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Maine Marriage: Following the Money


While Maine's fight over marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples may not rake in the combined $83 million that California's Prop. 8 battle did a year ago, the Roman Catholic Church is stepping up its role in funding the campaign to put the kibosh on marriage.

Even before Gov. John Baldacci signed the legislation into law in May, one of the most vocal opponents of the marriage equality bill had been the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which oversees the entire state as well as parishes in parts of Massachusetts.

Marc Mutty, a lobbyist for the diocese, worked to dissuade legislators from approving the bill. "Although the details are still being worked out at this time, we can say with certainty that the Portland Diocese will play a lead role in organizing this petition drive to bring the issue before voters," he wrote in a statement on May 7.

Meanwhile, as Catholic populations continue to decline throughout New England, at least five Maine churches are slated to close by January 2011: two churches in Lewiston, two in Biddeford, and one in Saco. The reason? Dwindling membership and lack of funds.

Still, the church has promised to financially back efforts to do away with same-sex marriage throughout the state.

The diocese alone has already committed $100,000 to defeating marriage equality in November. Proponents of the ballot measure spent $249,000 solely on gathering signatures to qualify the question for the ballot, according to Mark Sullivan, the communications director for the No on 1 campaign, which is fighting to keep same-sex marriage legal in the Pine Tree State.

Of course, it wouldn't be the first time the Catholic Church has stepped into political waters to fight same-sex marriage -- the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, donated $1 million to support Proposition 8 in California almost exactly a year ago. The church itself had donated $200,000 in support of California's 2008 ballot initiative to repeal marriage equality.

Proceeds are being funneled from the church to its state-sanctioned Ballot Question Committee, also named the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. According to Paul Lavin, assistant director of the Maine Ethics Commission, nonprofits like churches may set up such committees as long as they campaign for specific issues and not candidates. Other ballot question committees include Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders as well as Equality Maine.

Mutty, the church's lobbyist, insists that the money has not been gathered from parishioners' weekly collections, but instead from a donor who has funneled money to the church for "defending church dogma or policy."

Even with some backlash against the church's actions by Catholic followers, Mutty said they are prepared to spend the next three months "educating Catholics about this fundamental teaching of the church and societal implications," according to the Lewiston Sun Journal.

"There's no question that some would say that it's a shame we have to spend this kind of money on this kind of issue when we should be spending it on the poor or those kinds of things," he admitted.

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Michelle Garcia