November 7, 2012

Gay marriage ahead

BY SUE COVER Staff Writer

PORTLAND -- Gay-marriage supporters held an early lead Tuesday on the most controversial social issue of the day, whether Maine should join six other states in allowing gay and lesbian couples to get married.

Early results in what is expected to be a close race showed 53 percent supporting Question 1, and 47 percent opposing it, with 32 percent of all precincts reporting statewide, according to unofficial tallies.

Several hundred gay-marriage supporters gathered at the Holiday Inn By the Bay ballroom for a festive election night party with a disc jockey who played songs such as Frank Sinatra's "Love and Marriage." They cheered at the news that President Obama was projected to win in Maine and considered it a good sign that former Gov. Angus King, an independent who supports same-sex marriage, was called an early winner as well.

Many hoped to erase the stinging memory of 2009, when gay marriage was rejected by Maine voters 53 percent to 47 percent.

"We've had a tremendous outpouring of support today," said David Farmer, spokesman of Mainers United for Marriage, the lead group in support. "We're seeing good numbers of voters, high turnout, which we think is good for us."

In Lewiston, opponents gathered at the Ramada Inn, where Protect Marriage Maine leaders Carroll Conley and Bob Emrich tallied results in one room to share with the crowd in the conference room.

Emrich warned that the earliest available results will probably not be pleasing as they will come from places like Portland.

"The early results -- those that are machine counted -- they often looked skewed," he said.

If the ballot measure passes, the earliest gay and lesbian couples could marry would likely be early January. That's because the Secretary of State's Office has 20 days to certify results, Gov. Paul LePage has 10 days to approve them, and after that, there's a constitutionally mandated 30 day waiting period for the law to take effect, according to the secretary of state's office.

The vote in Maine will have national implications, both for state-level battles moving forward and for the Supreme Court, which is likely to take up at least one gay-marriage case next year.

Maine is one of four states that voted Tuesday on gay marriage, with Maryland and Washington considering whether to uphold laws passed by their legislatures and Minnesota deciding whether to adopt a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Across the country, 31 states have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.

But elsewhere, in six states and the District of Columbia, gay couples have been able to legally marry since 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state to allow it. Since then, other states followed suit -- Connecticut in 2008, Iowa in 2009, Vermont in 2009, New Hampshire in 2010 and New York in 2011. In those states, the Legislature or the courts extended the right to gay and lesbian couples.

In that regard, Maine is unique among states because gay activists bypassed the Legislature and the courts, and took the issue directly to voters.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called the four votes across the country critical for the gay rights movement.

"What we hope is thousands of gay couples and their kids wake up and feel more safe and secure in their communities," she said. "We are hopeful history will be made."

Many of those who voted Tuesday -- on both sides -- said they were energized by the issue.

Jay Tarbox of Buxton said he was focused on Question 1 as he voted Tuesday afternoon at town hall. He supports allowing same sex couples to marry.

(Continued on page 2)

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