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Maine's vote on gay marriage draws national attention

For the first time, voters in the US could approve same-sex marriage. In other parts of the country – and in Washington – the push is on to legalize gay marriage.

By Staff writer / October 31, 2009

Supporters of the Protect Maine Equality campaign hold signs prior to a debate on Question 1, a referendum to repeal the state's gay marriage law last month in Portland, Maine.

Robert F. Bukaty/AP

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“As Maine goes, so goes the nation” is a political cliché long since out of use.

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But with Tuesday’s election there, both sides in the fierce debate over same-sex marriage are hoping the outcome not only favors them but sends a clear message to the rest of the United States.

In May, the Maine Legislature passed a law legalizing gay marriage, and after initially opposing it Gov. John Baldacci signed the measure. If approved, “Question 1” on Tuesday’s ballot would overturn the new law.

If the measure wins at the polls, it would continue a string of about 30 states where voters have rejected gay marriage. If it fails, Maine would join the handful of states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and Iowa) where legislatures and courts -- not voters -- have made same-sex marriage legal.

“This is significant on the national level because this is the first time voters are weighing in on a law where marriage has already been defined for them,” Jenny Tyree, a marriage analyst with the conservative lobbying group Focus on the Family Action, told the Bangor Daily News.

Advocates on both sides certainly see it as significant. Troops are being rallied and funds raised around the country by those opposed to gay marriage and those advocating “marriage equality.”

Polls show a very close contest, with those favoring same-sex marriage ahead in campaign contributions -- much of the money coming from out-of-state, including California where activists hope to reverse Proposition 8 (which overturned that state’s gay marriage law).

The Roman Catholic church has been very active on the question. Those urging a “yes” vote on Question 1 are counting on a relatively large turnout among older voters (typical in off-year elections) since younger Americans poll more positively on same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, the issue is stirring increased public and political activity around the country.