Morning Sentinel
Same-sex marriage backers outspent repeal forces
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BY SUSAN M. COVER
Staff Writer
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 12/17/2009

AUGUSTA -- The gay-marriage battle in Maine drew $9.6 million in spending, making it one of the most expensive ballot question fights in state history.

And the winning side -- which successfully repealed the state's same-sex marriage law -- spent less than the losing side.

Groups that supported a people's veto of the state's same-sex marriage law spent a combined $3.8 million, while groups who opposed the veto spent $5.8 million, according to campaign finance reports filed with the state.

Those totals include the two campaigns and more than 20 groups that spent money to try to influence the election.

The Rev. Bob Emrich, one of the leaders of the Yes on 1 campaign that worked to veto the bill, said the issue was so powerful for voters it didn't matter that his side was outspent.

"When it comes to the issue of marriage, that's a line people weren't willing to cross," he said. "If they spent twice that much, it wouldn't have made any difference."

The campaign is believed to be one of the most expensive in state history, coming in second to a 2003 vote on a proposed tribal casino in which both sides spent more than $10 million, according to the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.

The gay-marriage debate, and its national implications, came to Maine in January when gay activists announced they would pursue legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in Maine. The Legislature passed the bill and Gov. John Baldacci signed it into law in May, but opponents immediately launched a people's veto to try to repeal it.

After a successful signature gathering effort, opponents -- which included the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and evangelicals -- got a question on the November ballot asking voters to reject the new law.

Voters followed suit and repealed the law with 53 percent of the votes cast.

Dorian Cole, communications coordinator for EqualityMaine, said "fear tactics" used by opponents proved effective with voters.

"Maybe in 2009 we couldn't have won," she said. "But it doesn't mean we can't win in the future. All the data is showing same-sex marriage is becoming more the norm and in time it will be in Maine."

Cole's group and other gay activists have said they will continue the push for legalization of same-sex marriage. An e-mail sent out by EqualityMaine on Tuesday says the group is trying to raise $10,000 before the end of the year as part of an effort to identify 60,000 new voters who will help pass marriage equality next time around.

Opponents aren't giving up, either.

Last week, the National Organization for Marriage, which gave about $2 million of the $3.8 million spent to repeal the law, said it will work to defeat legislators in Maine who support same-sex marriage.

Another major contributor to Question 1 was the diocese, which took up collections in churches across the state specifically to fight gay-marriage. It spent $561,024, the reports showed.

The Yes campaign also reported a $73,377 debt, which includes payments to campaign staff and their chief strategist, the California-based Schubert Flint Public Affairs.

On the other side, the No on 1/Protect Maine Equality political action committee reported spending $4.6 million and EqualityMaine spent $733,139.

Contributors included hundreds of donations from across the country, with a Chicago man giving $35,000 and a Florida man giving $20,000. Writer Stephen King gave $10,000, according to the most recent reports on file.

Mark Brewer, a political science professor with the University of Maine said both sides had enough money to run an effective campaign.

But on some issues -- same-sex marriage is one of them -- campaigns can't do much to change minds, he said.

"On those types of issues, really what it comes down to isn't necessarily educating voters or influencing opinion," he said. "It's more about mobilizing supporters."

 

Susan Cover -- 620-7015

scover@centralmaine.com