LEWISTON — Protect Marriage Maine supporters refused to concede at nearly 1 a.m. Wednesday, even as The Associated Press called the race for the other side.
"We don't agree with them yet," said the campaign co-chairman, Pastor Bob Emrich of Plymouth.
A hundred precincts still had to report, Emrich said, and those were largely in northern and rural areas that tend to be conservative.
The entire country was watching and waiting to see what would happen in Maine, said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, based in Washington, D.C.
“This is a historic choice,” she said Tuesday night. “States that are watching Maine are those states that have constitutional amendments (banning same-sex marriage) that would be able to get something on the ballot to repeal it.”
Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, which supports Question 1, declared victory, as did Shenna Bellows, executive director of the ACLU of Maine and a member of the campaign’s executive committee.
“Maine voters chose freedom over fear,” Bellows said in a statement.
The evening started off festive for Protect Marriage Maine, which opposes same-sex marriage. About two dozen supporters filled the small conference room at the Ramada Inn in Lewiston, eating, drinking and watching Fox News on a small movie screen. At least one person prayed.
The group decided to hold its watch party in Lewiston because the area is largely conservative and was heavily opposed to same-sex marriage in 2009 when voters considered repealing the Legislature's law allowing same-sex marriage. That repeal was successful.
Although the race remained too close to call right from the start, supporters erupted into loud cheers and applause whenever Emrich read the town-by-town results.
The first quell came as Farmington's results rolled in around 9:45 p.m. The Franklin County town overwhelmingly voted yes for same-sex marriage.
"Hmm," someone said. The rest of the room remained silent.
The group was undaunted but quieter. By 11 p.m., half of the supporters had left for the evening.
The Rev. Doug Taylor, who runs a children's ministry in Lewiston, was one of the few who remained. For him, same-sex marriage is an emotional and spiritual issue.
"The opposition to traditional marriage are slaves to sin," Taylor said. "My sympathy goes out to them and so do my prayers."
As the night wore on, the race got closer, than farther apart, then closer again. At one point, the sides were separated by 2 percent of the vote.
"I really and truly believe we're going to win," said campaign volunteer Tim Russell, who sat at his laptop and hit the refresh button every few seconds, trying to get the latest poll numbers from Maine media outlets.
But spirits began to flag. Talk turned to what supporters would do if they lost. Emrich said he would like to press the Legislature to write more and better protections for religious liberty into the law.
At midnight, as the Ramada shut down the conference room, the little group scattered.
"I'm disappointed it's taken so long to get the results. I'm still hopeful we're going to win," Emrich said.
The AP called the race about 45 minutes later, but Protect Marriage Maine wasn't ready to call it themselves. Emrich said he would make no decision until more precincts reported.