LEWISTON — Less than two years after voters repealed the state's fledgling same-sex marriage law, gay rights advocates announced Thursday they're beginning a campaign to convince a majority of Mainers to change their minds.
Amid the occasional heckles of disapproving passers-by, a crowd of about 70 gay marriage supporters gathered at Lewiston City Hall at a rally kicking off a citizen initiative to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.
If successful in gathering more than 57,000 signatures, the issue could appear on the November 2012 ballot. It will ask voters if they favor a law allowing marriage for same-sex couples.
Supporters hope to ride the momentum of the recent approval of a gay marriage law by New York lawmakers last week. However, representatives said their decision to launch the ballot initiative in Maine had been in the works since 2009 when Mainers repealed the same-sex marriage law by a vote of 53-47 percent.
Matthew McTighe of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders said organizers were hopeful that Mainers were becoming more open to same-sex marriage.
"We’ve seen some real movement on the issue," said McTighe, referring to recent statewide polling showing a majority of respondents favoring gay marriage. "We feel like we can continue to build on that. It’s going to be a challenge, we do know that. But I think time is on our side now and I think people have really evolved on this issue and are continuing to evolve."
McTighe and supporters of the initiative know they'll face some tough opposition, just as they did in 2009 when the National Organization for Marriage spent more than $1 million trying to defeat the same-sex law enacted by the Legislature.
The effort is being launched by EqualityMaine. Executive Director Betsy Smith said her organization was going door to door to change hearts and minds.
"We are here to tell you that we intend to finish the job we began in 2009 and bring marriage equality to Maine," Smith said.
Marc Mutty of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland said in a news release that his organization will fight for marriage "between a man and a woman."
"The people of this state rejected same-sex marriage in November of 2009 and should not be put through what will likely be another divisive, drawn-out campaign," Mutty said. "The people of this country have rejected same sex marriage in all cases where the issue has been put on the ballot; there is no reason why we should expect a different outcome this time."
Mutty said the diocese's role in a public campaign to "preserve marriage" was yet to be determined.
Mutty led the repeal effort in 2009 but later expressed regrets in a documentary about the tactics deployed during that effort. At one point Mutty says on camera, "I fear I'll be remembered for the work I did on this campaign."
Mutty also expressed hope that he would be forgiven "for the ways in which I might have betrayed my own self in this endeavor."
Katie Zema, a college student from South Portland, attended Thursday's rally. Zema said she worked during the 2009 effort to preserve the same-sex marriage law.
"I missed school on Election Day canvassing across the state," Zema said. "I was crushed (after the vote). But I’m hoping to be back doing volunteer work and I’ll be here when Maine passes marriage equality."
She added, "What’s clear to me is that the right to marry is a civil right. If you vote against same-sex marriage, you’re voting to take away somebody’s civil right."
Darryl Woodward of Lewiston disagreed. During the rally, Woodward yelled to the speakers, "What you're teaching these kids ain't right!"
"This stuff isn’t God’s way," Woodward said in a later interview. "God made Adam and Eve. ... Man and women were made to reproduce. You can’t take two women and make a kid. You can’t take two men and make a kid."