directs the Secretary of State to draft the question concisely and intelligibly.”

State law requires that referendum questions appear second on the ballot after people’s veto questions. The same-sex marriage question will be the only citizen-initiated question on the ballot in November along with four bond issues, according to information on the secretary of state’s website.

Summers is scheduled to determine the order the bond issues will appear on the ballot through a public drawing at 1 p.m. Friday in his office in Augusta.

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.

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