Today, EqualityMaine and GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders) have launched a new effort to legalize marriage equality through a 2012 ballot initiative. They have submitted the application for a citizen initiative that would propose the following question of voters:
Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?
Maine faced a crushing defeat in 2009 when opponents of same-sex marriage successfully overturned a marriage equality law through a similar ballot initiative, Question 1, but EqualityMaine has the research to show that times have changed. Two recent polls found that 53 percent of likely November 2012 Maine voters support legal same-sex marriage, with only 39 percent opposing in the most recent survey. This is a shift from 2009′s vote when 52.9 percent voted against equality. Nate Silver recently recalibrated his model for assessing the success of marriage equality initiatives and found that “Mainers are likely, although not certain, to affirm same-sex marriage if given another chance.” EqualityMaine has over 100 paid people and volunteers aiming to complete 40,000 interviews with Maine voters this summer to try and make it certain.
Part of the strategy to win support from voters will be to share personal stories with them. Some particularly compelling testimony comes from a new documentary about Question 1, in which the chair of the anti-equality “Yes on 1″ campaign, Marc Mutty, apologized for his efforts, saying, “I hate it… I fear I’ll be remembered for the work I did on this campaign… [I'm asking...] for forgiveness for the ways in which I might have betrayed my own self in this endeavor.” He also admitted that the campaign used inaccurate, dangerous “hyperbole” in their ads.
Opponents of equality boast their consistent victories at the ballot, but ballot questions have almost always been framed to support inequality. For example, the 2012 ballot question in Minnesota asks voters, “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?” One important victory for equality was Washington’s Referendum 71, which invited voters to approve that the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of domestic partners be expanded “to be equivalent to those of married spouses.” If Mainers have the chance to vote affirmatively for marriage equality, it could be an important test for such measures in the future.
To accompany the new effort, EqualityMaine has launched WhyMarriageMattersMaine.com, which will collect personal stories about the importance of marriage equality. They will have to collect 57,277 signatures to put the question on the 2012 ballot.