The decibel levels may have subsided since the referendum on same-sex marriage last November, but supporters and opponents signaled at separate rallies today that they are prepared to dial up the volume once again.
A coalition of same-sex marriage supporters held a press conference under the capitol rotunda this morning at 10:30, followed by a rally led by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) on the capitol lawn at noon.
Arrayed in red shirts, buttons, stickers, and other “Equality Maine” accoutrements, nearly 150 proponents of same-sex marriage cheered when Governor Baldacci made an unannounced appearance.
Governor Baldacci spoke approvingly of their efforts: “I’m so impressed with all of you. I know we came up a little bit short in the last election. But I think you did change a lot of minds and hearts.”
He galvanized the red sea of supporters. “I know what the future looks like, and I know that we’re going to have an opportunity to make sure that everybody will be able to enjoy marriage equally and without discrimination.”
The press conference featured speeches by a lesbian couple, a Bangor-based commercial real estate broker, and a Pastor from the First Congregational Church of South Portland.
Several supporters said they had very strong commitments to the same-sex marriage movement. Sheri Gould said: “I think it’s important that we are still fighting this battle. As a heterosexual person, the law doesn’t directly affect me, but it impacts my fellow human beings, and I have to fight for that.”
Betsy Parsons, another supporter, said that she attended the press conference to “claim my birthright as an American citizen, which includes equal rights, and the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those are not idle words to me. I believe it’s really important to stand for those rights.”
Steve Ryan said that NOM has every right to put forth their beliefs, but he questioned their motives. “NOM is on this kind of satanic crusade to prevent people from having equal rights. Their message of fear-mongering and hatred is anti-American, it’s mean-spirited, and it’s not going to work.”
Betsy Smith, Equality Maine’s Executive Director, said “while most families across the state are enjoying their summers together, the same organization that led the fight to ban gay marriage and lesbian couples is back again trying to scare Maine residents into thinking their families are under attack.”
“While not everyone may agree on the issue of marriage equality, we can all agree that discrimination and fear-mongering by the National Organization for Marriage or any other organization is wrong.”
In response to these allegations, Pastor Bob Emrich of Emmanuel Bible Church in Plymouth disagreed. “I think it’s ludicrous and insulting. The majority of the people of Maine were not deceived or fooled or frightened by the National Organization for Marriage. It’s political rhetoric. They should be ashamed. They know better.”
Brian Brown, Executive Director of the National Organization for Marriage, decided to kick-off his group’s 19-state tour in Maine because of the voter-led rejection of same-sex marriage at the ballot last November: “Where better to start than where Question 1 was passed?”
“We have to activate and energize our supporters throughout the country. The fact is that we have courts that are trying to re-define marriage in the entire country.”
Speaking to an audience of roughly 150 supporters who gathered on the capitol lawn, Pastor Emrich and Brown were joined by several other speakers for an hour-long rally.
“Something is terribly wrong,” Emrich said to intermittent clapping and ‘amens,’ “when we have to gather here in the middle of a park in the middle of the week to talk about how marriage is a union between a man and a woman. We should be building on that, not defending that. It’s too bad that we have to keep coming back to this issue again.”
Dan Scribner of Portland said he made the trek from Portland to “support traditional marriage.” In response to allegations of stoking fears, he said: “To simply say that defining marriage as it’s always been defined is fear-mongering is divorced from reality.”
Both sides of the debate may not agree on the definition of marriage, but they can agree on one thing: this November’s elections are crucial.
Betsy Smith said: “The Governor’s race is very important. When we go forward pro-actively, we would probably go through the Legislature. Such a measure would require the signature of the Governor, which is very important. You bet – we will be supporting a pro-marriage candidate for Governor.”
Bob Emrich agreed that the political arrangements in Augusta are vital. “People are tired of the Legislature doing these things that they perceive as extreme.” Emrich cited same-sex marriage as well as tax reform as measures approved by the Legislature but ultimately defeated by voters at the ballot.