PORTLAND — A high school guidance counselor whose job was targeted after he spoke out against same-sex marriage is featured in a television campaign by gay marriage opponents that launches Monday.
One of the two ads by Protect Marriage Maine features Donald Mendell of Palmyra, who was subject of a complaint with the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation after appearing on TV during a 2009 referendum in which the state's gay marriage law was repealed.
The ad says that in states where same-sex marriage has been legalized, opponents like Mendell have been "fired, sued, fined and punished."
"I was a successful school counselor in Maine for over 20 years — once nominated as teacher of the year. Yet when I supported traditional marriage, they tried to get me fired," Mendell says in the 30-second television spot.
A second ad says the rights of same-sex couples can be protected through an existing domestic registry without the need for changing the definition of marriage. "Every Mainer has a right to love whom they choose but nobody has the right to redefine marriage," it says.
With a month to go until Election Day, the television campaign marks a public escalation in debate by gay marriage opponents, who've been outspent in the campaign.
Campaign disclosure reports filed with the ethics commission on Friday indicate the Protect Marriage Maine PAC has raised a total of $415,000. Mainers United for Marriage, which is leading the drive to legalize gay marriage, has raised more than eight times more, for a total of about $3.4 million.
The ads lay out the potential ramifications as gay marriage opponents try to keep Maine from becoming the first state to enact a gay marriage law at the ballot box, said Carroll Conley from Protect Marriage Maine, which paid for the ads with help from the National Organization for Marriage.
"This is not a live-and-let-live proposition," he said. "There's no tolerance for anyone who dares to speak out against their definition of marriage. Don Mendell is the perfect example."
While the proposed law would protect clergy with a stipulation that they would not have to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples, it doesn't protect the religious freedoms of others, Conley said.
"We think people's religious liberties go far beyond the walls of the church," he said.
But Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, said Sunday that the issues raised in the Protect Marriage Maine ads have nothing to do with allowing same-sex couples to marry.
"Allowing same-sex couples to marry won't change people's freedom to speak out and say what they believe," he said. "Question 1 is about allowing our friends, co-workers and neighbors to have the freedom to marry the person they love."
Voters repealed Maine's gay marriage law in 2009, but gay marriage supporters gathered enough petitions to put it on the ballot again in the Nov. 6 election. The definition of marriage is on the ballot this fall in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.
Mendell was a guidance counselor at Nokomis High School when he originally came to the public eye when he was featured in a TV ad in early October 2009, warning that gay marriage would be "pushed on Maine students" if the law remained on the books.
Two complaints were filed with the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. One of them asked for his license to be revoked because he made comments "that can endanger or promote discrimination."
"They went after my state license, claiming that supporting marriage as between one man and one woman was discriminatory," he said in the ad.
The board ruled in Mendel's favor, but he was soured by the experience. He eventually decided to resign from his job as guidance counselor.
Associated Press Writer Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.