October 1, 2012

Poll: Divide regarding gay marriage seen in Maine towns, counties

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

BOOTHBAY HARBOR -- Louis Burnham was born and raised in this seaside town, and he says he's "from the old school" when it comes to same-sex marriage.

click image to enlarge

Staff graphic by Sharon Wood

click image to enlarge

Staff graphic by Sharon Wood

Vicki Reinecke was born and raised here, too, and supports allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Burnham, 80, and Reinecke, 57, show the two sides of the divide about the issue in this town where shipbuilders and lobstermen live among artists, shop owners and tourists.

In 2009, the last time Mainers voted on gay marriage, 565 residents of Boothbay Harbor voted to support it and 563 opposed it.

It was one of the closest margins in the state in the referendum that overturned a law to allow gay marriage. Supporters of gay marriage won only four counties -- Cumberland, Hancock, Knox and York -- and lost 12 others, including Lincoln County, home to Boothbay Harbor.

Mainers will vote on the issue again Nov. 6, when they will decide on a proposal to make it legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry.

As he leaned against a mailbox last week while working as the town's parking enforcement supervisor, Burnham, a former selectman and grocery store owner, said he expects the vote to be close again in Boothbay Harbor.

"I'm from the old school," he said. "I believe in men and women, husband and wife. I know it's a big issue today."

Reinecke, who works at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, said she senses a change in town. She noticed it last fall, when she spotted a woman at a table gathering signatures on a petition in support of gay marriage.

"I was impressed at how much traffic was going her way," she said as she shopped at Boothbay Region Greenhouses. "In 2009, there seemed to be more fear, perhaps; but I don't sense that now and I don't know what they were afraid of. People are afraid of change."

As both sides of the campaign ramp up for Election Day, just five weeks from Tuesday, the 53 percent-to-47 percent spread from 2009 continues to inform their strategy.

Matt Hutson, campaign director for Protect Marriage Maine, the lead opponent of gay marriage, has lined the walls of his office with chart after chart showing the vote totals from 2009. He knows where the vote against gay marriage was strong -- 73 percent in Aroostook County and 66 percent in Somerset County -- and where it was not.

Gay marriage was approved with 60 percent support in Cumberland County, where 73 percent of Portland voters backed it.

Carroll Conley of Protect Marriage Maine said the opponents are looking at trends in voting patterns not just from 2009, but from the presidential election in 2008 and the governor's race in 2010. They think they can do at least as well, if not better, in places such as Penobscot County, where they won with 59 percent support in 2009.

"Those numbers are very much on our minds," he said. "We're very encouraged by what we're seeing in those campaigns."

Conley, who was not involved in the 2009 campaign, said he was surprised to see how close the vote was in York County, where just 145 votes separated "yes" and "no."

Gay-marriage advocates won in York County that year, just barely.

They say there are two big differences between 2009 and this year. This is a presidential election year, while 2009 featured only referendum questions on the statewide ballot, so turnout is expected to be considerably higher than the 58 percent who voted three years ago.

David Farmer, spokesman for Mainers United for Marriage, said turnout could go as high as 75 percent.

(Continued on page 2)

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