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Marriage Equality

For Maine, The Time is Now


Despite the dead-heat race in the polls, marriage equality supporters canvassing across the Pine Tree State this weekend are aiming to make history. If the votes go their way on November 3, Maine will be the first state to defeat a state ballot measure attempting to repeal same-sex marriage rights.

"It will happen," No on 1 volunteer Carla Hopkins told The Advocate. She and her partner of nine years, Victoria Eleftheriou, took their fight public when they were asked to help introduce the same-sex marriage bill, LD 1020, to the state legislature in January -- a scary prospect at first, she says, but a step they ultimately took for their son, Eli.

"When Eli grows up, we want him to know that we fought for our family."

Now, nearly a year later, she's still fighting, along with countless other volunteers -- and their work seems to have paid off. The No on 1 campaign has raked in more than $4 million and 22,000 donations, according to financial records released last Friday. That's nearly double the $2.5 million raised by marriage equality opponents -- $1.5 million of which was donated by the National Organization for Marriage.

"After the loss in California, supporters of marriage equality see Maine as an important step," said Jesse Connolly, campaign manager for the No on 1 team. "People are stepping up and showing their support, both here in Maine and across the country."

Mark Sullivan, spokesman for Protect Maine Equality, said the main difference between the marriage campaigns in Maine and California is how grassroots and grounded the pro-equality side is in Maine. But some things are the same -- like Frank Schubert, the Sacramento-based political strategist behind the win for California's Proposition 8, which revoked marriage equality. He is working with Stand for Marriage Maine to stop same-sex marriage in the state.

Sullivan says their efforts are a carbon copy of what was seen in California -- same signs, same commercials, and the same outside influences.

The No on 1 team is keeping it real, he said.

"Our entire leadership here is Maine people," Sullivan said. "These are Maine people crafting and shaping the campaign. We've been very focused ... and doing whatever we can to reach out to the Maine people."

MaryBeth Luce is one of those who is reaching out, with the help of her sister Jamee Luce of Augusta. They were both raised on Shady Maple Deer Farm in Starks, Maine, and are both unequivocally voting no on Question 1. MaryBeth is straight and married with two young children. Her sister is a lesbian and lives with her partner of eight years.

They say they worry most about the small towns in Maine that often breed discrimination and fear of the unknown -- including in their own family. Jamee said she was scared to come out to her father, whom she describes as the quintessence small-town Mainer.

"He follows the true Mainer way. He lives about 10 miles away from where he grew up ... and he's not been exposed to a lot of diversity, He sees no reason to travel."

Their mother is a staunch Catholic.

"I think she's voting no because I asked her to," Jamee said. "This pushes the envelope for most people to the core ... I know it does for her too."

Overall, the Luce sisters believe that there has never been a better place to fight for marriage equality.

"The progressive essence of Maine is to live and let live," MaryBeth said. "That's what Maine is all about."

"Politically we tend to surprise people," Jamee said. "Maine elected two Republican women to represent us in the Senate. We're not a Republican state, but people just love them. I don't think you can bottleneck us into any one category."

According to a Public Policy Poll taken this month, 74% of Maine's registered Republicans plan to vote yes on 1, repealing marriage equality, as well as 25% of Democrats. This shows that that independent voters may become the deciding factor on the issue.

As a mother, MaryBeth cringes regarding the lack of culture and tolerance she grew up with in Maine. She said she hopes her two children can grow up in a different kind of Maine -- one that accepts having two aunts in the family is just as normal as an aunt and uncle.

"They have a model relationship. They love each other and they respect each other so much," she said. "They've been together longer than [my husband] and I. That's the hypocrisy of it all."

The vital weeks before the election have lit a fire under the No on 1 effort. The state's two largest daily newspapers recently endorsed the No on 1 campaign, boosting more talk of history being made in the small New England state. The state attorney general, Janet Mills, also released a report asserting that education would not be affected by the new same-sex marriage law -- the main argument of antiequality television and radio ads.

Hopkins said it's time for children and adults alike to learn to value all families.

"Families like ours have been in the schools -- we're there. We are still going to exist no matter what," Hopkins said. "There are all kinds of families and we're just another kind."

Hopkins said she feels very accepted in her community, especially during the campaign. Oftentimes in a room of 25 volunteers, only a few of them are gay or lesbian, she said.

"Our straight allies are stepping up to help us, and I couldn't be more grateful," Hopkins said. "We just want this so much. It will mean that the people of this state value our family as much as any other family."

Connolly is not able to think past November 3.

"We are so focused on this election and unable to think of anything else but getting people to vote," Connolly said. "We know this is going to be a razor-thin election, and we are doing everything we can. ... It's win, lose, or draw."

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