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October, 15th 2009

Maine's coming vote on gay marriage: HRC insufficiently engaged?

– Liz Mair

Maine has a big gay marriage fight coming up with this year's election and the presence of Proposition 1 on the ballot, a bit like California did last year with Proposition 8. Back in September, opponents of gay marriage succeeded in garnering enough signatures to officially put the question "Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?" to Maine voters.  So, on November 3, folks in the Pine Tree State will be the latest to give a thumbs-up, or a thumbs-down, to gay marriage.

Gov. John Baldacci is on the record as supporting gay marriage in Maine.  Earlier this year, when it became apparent that Maine voters would get to decide the matter, he said “I fully support this legislation, and believe it guarantees that all Maine citizens are treated equally under our State’s civil marriage laws,” and that he was "confident that Maine voters will make the right decision on this important issue when they cast their ballots in the fall.”  Of course, a lot of people were confident that California would not pass Proposition 8, and look what happened-- hence my description of what is set to unfold as a fight.  Gay marriage is not, in my assessment, an issue that as many voters have as strong of opinions on as, say, abortion.  But for those who want their relationships, or those of their friends or loved ones, legally recognized where at one point, they were not, the issue is obviously both emotional and critical.  Likewise, for those who feel strongly enough to sign their names to get a "no gay marriage" proposition on the ballot, legal recognition of same-sex unions of any kind is, it's safe to say, a pretty big deal.  [intro]

The national implications are also important.  At present, including California (where some same-sex marriages continue to be legally recognized), 16 states, or about a third, currently recognize some form of same-sex union.  So, reversal of legal recognition of such unions at the federal level now arguably looks like a heavier lift than it did, say, three years ago. Still, though, opponents of gay marriage and civil unions continue to favor a Federal Marriage Amendment.  Meanwhile, few if any marriage proponents that I know have felt comfortable with disengaging, relaxing, or quieting down about the issue.  In addition to taking heat from DADT-repeal advocates like yours truly, President Obama continues to take heat from much of the gay community over his lack of action to nix DOMA.  And some perceived Democratic-allied gay groups have been taking some of that heat, too, for seeming too cuddly with the President and too willing to give him a pass, or looking insufficiently engaged on issues of great importance to the gay community.  That has been true at the national level, but it is also true at the local level, including with regard to the upcoming fight in Maine, where, it appears, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese hasn't been offering the personal contribution that some might have expected him to:

With Solmonese under renewed and escalating pressure this week to prove he an effective advocate for gay equality in Washington, I checked up on any donations he made to the No on 1 campaign to keep gay marriage in Maine.

FYI, according to Cindy Sullivan, spokesperson for the Maine Commission on Ethics and Election Practices, in response to my query about how current their donations' search engine is, "The information is available as soon as [the campaigns] 'file' their reports [...] The next report is due on October 13th, which will include all activity from 7/6/09-9/30/09."

So the data is very current, and here is what turns up when searching for contributions from the head of America's largest gay political group:
campaign to keep gay marriage in Maine.

Maine Won't Discriminate
10/17/2005
Solmonese, Joseph
Washington DC 20036
Cash $300.00

No hits were returned for any donations from him to No on 1. I guess with his $338,400 salary he's got better things to do with his money than give to No on 1. Maybe he doesn't follow the EMILY rule, early money is like yeast, and contribute in the first months of such gay proposition battle. Solmonese could be waiting till October to make a donation .

I certainly hope he is.  To be fair, I haven't donated (as yet) to the Proposition 1 campaign, either, though it does bear mentioning that a) I am neither the leader of arguably the most prominent gay rights group in the country nor b) a Mainer.  Also to be fair, it is worth mentioning that HRC has evidently put $95,000 into the HRC Maine Marriage PAC, which is a good thing.  The question should, however, be asked: Is it, and other donations to pro-marriage groups, going to prove to be enough?

Last time a gay marriage battle was fought via a ballot initiative-- yes, California-- the anti-gay-marriage side was noticeably well-funded, in a campaign that was garnering lots of attention because of the state it was being fought in: The big, liberal one, home to San Francisco and Hollywood, a reliably blue state on the "Left Coast."  It would be unreasonable to work on the presumption that anti-marriage groups won't play in Maine, with ample resources, this time, too.  Indeed, the National Organization for Marriage (the self-described largest contributor to the Proposition 8 effort in California last year) posted this item today encouraging its donors to donate "now" to Yes on 1/Stand for Marriage Maine.  You can bet they will have done so, too.

Let me be direct: Unless we act now, marriage will be redefined in Maine. Never before have voters had the chance to directly overturn the legislative enactment of same-sex marriage in any state in the country. If we lose marriage in Maine, we risk losing marriage everywhere.

I’m not asking you today for contributions for the National Organization for Marriage. NOM is dedicated to winning the marriage fight. Period. We don’t have a bloated staff or overhead. We were the largest contributor both to the Proposition 8 effort in California and to Stand for Marriage Maine. We put our money where our mouth is. But we have stretched ourselves as far as we can go.

It is now up to you to make the difference. We want your money to go where it is most useful in the fight. And right now, Yes on 1/Stand for Marriage Maine needs your support in a way that no state marriage group has needed it before.

I’m asking you to read the powerful e-mail below from my friend, Marc Mutty, chairman of Stand for Marriage Maine, and to think long and hard about what marriage is worth to you, your family, and your country—and then to give whatever you can today to Stand for Marriage Maine to protect this precious institution.

 Ultimately, Maine's political profile is such that it's entirely possible that the pro-gay-marriage side will win out (though it does bear noting that portions of the state, especially in the second district, are a lot more conservative than a lot of non-Mainers might guess, and so Maine's legislative approval of gay marriage being upheld is hardly a dead cert).  But if they don't, and Maine votes the way California did last year, I suspect there are going to be some activists in New England who are more than a tad peeved at Solmonese and HRC.  With just about three weeks until the election, it may be time for supporters of gay marriage to start living by the motto "better safe than sorry."

(Note: I emailed HRC regarding Solmonese's personal donations relevant to Proposition 1, but have not heard back as yet.  If and when I do, I will update this with any comment provided).

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