Maine Moves Into High Gear

In a campaign that promises to go down to the wire, Maine voters will be the first to weigh in on marriage equality since the vote on Proposition 8.

BY Kerry Eleveld

August 11 2009 12:00 AM ET

When Doug Kimmel and Ron Schwizer celebrate their wedding anniversary in Maine on August 19, they will be marking the day 40 years ago when Kimmel's former college pastor, Wally Toevs, wed them in the chapel at University of Colorado.

"When I was an undergraduate, he told me if I ever met someone that I wanted to spend my life with -- knowing that I was gay -- he would be happy to perform the ceremony," recalls Kimmel, who met Schwizer at graduate school in Chicago and returned to Colorado with him in 1969 to take Toevs up on his offer.

But the celebration will also serve as a reminder to about 100 guests and fellow Mainers of what's at stake when they go to the polls on November 3rd and decide whether to repeal Maine's same-sex marriage law, which was passed in May.

Kimmel and Schwizer have lived in Hancock, Maine, a town of approximately 2,500, since the 1980s, and have taken an active role in the community -- serving on city planning boards and participating in church leadership (their local United Church of Christ congregation voted to become open and affirming of LGBT people two years ago).

"It's a community that we have really become an integral part of since we moved up here," Kimmel says, noting that Hancock, which leans conservative, has voted pro-LGBT on every one of the four nondiscrimination measures that has come before it since 1995.

"I suspect that's partly because Ron and I are such a visible couple in this community, and everybody knows that gay people are just like everybody else and they deserve rights," he says.

Marriage equality opponents led by Stand for Marriage Maine turned in 100,000 signatures -- 45,000 more than necessary -- at the end of July to qualify for the ballot. If they are certified by the state, as everyone expects they will be, Maine's vote on a so-called "people's veto" of the marriage law will be the first such vote on the right of gay couples to marry since California's highly contentious Proposition 8 showdown, which banned same-sex marriage there.

The Maine picture is rife with both similarities and differences to California: Like Prop. 8, analysts expect the battle to be the most expensive referendum campaign held in Maine, though totaling closer to several million dollars rather than the $85 million spent in the Golden State; while it is also a popular vote, Mainers will be weighing in on a law enacted by their legislature rather than a decision rendered by their high court; and although the same company that led the successful fight to ban gay marriage in California -- Schubert Flint Public Affairs -- is also running the opposition's show in Maine, the landscape is a bit different, dominated less by air space than by word of mouth.

Tags: Politics

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