Historic vote on same-sex unions in Maine

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Maine voters will make history next month when they cast their ballots on whether to legalize same-sex marriage in the state — one way or another.

If they approve Question 1, the gay-marriage veto, it will mark the first time voters in a state have rejected a gay-marriage law that was approved by the legislature and signed by the governor. If the votes go against it, that will represent the first time a same-sex-marriage proposal has received the blessing of the voters.

Maine was catapulted into the center of the marriage debate in May when Democratic Gov. John Baldacci became the first governor to sign into law a gay-marriage bill. The law was scheduled to take effect in September, but foes of same-sex marriage countered by gathering enough signatures to place a so-called “people’s veto” onto the Nov. 3 ballot.

“For the first time, the citizens of a state have a chance to overthrow legislatively enacted same-sex marriage,” said Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage.

A “yes” vote on Question 1 represents a vote in favor of the veto and thus against same-sex marriage.

So far, Mainers seemingly are split evenly. A Public Policy Polling survey released Oct. 20 found 48 percent in favor and 48 percent against Question 1. Analysts say that means the election is likely to hinge on voter turnout.

“The fate of Question 1 is going to be decided by which side does a better job of mobilizing their supporters to get out and vote,” said Dean Debnam, the polling firm’s president. “Voters in the state know where they stand on the issue, and now it’s just an issue of who shows up.”

Both sides like their chances. Supporters of Question 1 draw comparisons to California’s Proposition 8, the anti-gay-marriage measure that polls showed trailing in the final days of the November 2008 campaign. Even so, Proposition 8 passed with 52 percent of the vote.

“We’re doing even better in Maine than we were in California at this time,” said Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, a traditional-marriage group that backed Proposition 8 and now Question 1. “It turns out that about 2 [percent] to 8 percent of people don’t like to tell pollsters that they’re not onboard with gay marriage.”

The Maine ballot may also work in Question 1’s favor. The election features six ballot measures and no candidates, a recipe for low voter turnout, which tends to favor conservatives. Voters in the 18- to 24-year-old range represent the biggest backers of gay marriage, but they’re also the least likely to show up in low-profile election years.

What’s more, the Maine ballot also features Question 4, the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, a high-profile, anti-government-spending measure that is expected to draw conservatives to the polls.

“The Republicans have been smart about putting measures on the ballot to get their people out,” Mr. Debnam said.

Working in favor of the gay-marriage vote is fundraising. The ‘No on 1’ Protect Maine Equality political action committee has raised $2.7 million, more than twice as much as Stand for Marriage Maine, the pro-Question 1 group, which had collected $1.14 million as of Oct. 13.

That disparity has given the ‘No on 1’ campaign the decided edge in television and radio ads and mailings, which could make the difference in a close race. The latest count showed the pro-gay-marriage campaign with nine television and radio ads and the opposition with five.

The campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort has targeted the state’s many private and public college campuses, said Mark Sullivan, spokesman for the ‘No on 1’ campaign.

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