AUGUSTA, Maine (BP)–If supporters of traditional marriage had their druthers, conservative writer Maggie Gallagher says, they would have picked South Carolina, and not Maine, to try and win on the issue of gay marriage Nov. 3.
After all, Maine is one of the country’s most liberal, least religious states, and hasn’t voted for a Republican for president in more than 20 years. Add a nearly 2-to-1 fundraising deficit to that mix — as well as a host of other obstacles — and opponents of gay marriage faced seemingly impossible odds in trying to pass Question 1 and overturn Maine’s recently passed law redefining marriage.
But they did win Tuesday, and by an even larger margin (53-47 percent) than in California (52-48 percent) one year earlier. In doing so, they put a roadblock in the notion that gay marriage in all 50 states is inevitable. The issue has now lost at the ballot box in all 31 states where it has been put to a vote.
Homosexual groups did pick up a win in Washington state when voters there approved the state’s “everything but marriage” same-sex domestic partnerships law, but activists long ago said such laws were inadequate and that gay marriage was the only just option. Their goal now is to legalize gay marriage in that state.
“If they can’t win in Maine, they don’t have a majority anywhere,” Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which donated more than $1 million to the Yes on 1 campaign, told Baptist Press.
“And it’s not just Maine. It’s Maine and California and Wisconsin and Oregon and Michigan and every other state,” she added, referencing other locations where gay marriage was defeated.
Question 1 passed despite a higher-than-expected turnout, which may have been as high as 60 percent and which pundits had presumed would hurt the Yes on 1 side. Conventional wisdom also held that two anti-tax issues on the ballot would help Question 1 by bringing out conservative voters. Yet both anti-tax measures lost — by margins of 74-25 and 60-40 percent — and Question 1 prevailed. A pro-medical marijuana initiative that likely brought out liberal voters passed, 59-41 percent.
The No on 1 side had not only a fundraising advantage but an edge in volunteers, too, with 8,000 people on the ground in a state with only 1.3 million people. They had the support of the governor, legislative leaders and newspaper editorial boards. They ran the campaign they wish they had run in California, and they still lost.
So, how did Stand for Marriage Maine, the primary organization promoting Question 1, win? Those who were involved on the ground point to five primary reasons:
— A winning message about the impact of legalizing gay marriage.
From the get-go, Stand for Marriage Maine insisted that if the state redefined marriage, then public schools would have no option but to talk about gay marriage as normative when the subject of families was introduced. Five of their six TV commercials included warnings about gay marriage and public schools, including an appearance by a Massachusetts couple whose second-grade son was read a book about a prince marrying a prince. The parents sued the school in federal court seeking parental consent the next time such books would be discussed, but lost.
“The campaign very much followed the campaign in California,” Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage and an executive committee member of Stand for Marriage Maine, told BP. “We followed the argument that continues to be very successful, which is that there are very real and profound consequences of same-sex marriage. That argument allows people to vote what’s already in their heart. Our television ads simply allow people to see how it affects them.”
Joey Marshall, pastor of Living Stone Community Church (SBC) in Standish, Maine, said the message had an impact. Referencing his daughter who is almost 2, he said, “It frightens me to think about what she will be forced to embrace through our government and the public school system.”
Maine’s attorney general, Democrat Janet Mills, released a statement saying that the law would have “no impact on the curricula of Maine’s public schools,” but Question 1 backers simply countered by noting she was not an objective observer because she had repeatedly stated her support for gay marriage. They also turned the argument around and said there was nothing in state law to prevent gay marriage from being taught.
Stand for Marriage Maine’s commercials also argued that if gay marriage stood, lawsuits against those who disagreed with the law could follow.
— A last-minute assist from the opposition.
During the final week of the campaign it was learned that Donald Mendell Jr., a high school counselor in Palmyra, Maine, was being investigated by the state and in danger of losing his state social worker’s license because he had appeared in a Yes on 1 TV ad. Someone at another school who opposed Question 1 had filed the complaint. The name of the school was not mentioned in the ad, and Mendell appeared only after a fellow teacher at his school had appeared in her own No on 1 ad.
Stand for Marriage Maine cut a radio ad about the controversy.
“That made a big difference,” Scott Fish, communications director for Stand for Marriage Maine, told BP. “For Anybody in Maine that required a license from the state to earn a living … it was a chilling message.”
Said Gallagher, “I think it reinforced the prime message of the campaign.”
— The support of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.
Even though Maine is the third least religious state in the nation according to Gallup polling, Catholicism has an influence, with about a third of residents claiming affiliation. The diocese gave around $200,000 to the Yes on 1 campaign, took up collections for Yes on 1 in its churches, and promoted Question 1 on its website and in sermons. Marc Mutty took a leave of absence from his job as public affairs director of the diocese to become chairman of Stand for Marriage Maine.
Bob Emrich, a spokesperson for Stand for Marriage Maine and pastor of Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church in Plymouth, Maine, said the Roman Catholic Diocese “absolutely” made a difference.
“It took a coalition that included the Catholic Diocese and every Protestant and evangelical denomination [to win],” Emrich said.
— A TV ad aimed at moderates.
Late in the campaign, Stand for Marriage Maine released a TV ad that may have won over the votes of moderates and some liberals but also frustrated a few conservatives nationally. The ad pointed to Maine’s Domestic Partnership registry — which grants same-sex couples some of the legal benefits of marriage — and said, “Abandoning traditional marriage entails real consequences, yet we want to be tolerant of gays. Maine’s Domestic Partnership laws provide substantial legal protection for gay couples. Any problems remaining can be addressed without dismantling traditional marriage. It’s possible to support the civil rights of all citizens and protect traditional marriage at the same time.”
Officials with Stand for Marriage Maine felt the ad was necessary to win in a liberal state during an election that could have gone either way.
“When they learned that … redefining marriage was neither the best nor the only way to do that, that made a difference,” Fish said.
The coalition of gay marriage opponents that came together this summer with the collection of 100,000 signatures to qualify Question 1 only grew in strength as time passed, Emrich said.
“God has honored His promise that if His people will humble themselves and call to Him, He responds,” Emrich said. “The deciding factor in my mind, without question, is that the people of God finally worked together, stood up and said, ‘Wait a minute, this crosses a line that we just cannot cross. This is a direct affront to God Himself.'”
Brown said it is difficult to overstate the significance of Question 1’s passage to the national debate.
“They had a lot riding on this, because they saw this as a way to change the momentum coming out of [California] Proposition 8,” Brown said. “But with everything going for them, they still lost. That is the importance of Maine.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.