- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 10, 2009

PORTLAND, Maine | For an off-year election in a state only rarely in the national political spotlight, an upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage has dramatic potential to make history and to roil emotions from coast to coast.

On Nov. 3, Maine voters will become the first in any state with the chance to repeal or uphold a law, passed by their legislature and signed by their governor, legalizing same-sex marriage. The outcome is considered too close to call, and the race is galvanizing activists on both sides of the issue across the country.

The ballot measure, Question One, results from Maine’s provision for a “people’s veto” - any newly passed law can be subject to repeal by voters if enough valid signatures are obtained to trigger a referendum.

“The stakes are very high in Maine, no question about it,” said Frank Schubert, who was hired by gay-marriage opponents in Maine as their top strategist after he coordinated the Proposition 8 campaign last year in California that repealed court-ordered gay marriage there.

Though five other states have legalized same-sex marriage, including four of Maine’s New England neighbors, none has done it with the affirmation of a popular vote. Maine could be the first - a prospect that worries Mr. Schubert and his allies.

“It would be the first time gay marriage advocates would be able to convince the public to be on their side,” he said. “It would add to their attempt to convince people that it’s inevitable they will win, that it’s just a matter of time.”

Supporters of same-sex marriage, in Maine and elsewhere, are cautiously hopeful of a landmark victory, which they believe would have an impact in other states including California. But they acknowledge that defeat - by an electorate known for its independence and moderation - would be crushing.

“If we lose, it will be a day of tremendous grief,” said Judy Chamberlain, who along with her partner of 30 years, Karen Marlin, has been working in the campaign to uphold the marriage law.

Among the lawmakers backing the marriage bill was state Sen. Larry Bliss, an openly gay Democrat who moved many colleagues with personal stories of raising a family as half of a same-sex couple. Initially, Mr. Bliss felt the bill was premature, but changed his mind when his longtime partner quit his job and needed to get on Mr. Bliss’s health insurance.

“If he’d been my spouse, it would have been easy,” Mr. Bliss said. “Instead the process was appallingly humiliating.”

Many Mainers were surprised by the decision of Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, a Roman Catholic, to sign the bill swiftly on May 6 despite having voiced doubts about same-sex marriage.

The spiritual leader of Maine’s 200,000 Catholics, Portland Bishop Richard Malone, said he was “deeply disappointed” in Mr. Baldacci and legislative leaders, and called same-sex marriage “a dangerous sociological experiment.” Catholic churches statewide have taken collections to aid the repeal effort.

Mr. Baldacci, a former altar boy, said he is at peace with his decision.

“It’s important to have your own faith and connection to God,” he said in an interview in his office. “At the same time, it isn’t just that faith you’re the governor of. … You’re governor of all the people.”

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