When supporters in Maine talk about gay couples marrying, they aren’t discussing statistics or legal statutes. They’re talking about Lucie and Annie in Rockport or Jim and Steve in Bar Mills.
These are people who are committed to one another, people who have wanted to marry in Maine for a long time. Sharing personal stories should and will be an important part of the same-sex marriage campaign because it creates empathy and is a difficult strategy for opponents to use.
No state has yet approved a law by voter referendum to legalize same-sex marriage, but Maine could be the first this November. The overall magnitude of the campaign will continue to play a large role in swaying public opinion, as will its specific approach of going door to door across Maine and having conversations.
The campaign is in a stronger position now than in 2009, when opponents repealed a law that then-Gov. John Baldacci had signed making same-sex marriage legal. Mainers United for Marriage, the primary political action committee supporting same-sex marriage, has raised far more money than opponents, and the presidential race offers the likelihood of a high voter turnout on Election Day.
Also, in 2009, the campaign only had a few months to fundraise and knock on doors — and then it was fighting a difficult battle to defend a law, not create one. Now it has had a couple years to gather support, and polls show more than 50 percent approval.
But the matter is far from decided. In 2009 polls also indicated a majority of voters would uphold the same-sex marriage law, but Mainers overturned it, 53 to 47 percent. That happened even though then, as now, the campaign in favor of same-sex marriage had more monetary contributions and volunteers than the campaign leading the repeal effort.
So far the state has not seen the type of campaign tactics employed by the opposition in 2009. Then, Stand for Marriage Maine warned that if same-sex marriage survived, schools would have to teach students about it (even though Maine’s attorney general made clear the state wouldn’t require it).
Mainers should watch this time for other, similar side issues that are designed to instill fear. The National Organization for Marriage, a group based in Washington, D.C. — that previously proposed divisive strategies targeting Latinos and blacks — has so far contributed a majority of money to the Protect Marriage Maine PAC, which opposes gay marriage. It contributed the majority of funds three years ago, too.
Running a successful gay marriage campaign will mean a clean one, focused on a clear goal. Then it will be poised to take the high road if opponents use unsavory tactics.
Mainers can do their part by making sure they vote this November, to ensure the best representation of what Maine really wants. And they can educate themselves about the details of what a law approving of same-sex marriage means — such as that churches and synagogues would not be required to perform marriage ceremonies.
They can also be open to the people who knock on their door and be willing to listen to stories that counter fear with hope.