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By Lisa Keen
Portland, Maine – The vote tally in Wednesday, while not complete and not official, suggests an effort to repeal the state’s newly passed marriage equality law has succeeded.
With 93 percent of the precincts reporting in as of 9:25 a.m., the “Yes” votes to repeal the law totaled 53 percent of the vote, while the “No” votes against repeal numbered 47 percent. The Bangor Daily News provided the tallies. The state’s Director of Elections Melissa Packard said her office would not report results publicly until they are certified – in about 20 days.
The apparent vote marks a significant defeat for marriage equality supporters, who were hoping to regain ground lost last year when voters in California narrowly approved Proposition 8 to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage and undermine a court ruling that had enabled some 18,000 same-sex couples to marry in 2008. (The vote in that 2008 initiative was 52 percent for, 48 percent against.) It also appears to provide momentum to the anti-gay marriage movement, which is now attempting to stage an initiative against same-sex marriage in Washington, D.C., and which has a bill pending before the New Hampshire legislature to repeal a bill enacted there earlier this year.
In a ballroom at a Holiday Inn in downtown Portland, “No on 1” campaign manager Jesse Connolly announced to a hushed crowd of a few hundred supporters still on hand at 12:30 a.m., that the campaign was not conceding defeat and would wait for all the ballots to be counted.
“This is a razor-thin election,” said Connolly, “…and every vote counts. We will not quit until we know where everyone of these votes lives. We won’t quit. We’ll be counting votes into tomorrow morning.”
But estimates of the number of outstanding ballots to be counted appear to fall far short of the number needed to overtake the “Yes” votes on the measure.
The “Stand for Marriage Maine” group that led the effort to repeal the marriage equality law proclaimed victory.
The campaigns for and against Maine’s equal marriage law had been underway since May when the legislature passed, and the governor signed, the new law enabling same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses the same as straight couples. Because repeal activists immediately began petitioning for a “Citizens’ Veto” measure, the law was put on hold and ballot Question 1 asked voters if they would like to repeal that law.
Many political observers praised the “No on 1” coalition for running a well-organized campaign, headed by Maine natives with considerable experience in Maine politics. At the top of that campaign was Jesse Connolly, a 31-year-old straight married father, on leave from his job as Chief of Staff for the Maine Speaker of the House. Connolly had also run the successful 2005 campaign to vote “No” on a ballot measure seeking to repeal the state’s recently passed law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. The “No” vote that year won 55 percent to 45 percent.
The key focus of “No on 1” from the start was identifying voters who would vote “No” and making a concerted effort to get those voters to actually cast their ballots – either by absentee, early voting, or at the voting booth on election day. Activists from as far away as Hawaii came to Maine in the last days of the campaign to help with that basic door-to-door, phone-by-phone effort.
Tambry Young, co-chair of the Family Equality Coalition of Hawaii, said she came to Maine last Wednesday because “at some point, we need to stand up and say, ‘We need to do the right thing.'”
But the Yes on campaign had considerable visibility for their messages throughout the state. First, they launched a heavy barrage of television and radio ads warning that approval of same-sex marriage would lead to children being taught about gay marriage in the schools. Then, they staked out the simple message of “Yes on 1” in a highly visible supply of blue and yellow yard signs posted along many of the state’s busiest roads. In contrast, “No on 1” often had only a lone pale green sign in noticeably smaller numbers.
At one busy intersection in Portland Tuesday, five “Yes on 1” activists stood on a median and hoisted “Yes on 1” placards, yelling “Vote Yes on 1 – No Homosexuals!” to drivers passing by. The lawn surrounding the intersection was bathed in bright blue and yellow “Yes on 1” signs, while the “No on 1” sported only two large hand-painted signs.
On one occasion, a car zipped by and a woman yelled out the window, “I voted no!” But many cars honked and their drivers waved, seeming to signal agreement with the “Yes on 1” position.
Voter turnout was much heavier than expected. The Secretary of State had predicted about 25 to 35 percent of registered voters would turn out, but the Daily News estimates at least 57 percent of registered voters participated.
While spending by both sides appears to have been roughly similar -about $3.5 million each, there was a tremendous push for last-minute funding. The “No on 1” campaign send out an email sent out at 10 o’clock on Monday morning asking for another $25,000 in donations to pay for television ads to counter the “Yes on 1” campaign’s last-minute television buy. Supporters responded with $68,000 before the bank closed that day.
“Never did we think over 1,200 people would give a gift today,” said Connolly, in a youtube message taped Monday evening.
“I have never seen a campaign that has had this many volunteers from so many walks of life,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Carey was in Maine Tuesday helping with the get-out-the-vote effort. She said her door-to-door team included an older straight woman from Portland and a young woman from New Hampshire.
Mary Bonauto, too, thanked straight allies “who made this fight their own.” Bonauto, who lives in Maine, has been a key leader with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders in winning many legal battles for marriage equality in New England. She also represented the “No on 1” campaign in numerous televised debates during the weeks leading up to the vote.
But the latest ad by the “Yes on 1” group appeared to have hit its mark. The ad showed a rapid-fire sequence of newspaper clippings and official-looking documents while a female voice urgently warned that gay activists “are already pushing their agenda in Maine schools.” A radio ad warned that gay activists and their supporters will “push it on students.” The message was essentially a copycat of a message that had been effective in passing Proposition 8.
Ramifications beyond Maine
Many political observers saw the vote in Maine as a political compass for which way the country’s mood is heading on equal marriage rights for gay couples. The New York Times report Wednesday morning called it a “stinging setback for the national gay-rights movement.” The San Francisco Chronicle predicted “Tuesday’s vote will influence the same-sex marriage issue in California, where voters approved Proposition 8, which struck down legal same-sex marriage last November after the state’s Supreme Court declared it a right.”
There will, no doubt, be much analysis of why voters chose to repeal the law in Maine, but even before the voting booths had opened Tuesday, there were critics of President Obama’s lack of effort around the battle.
Longtime gay Democratic activist David Mixner put it most bluntly on his blog: “President Obama and his team were zero help in this critical battle and in the last week might actually have hurt us.”
In fact, in February 2008, as the Democratic primary battle was in full swing, candidate Obama released an open letter to the LGBT community saying, “As your President, I will use the bully pulpit to urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws. I personally believe that civil unions represent the best way to secure that equal treatment. But I also believe that the federal government should not stand in the way of states that want to decide on their own how best to pursue equality for gay and lesbian couples – whether that means a domestic partnership, a civil union, or a civil marriage.”
But at a national Human Rights Campaign dinner October 10, the president had nothing to say about Maine or Washington State explicitly; instead, he said, “I believe strongly in stopping laws designed to take rights away and passing laws that extend equal rights to gay couples.”
And some days later, at an appearance at the University of Maine on October 23, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, when asked by a reporter about Maine’s Question 1 specifically, said that he and President Obama “are of the view it is for states to make these decisions.”
The White House offered no comment in regards to Mixner’s criticism.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said, “I do think that (President Obama) was wrong – that neither he nor the Democratic Party spoke out” against the Maine ballot measure.
“I’m disappointed in his failure to speak out on this issue,” said Solmonese on Obama. “He did speak out against Proposition 8 and it did influence people. …I think when he talked about using the bully pulpit, that’s what we expected he would do.”
HRC gave about $300,000 to the campaign effort and had “about a dozen” people “on the ground” in Maine to help the “No on 1” campaign.
Waiting in Washington
In Washington State, where voters were asked to decide whether to keep a newly passed domestic partnership law, a very preliminary results indicates voters have likely voted to retain the law. The Secretary of State’s website Wednesday morning showed 51 percent voted “Yes,” and 49 percent voted “No.” But the final result in that contest is not likely to be known for several days. Voting in Washington State is done entirely by mail – though voters can drop off their ballots in person, too – and voters could postmark their ballots as late as anytime Tuesday. The Web site indicated 3.5 million votes had been counted; an estimated 390,000 were yet to be counted.
But on one clear bright note, 62 percent of voters in Kalamazoo, Michigan voted Tuesday night to retain that city’s recently passed law to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.