In an election that was seen as a national litmus test on gay marriage, Maine voters overturned a state law that would have legalized same-sex marriage in the state.
In doing so, Maine joins the growing ranks of states – now 31 in all – that have rejected gay marriage at the ballot box. No state has ever voted to legalize gay marriage. Gay marriage was passed by the legislature or mandated by courts in the five states where it is legal: New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa.
The Maine vote is a devastating defeat to the gay-rights movement, which poured millions of dollars and sent hundreds of volunteers to Maine. Their goal was to persuade Maine voters to uphold the law that Democratic Gov. John Baldacci signed in May.
The result will send a clear message to other state legislatures considering bills to legalize gay marriage, says Brian Brown, executive director of the New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage, which contributed $1.8 million to the Maine campaign against the state law.
The victory is especially important to same-sex marriage opponents nationally, he says, because Maine is considered a relatively liberal state in New England – where the gay-rights movement has already gained a strong foothold.
Gay marriage opponents jubilant
Yet on Wednesday morning, with 87 percent of precincts reporting, 53 percent of Maine voters decided to reject the state’s gay-marriage law, the Associated Press reports.
“The institution of marriage has been preserved in Maine and across this nation,” Frank Schubert told the supporters of the Stand for Marriage campaign, an anti-gay marriage group, at their victory celebration early Wednesday morning, according to the Portland Press-Herald.
Mr. Schubert, a California consultant, came to Maine to work on the campaign against gay marriage after helping overturn the same-sex marriage law in California at the polls last year.
Gay-rights advocates attempted to frame the issue in Maine as a question of equality for all families regardless of sexual orientation. Opponents argued the law would change how marriage was taught in schools.
The role of religion
It also became a religious issue. The Catholic Church was heavily involved in the veto effort at the polls, as were Christian groups from around the country. While research suggests Maine is one of the least religious states in the US, analysts say the religious argument held sway with voters.
The vote was confirmation that the voting public is still uneasy with expanding marriage laws to include gay and lesbian couples.
Many gay-rights groups have long opposed putting the same-sex marriage question – which they consider a civil rights issue – to a popular vote. In California, these groups are closely watching a challenge in federal court to Proposition 8, the voter-approved ballot initiative that banned gay marriage there. The plaintiffs in the case say the California ban is a violation of the Constitution's equal protection clause. Many expect that case to eventually make its way to the US Supreme Court in ruling that could decide the issue of gay marriage for the country.
What happened in Washington State?
While Maine was a setback for the gay-rights movement, Washington State voted Tuesday to give gay and lesbian domestic partners all the same rights as married couples. While the measure there stopped short of legalizing same-sex marriage, many see it as important step for gay rights as it extends the state’s legal protections for same-sex couples.
The results in Maine may spur the gay-rights movement to turn away from battles at the state level and focus more on the courts or repealing the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which is also being challenged in court.
"We're here for the long haul," Jesse Connolly, campaign manager for Protect Maine Equality, told supporters of Maine's gay marriage law, according to the Associated Press. "We'll be here fighting. We'll be working. We will regroup."
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