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This November, it looks like marriage equality may once again surrender itself to the judgment of Maine’s voters. EqualityMaine has submitted more than 105,000 signatures to Secretary of State Charles E. Summers Jr. in support of a proposed ”freedom to marry” referendum.
The move comes two years after opponents voted to strike down a law that had made Maine the first state to pass marriage equality through its Legislature. Since then, organizations such as EqualityMaine and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) have engaged in pro-equality conversations and intensive field organizing, yielding results. With the percentage steadily increasing, recent statewide polling shows 54 percent of Mainers support allowing same-sex couples access to civil marriage.
”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,” says Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine. “Many Mainers have changed their minds and want a chance to bring equality and fairness to our state.”
The title of the proposed referendum is “An Act to Allow Marriage Licenses for Same-Sex Couples and Protect Religious Freedom.” Submitted to the secretary of state in June 2011, it reads: “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?”
In 2009, 16,500 voters successfully blocked marriage equality. Though supporters lost, the campaign netted thousands of new donors, a large base of volunteers, and a new set of strategic partners. Still, Maine is the only New England state that does not allow gay marriage or civil unions.
“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.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is taking another swing at the Garden State’s gay community, countering his recent judicial nomination of Bruce Harris, who could become the state’s first openly gay Supreme Court justice.
Related to his suggestion that marriage equality in the state should be put to a vote rather than be passed through the Legislature, Christie, is under fire after stating that people would have preferred that the 1960s civil rights movement have been put to a vote rather than have activists ”fighting and dying in the streets in the South.”
His remark came after a string of public appearances and comments aimed at clarifying his decision to veto any marriage-equality bill the Legislature might pass.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, on his MSNBC show PoliticsNation, suggested that Christie’s comment was made to subliminally express his true feelings. Sharpton cited a Gallup poll taken in January 1964 in which only 20 percent of Southern white voters approved of the Civil Rights Act. He further asserted that in October of that same year, 57 percent thought that racial integration was ”happening too fast.”
Reed Gusciora, a gay New Jersey assemblyman, also compared Christie to segregationist governors of the time.
Contemporary residents of New Jersey appear to be, however, far more progressive than their 1960s-era white Southern counterparts. A new poll released by Quinnipiac University reports that 52 percent of New Jersey voters believe that same-sex couples should have the right to marry, and 53 percent say that denying marriage rights constitutes discrimination.
And in an apparent attempt to apologize for his comment regarding the Civil Rights Movement, Christie took a stab at Gusciora, calling him ”numb nuts.”