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High Turnout for Maine Gay Marriage Referendum

5 years ago
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Turnout for the vote was higher than expected for Maine's referendum on gay marriage, reaching 50 percent of the state's electorate -- a solid 15 percent above the projected number.

The ballot measure asks voters if they would either repeal or uphold a law passed earlier this year legalizing same-sex marriage. Similar ballot measures -- most famously California's Proposition 8 last year -- have all been successful in striking down judicial attempts to legalize same-sex marriage. Final polls Tuesday showed Maine voters evenly split on Question 1, a measure that has drawn national attention and a horde of activists to the state.

Maine was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage through the legislative process. Gov. John Baldacci signed a bill approved by Democratic majorities in both houses of the state legislature on May 6. A day later, opponents of the measure filed the paperwork necessary to launch a people's veto, successfully halting the new law from taking effect in September. The referendum joins another in Washington state, on whether or not to grant domestic partners the same rights as married couples, as the primary fronts of the same-sex marriage battle this year.

Supporters of the law are working to prevent a repeat of last year's result in California, where conservatives surprised gay rights activists with their mobilization efforts. Even opponents of the Maine law, like Republican state Sen. Pete Mills, said they were impressed with the way activists had framed the debate.

"They did a very good job of humanizing the issue," Mills told Politico. "They had gay couples inviting themselves into the Rotary Club and talking about what it's like to live in a world where it's possible to discriminate against somebody just because they're a same-sex couple." Mills added that the tactics that proved successful in California -- ads warning that same-sex marriage would be propagandized in public schools -- had been shrugged off by the traditionally live-and-let-live Maine voters.

Opponents of same-sex marriage, however, remain optimistic, countering that the state is large and eclectic, and that money can turn a race in any direction. "I think that's why they chose it very carefully. California, many people think it's liberal, but it's a very big state and you can't classify it that easily," said Tom McClusky of the Family Research Council. "But it's very easy to turn a legislature in New Hampshire or throw a couple of bucks the right way in Maine and get what you want." McClusky said that churches in Maine were "fired up" about the issue, and that the Yes On 1 campaign could count on pockets of conservatives and Catholics.

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