Anti-Gays Seek to Overturn Maine’s Marriage Law

Timothy Kincaid

June 17th, 2009

Maine has a peculiar system by which citizens unhappy with a legislative action can stop and reverse a bill. Called a “people’s veto”, if petitioners collect the signatures of ten percent of voters within 90 days of the end of the legislative session, a question goes on the ballot as to whether the bill should be enacted.

After the legislature enacted marriage equality in Maine, anti-gay activists began to organize to oppose the bill and to seek to get it on the ballot.

“Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?”

The above somewhat-confusing language was prepared on May 19. And the process began. The Everyday Christian website has a progress report on their efforts:

Emrich, a pastor, is the founder of The Jeremiah Project, a conservative non-profit. To date, he said between 10,000 and 12,000 signatures have been collected since late May. The goal, he said, is to get about 80,000 signatures before the petitions are handed in to account for potential duplications and errors.

However, to achieve their ends, the petitioners need to meet a date sooner than 90 days. Unless they file their signatures by August 1, they will miss the deadline for the November election and the article lays out several reasons why anti-gays think November is better for them than the following spring election.

So how likely is it that they will reach their goal?

With 500 and 600 people Emrich is aware of distributing, it now becomes a race against the clock. He said he would like to get petitions back by mid-July to get them certified by individual town clerks before sending them on to the Secretary of State.

In the four weeks since the beginning of the collection process, they have collected about 12,000 signatures. To meet their target date, they will need to collect an additional 68,000 signatures in the following four weeks; or, on average, each one of their 600 volunteers needs to get 114 additional signatures over the next four weeks.

This may not sound particularly large, but a few factors need to be taken into consideration:

  • The first 12,000 were probably the easiest. Each additional signature will prove to be more difficult.
  • Only about a third of Maine’s residents attend religious services. Of these, about 60% are Catholic. And while Catholic hierarchy stongly opposes marriage equality, lay Catholics are much less inclined to follow the directions of the church on social issues. Assuming that all Evangelical Protestants and half of Catholics are the target audience for signature gatherers – and discounting for 21% of the population below voting age – there is only a pool of about 257,000 adult church members from which to draw signatures.
  • Signature gatherers in public places (other than churches) are likely to encounter active opposition.
  • Michael Heath, executive director of the Maine Family Policy Council, is known in Maine as being radically exteme, far from the thinking of the average conservative Christian; he’s on par with his friend Peter LaBarbera. While Heath’s taking a public back seat on this issue, his is still probably the name most associated with this effort.
  • Michael Heath’s last anti-gay signature collecting effort failed miserably.
  • The Republican Party in Maine is not comprised of fire breathers. Both US Senators are Republicans, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and both are supporting of the gay community. Neither made any criticism of the legislature in their state for enacting marriage and Collins was mentioned today by the President as a sponsor of the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act. The Party is not likely to expend much organizational effort on behalf of the petition.

I think that it will be quite difficult for the anti-gay activists to achieve their goal. But I don’t think it is impossible or even improbable. We need to hope for their failure but plan for their success.

Over the next month, we’ll keep you up to date on whatever we find about the progress of their efforts.

(hat tip to reader Brian)


June 17th, 2009

The phrasing is worrying. If one misses the ‘s’ in ‘allows’, then it reads as: “Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allow individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?” which makes the second clause a consequence of the first, something toward which religious people might trend.


June 18th, 2009

“We need to hope for their failure but plan for their success.”

My thoughts exactly. We don’t want another California, where we were simply “sure” we would win.

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