January 26, 2012
By Jacob Combs
EqualityMaine announced that it would deliver over 105,000 signatures to the Maine Secretary of State today supporting the inclusion of a marriage equality measure on the 2012 ballot. The group needed 57,000 signatures for the measure to qualify.
In a press call this morning, GLAD and EqualityMaine said that a late December poll showed 54 percent of Mainers support the right of same-sex couples to legally marry, with 42 percent opposed. That poll reinforces the findings of two other polls in February and May of 2011, both of which showed 53 percent support for marriage equality. EqualityMaine plans to spend the rest of the year continuing to build support for the measure before it goes to voters in 2012.
Once the Secretary of State has received the signatures, there is a 30-day public comment period on the measure. After that, unless changes are proposed, the ballot measure would move forward.
The Citizens Initiative that will be on the 2012 ballot is called “An Act to Allow Marriage Licenses for Same-Sex Couples and Protect Religious Freedom.” The proposed ballot language, which was submitted to the Secretary of State in June, reads as follows:
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?
Over the last year, EqualityMaine’s Field Director, Amy Mello, has conducted a campaign throughout the state to change the hearts and minds of Mainers through conversations about marriage equality. That campaign has had a success rate of over 20 percent.
We’ve written here at P8TT before against putting the rights of minorities up to a popular vote. Maine’s unique political system, however, makes a popular vote on the issue a practical necessity. The Citizens Initiative power in the state is used liberally, and it is important to note that marriage equality already went through Maine’s legislative process and was signed into law. At this point, the final say on the matter must come from the people.
I asked Betsy Smith, EqualityMaine’s Executive Director, about the possibility of the Tea Party-controlled legislature putting a competing ballot measure (for example, one that proposed civil unions) on the ballot in order to split the vote and cause a marriage equality provision to fail. In her eyes, it is highly unlikely the legislature could so. A competing bill would need majority support in the legislature, and would clearly be opposed by both pro-marriage advocates and those members who are against even allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. EqualityMaine has been working to ensure that their measure is the only marriage-related question on the November ballot.
Because 2012 is an election year, it’s likely there will be a significant voter turnout in Maine, a state that is remarkably consistent in the number of voters who come out for presidential elections with some of the highest turnout in the nation. A marriage equality measure has a better chance of success with this year’s electorate than it did in 2009, an off-election year. Still, there are specific demographics EqualityMaine is targeting to build support for the measure, among them the parents of young children, young men in particular, independents and rural voters.
With this exciting announcement, Maine joins the group of states that are making 2012 an exciting year for marriage equality. We’ll have more here at P8TT on marriage equality in Maine as the campaign moves forward!