Saturday night I attended the EqualityMaine Annual Awards Dinner in Portland where they announced today’s launch of this year’s marriage campaign, Mainers United for Marriage (you can follow on Twitter and Facebook). The campaign will be managed by Matt McTighe, GLAD’s Director of Public Education for Maine, and the former Political Director for MassEquality.
On a call with bloggers on Monday night, McTighe pointed to the existing volunteer base across the state, over 50,000 one-on-one conversations (with more than 110,000 door knocks and more than 90,000 phone calls placed), and several recent polls putting the support for marriage equality at 54% in Maine as a strong starting point for the campaign. Additionally, supporters on the ground have already run six ads in several rural counties which listed the names of supporters in those towns.
The campaign seems to have a strong start in terms of public support, but there is a lot to be done in the coming months to build on the 54% support through personal conversations with supporters. While voter turnout will be higher (and younger) in a presidential election year, there is a lot of work to be done, and opponents have already started to organize.
One awardee at the dinner on Saturday was Michael Gray, the pastor of the Old Orchard Beach United Methodist Church, who was recognized at the dinner with the Faith in Action Award. Watch Gray’s speech below from the press conference where more than 105,000 signatures (over 10% of voters in Maine) were submitted to put marriage back on the ballot. Stories like his, and even the names of supporters in rural county newspapers, are seen as key to reaching and persuading voters to come around to support marriage this time around.
It comes down to this: People don’t like to change their minds because it’s uncomfortable to admit they were wrong – especially on something as significant as denying equal rights to LGBT people. These stories of people “like me” who have changed their minds are an important tool to get potential supporters over the mental hurdle of changing their mind on an issue that is this big. It’s a way of providing cover and making it easier for people to change their minds.
Some will read this and say that our rights should never be put to popular vote, which I agree with in principle. The reality in Maine, however, is that the public will get to vote on this one way or another. Marriage equality would not have passed the republican controlled legislature, and no way that Governor LePage would have signed the bill. Even suspending the reality of those two barriers, the “people’s veto” would mean that voters would once again see this on the ballot (as they did when the legislature and Governor Baldacci passed it). This campaign is a chance to bring the question to voters on our terms and with time to organize and continue the on the ground work that the supporters and staff started in 2009 (and haven’t stopped). This is the only path in the near future for Mainers to see marriage equality.