AUGUSTA, Maine — Lucie Bauer has changed quite a few minds about same-sex marriage over the more than 20 years she and her partner have lived in midcoast Maine, the 71-year-old said Thursday at a press conference to announce that petitions to put a referendum on the ballot in November would be submitted to the secretary of state.
But one friend she identified only as Bob just couldn’t support gay marriage.
“When my partner and I had a commitment ceremony, it was in the Quaker tradition and everyone in attendance was asked to sign a document expressing their support of our commitment to each other,” Bauer said at a press conference at the State House packed with same-sex marriage supporters and the news media. “Bob did not sign it.”
On Election Day in 2011, however, Bob quietly walked up to a table Bauer and Bob’s wife were staffing and signed a petition to ask Maine voters to allow marriage licenses to be issued to same-sex couples.
“That his signature is on one of these petitions means more to me than I can put into words,” she said, gesturing to the boxes stacked behind her containing the petitions.
Bauer was one of eight individuals who spoke at the press conference to announce that EqualityMaine, the Maine Civil Liberties Union and the Maine Women’s Lobby had collected nearly twice the number of signatures needed to put the question on the ballot.
Bauer’s story about Bob illustrated that voters have changed their minds about same-sex marriage, organizers of Thursday’s event said.
Another reason the coalition decided to go for forward, Betsy Smith of EqualityMaine said, is that polling by gay marriage supporters indicates 54 percent of state residents now support allowing same-sex couples to marry.
“The number of signatures we gathered and the thoughtful conversations we’ve been having with voters tell us that Mainers are eager to speak on this question again,” she said.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which opposes same-sex marriage and contributed $500,000 to the last campaign, expressed disappointment that same-sex marriage supporters chose to seek another vote so soon.
“After the bitterly divisive campaign of 2009, in which Maine people clearly and decisively voted against changing the meaning of marriage, we’re dismayed that they would bring this issue back for yet another vote,” Brian Souchet, a spokesman for the diocese, said in a statement.
Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said in a telephone interview after the press conference that the supporters of same-sex marriage were seeking “to redefine marriage as something other than the special union between one man and one woman.”
“Natural marriage is the fundamental building block for all human civilization, including Maine,” he said Thursday. “Protecting marriage is the time-tested way for society to make sure as many children as possible are raised by their mom and dad. Moms and dads are both necessary; they are not replaceable by generic adults.”
The proposed law would not force clergy to perform same-sex marriages, Smith said at the press conference.
Souchet and Conley said they expected to form a coalition soon to campaign against the expected referendum question.
Smith said she expected the campaign in favor of same-sex marriage would need to raise between $4 million and $5 million to be effective.
“I have no doubt that we’ll be significantly outspent,” Conley said when asked about campaign funding. “While we may not have those outside sources, we can still be very effective with our message.”
Conley pointed to the defeat in November of expanding the number of gambling sites in Maine as an example of how effective the Christian Civic League can be in influencing issues on the ballot.
“We were outspent on gambling 5- or 6-to-1,” he said.
The new petition drive kicked off in August and by November gay marriage supporters had collected more than 100,000 signatures, but supporters wanted to wait to make sure the timing was right before deciding whether to deliver those petitions to the secretary of state.
The National Organization for Marriage promised “an all out battle in Maine” against the referendum.
“NOM intends to vigorously fight this attempt by same-sex marriage advocates to impose gay marriage in Maine,” said Brian Brown, NOM’s president, in a press release Thursday. “Maine voters rejected gay marriage barely more than two years ago. What part of ‘no’ don’t gay marriage advocates understand?”
The Legislature previously approved gay marriage, but it was rejected by a 2009 statewide vote, 53 percent to 47 percent. If Mainers approve gay marriage, the state would be the first to do so by a popular vote.
To get the question on the 2012 ballot, organizers needed to collect at least 57,277 signatures by Jan. 30. If the signatures are certified, the proposal first goes to the Republican-controlled Legislature for an up-or-down vote. If the Legislature approves the proposal and the governor signs it, then gay marriage will be legalized. If the Legislature doesn’t approve it or the governor doesn’t sign a bill, as expected, the question goes to voters.
In New England, gay 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 allow gay marriage are New York and Iowa, along with Washington, D.C.
In the six states where gay marriage is allowed, the laws all came through either court orders or legislative votes, not through a statewide popular vote.
Elsewhere, bills to legalize same-sex marriage have good chances of passage this year in legislatures in Maryland, New Jersey and Washington. Proposed amendments for constitutional bans on gay marriage will be on the ballots in North Carolina on May 8 and in Minnesota on Nov. 6.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The title of the proposed citizens’ initiative is: An Act to Allow Marriage Licenses for Same-Sex Couple and Protect Religious Freedom.
The proposed ballot wording submitted Thursday is: “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?”