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AUGUSTA, Maine -- After nearly two years of reaching out to voters in the state, freedom to marry advocates delivered more than 105,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's office to put a Citizens Initiative to enact a marriage equality law on the November presidential ballot in Maine.
Coordinated by a coalition of advocacy groups, the effort resulted in an intensive field organizing campaign which is said to have led to recent polling which shows support for marriage equality from Mainers to currently stand at 54%.
"The number of signatures we gathered and the thoughtful conversations we've been having with voters tell us that Mainers are eager to speak on this question again," said Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine. "Our polling shows a 54% majority of support for same-sex marriage in Maine. Many Mainers have changed their minds and want a chance to bring equality and fairness to our state."
"I grew up in Maine and always considered myself a conservative guy, but I have taken a journey toward supporting marriage for gays and lesbians," said Pastor Michael Gray of Old Orchard Beach United Methodist Church, the original signer of the Citizens Initiative petition. "I really struggled with the issue of same-sex marriage, but through study, prayer, and patience, I can gratefully say that my faith now informs me differently."
"Having grown up in an era where homosexuality was not often discussed, I had never given much thought to whether gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry, but in the past couple years I've learned why it's so important to them," said Janet Spencer of Glenburn. "I came to see that, if gay and lesbian couples share the same love and commitment that my husband and I have for one another, there simply is no alternative to being able to marry the person you love."
The title of the proposed Citizens Initiative is "An Act to Allow Marriage Licenses for Same-Sex Couples and Protect Religious Freedom."
The proposed ballot question wording submitted to the Secretary of State in June of last year reads as follows: "Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, and that protects religious freedom by ensuring that no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?"
"Like hundreds of other volunteers who spent the last few months gathering signatures for this initiative, I have seen firsthand how talking to Mainers about same-sex marriage is helping people to reconsider their views," said Lucie Bauer, a volunteer from West Rockport who lives with her partner of nearly 20 years. "By talking to our neighbors about why marriage matters to loving couples like the two of us, we have the power to change hearts and minds."
The coalition working to pass the initiative includes EqualityMaine, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, the Maine Women's Lobby and Engage Maine. An Advisory Committee comprised of a diverse group of allies, including labor, prominent clergy and Republican leaders from all over the state, is in formation. The Dirigo Family PAC, the coalition's political action committee, has also been formed.
"Loving, committed couples in Maine want to marry for the same reason that their friends and neighbors do: to build and share a life with the person they love," said Lee Swislow, executive director of GLAD. "All Maine families deserve the security and legal protections of marriage that help make this possible, and a majority of Maine voters now realize this."
"We can protect religious liberty and fulfill the constitutional promise for equality under the law for all people by supporting the freedom to marry," said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the ACLU of Maine. "Discrimination, against anyone, runs counter to the Constitution and to the Maine way of life."
"Our coalition gathered nearly twice the 57,000 signatures needed to put our question on the ballot," said Ben Dudley, executive director of Engage Maine. "The enthusiasm that we encountered during the signature gathering tells us that most Mainers are ready to say 'I do' to supporting the freedom to marry for their gay and lesbian neighbors, friends, family members and co-workers."
In 2009, Maine was the first state to pass marriage through the legislature and have it signed by the governor. Following that historic win, opponents put marriage out to a People's Veto. On Election Day, just 16,500 voters blocked the freedom to marry for all Maine families.
Supporters of the freedom to marry lost but gained thousands of new donors, a base of volunteers who are personally invested in winning the freedom to marry, and a new set of strategic partners.
"The most important thing we learned from our experience in 2009 is that we needed to share our personal stories about why marriage matters directly with our friends and neighbors in Maine," said Laura Harper, director of public policy for the Maine Women's Lobby. "Now, it is time to let those voters speak, and we are confident they are ready to support the freedom to marry for all loving, committed couples in Maine."
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