With the election
now only days away, the campaigns supporting and
opposing Maine's gay rights law agree on one thing:
Grassroots efforts to get out the vote this weekend
will play a key role in the outcome on Tuesday. Three
groups that led the referendum effort to scuttle the law
are handing out 125,000 leaflets and posting 10,000 signs in yards.
Maine Won't Discriminate, which opposes the
referendum, has been concentrating on door-to-door
campaigning, mailings, and phone calls. Despite polls
showing 2-to-1 support for the law signed by Gov. John
Baldacci, both campaigns think the race is closer than that.
Bowdoin College political science professor
Christian Potholm said 40% of Mainers support and 40%
oppose gay rights. The question is which side can
reach the remaining 20% and motivate them to vote in what
has been a low-key campaign. "There's a certain amount
of voter fatigue with the issue," said Potholm, noting
two previous referendums on the issue in 1998 and 2000.
The traditional harbingers of a major statewide
campaign--radio and television ads and signs
staked in people's yards--didn't appear until
late. But both campaigns insist that doesn't mean people
were not campaigning hard. "There has been an
incredible amount of effort going on behind the scenes
in organizing at the local level, getting people to
make phone calls and go door to door. Hundreds of house
parties have been held," said Ted O'Meara, an adviser
to Maine Won't Discriminate.
But he admitted that it was tough raising money
as large national groups stayed on the sidelines for
the most part. It was a money-driven decision to wait
until two weeks before the election to begin airing
television ads, he said.
The spots feature gay Mainers who detail
instances of discrimination in the workplace and
elsewhere in an attempt to counter critics who question
the extent of such bias. The repeal forces recently began
airing ads on cable channels that say exposure to
"homosexual lifestyles" poses a threat to children.
Campaign finance reports show that four
political action committees fighting to keep the gay
rights law have raised nearly $1 million, a threshold
that O'Meara identified as the minimum for running an
effective statewide campaign. Two political action
committees that want to scrap the law have raised a
total of about $336,000, according to the reports.
The gay rights law, adopted in March, expands
the Maine Human Rights Act to make discrimination
based on sexual orientation or gender identity illegal
in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and education.
All the other New England states have gay rights
laws. But only Maine and Rhode Island have the "gender
identification" language that protects transsexuals,
transvestites, and those who've undergone sexual
A church-led alliance including the Maine
Grassroots Coalition, the Christian Civic League of
Maine, and the Coalition for Marriage gathered more
than 56,000 signatures to put the law to a statewide vote.
Because this is an off-election year in which
voter turnout is usually low, 40% would be a strong
turnout. That makes it all the more important for both
sides to get their supporters to the poll.
Paul Madore of the Maine Grassroots Coalition
said about 2,000 volunteers have been campaigning to
scrap the law. Most of the campaigning has been behind
the scenes because volunteers fear a backlash for speaking
out. "The passion is still there. This is no less
egregious a law because of what appears to be a
decline in the passion," Madore said. "The passion is
still there, and people are still concerned about it."
Richard Maiman, a political science professor at
the University of Southern Maine, said a lack of
passion is understandable. The gay rights issue has
been debated to death since the first statewide campaign in
1998. For many, that train has left the station, he said.
"If we were having a referendum on gay marriage, there
would be passion, no question about it. But there's a
sense that this issue isn't where it was anymore. As
important as it is, it's yesterday's news. It's old
business," he said. (AP)