BANGOR, Maine — Same-sex couples in Maine should be able to obtain marriage licenses by Jan. 5 and get married the same day, a spokeswoman for the Maine secretary of state’s office said Wednesday morning after voters in Maine approved a referendum to allow gay marriage.
The secretary of state has 20 days to approve election results and send them on to the governor, Megan Sanborn said. Gov. Paul LePage then has 10 days to certify the results. The law goes into effect 30 days after the governor certifies election results, Sanborn said.
Unofficial returns Wednesday showed that the historic vote on Election Day to legalize same-sex marriage was a mirror image of the vote three years ago to repeal a gay marriage law passed by the Legislature.
As of 6:35 p.m. Wednesday, the vote on Question 1 was 366,787, or 52.6 percent, in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry in Maine and 330,817, or 47.4 percent, against. The 2009 vote was 53 percent to 47 percent in favor of repealing the gay marriage law, which never went into effect.
Nearly 200,000 more people voted on the same-sex marriage question Tuesday than did in 2009. With 97 percent of the vote in, unofficial results showed that 753,447 cast ballots in Question 1 this year compared to the 568,676 who voted three years ago, according to the official 2009 results posted on the secretary of state’s website.
Mainers United for Marriage claimed victory about midnight Tuesday. Campaign manager Matt McTighe attributed the win in part to the door-to-door work done by hundreds of staff members and volunteers.
That strategy, along with having the question on the ballot during a presidential election and the television ads featuring Maine families, turned the tide on the issue, according to Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.
“I do think the ads talking about family members were very effective,” he said in an email. “I also think the Yes on 1 ground game was exceptional. Knocking on doors and really talking to people is almost always an effective tactic.”
“Finally, the electorate is not static,” he said. “It changes a bit every election cycle, and same-sex marriage is an issue that has time on its side due to population replacement. Young people are simply more supportive than older people.”
He also said the same-sex marriage debate was what got University of Maine students to the polls.
“If there was one issue that really got students engaged in this election, it was not Barack Obama as it was in 2008, it was Question 1,” he said.
Although Maine’s same-sex marriage pendulum swung back toward legalization Tuesday, only time will tell whether the new law will endure.
David Farmer, a spokesman for Mainers United for Marriage, said it’s possible that opponents of same-sex marriage could launch another citizen initiative to bring yet another question to voters statewide.
Any new referendum effort would have to amend the law passed Tuesday, Matt McTighe, campaign manager for the winning side, said Wednesday morning. Under Maine law, a people’s veto cannot be used to repeal a referendum question passed by voters, he said.
A referendum question could be worded to put back into the statute the wording, struck by Tuesday’s vote, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It also could remove the language that says Maine recognizes “a marriage of a same-sex couple that is validly licensed and certified in another jurisdiction.”
Carroll Conley, co-chairman of Protect Marriage Maine, the group that led the effort to defeat Question 1, said late Wednesday the campaign would not be circulating petitions to try to change the law before it takes effect. He said the political action committee would be shut down by the end of the year. Conley, of Bangor, and the Rev. Bob Emrich of Palmyra were co-chairmen of the campaign.
Conley said it was his understanding the law would go into effect whether or not petitions to change it were being circulated. Efforts to reach the Maine secretary of state’s office about the issue were unsuccessful late Wednesday.
Conley is executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine and Emrich is chairman of its board.
“The people have spoken,” Conley said. “Our efforts in the League will be focused in Augusta with the challenge of the change in control of the Legislature [from the Republicans to the Democrats].
“We will be turning to the faith community asking them to focus their resources on strengthening marriage,” he added.
Opponents of gay marriage said that in the 32 states where voters had weighed in on the same-sex marriage issue before Tuesday, it had been rejected.
Conley said in a written statement early Wednesday morning that his campaign knew from the outset that “marriage was in trouble in our country.”
“The problems that have weakened this critical institution started long before this attempt to redefine it,” said Conley. “We genuinely fear for the consequences we raised during the campaign. The fact remains, marriage still needs to be strengthened and promoted for future generations.”
Although the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland was not a coalition partner with Protect Marriage Maine this year as it was in 2009, Bishop Richard J. Malone, now head of the diocese in Buffalo, N.Y., issued a statement Wednesday morning expressing disappointment in the outcome of the election.
“I am deeply disappointed that a majority of Maine voters have redefined marriage from what we have understood it to be for millennia by civilizations and religions around the world,” Malone said in a statement emailed to the media. “I am thankful for those who engaged in sincere and civil discourse on this matter of such serious consequence to our society.
“I am grateful to those who supported and recognize the value of marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” he continued. “I especially want to thank the Catholic faithful who did not abandon Catholic teachings on the nature of marriage.”
Last month, Malone, who continues to act as the apostolic administrator for the diocese, said that any Catholic who voted in favor of a referendum to allow same-sex marriage “is unfaithful to Catholic doctrine.”
Malone was critical for the group Catholics for Marriage Equality, which publicly supported the referendum and demonstrated Sunday in favor of Question 1 outside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.
“Defying direction from their bishop, Catholics joined the majority of Mainers who voted Yes on Question 1 to permit same-sex marriage in Maine,” Catholics for Marriage Equality said Wednesday in a press release. “No matter how you do the math, more than half of Maine’s Catholics had to have voted yes to get these numbers in the cities, and even in the smaller towns.”
“Large numbers of Catholics examined their consciences and voted their faith. Catholics chose to follow Catholic social justice teaching and Jesus’ example of inclusive love,” spokesman Frank O’Hara said. “They rejected the bishop’s position.”
Malone in January said the diocese would not be a part of the campaign to defeat the referendum but would focus its efforts on educating Catholics about church teachings on the issue of marriage. In 2009, the diocese gave $500,000 to the repeal effort and lent Marc Mutty, director of public policy, to the campaign full time.
Mutty said the diocese’s active involvement and resources would not have made a difference this year. The Yes on Question 1 forces had a large paid staff and what appeared to be “nearly unlimited resources,” he said.
If asked for advice from his former coalition partners, Mutty said he would advise against launching a referendum to undo the gay marriage law anytime soon.
“I think Maine people would be very distraught to see another vote on this issue come that quickly,” he said. “I think people have had enough and I don’t think the resources are there to do it.”
On Tuesday alone, two states other than Maine approved same-sex marriage and a third, Minnesota, rejected a bid to redefine marriage as being between one man and one woman. In Washington and Maryland on Tuesday, voters approved same-sex marriage by rejecting bids to veto laws passed by those states’ Legislatures.
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.
BDN writer Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.