Maine’s battle over a law legalizing gay marriage was hard-fought down to the wire, with the vote to repeal the law going back and forth throughout the night Tuesday. With 75 percent of the precincts reporting, the referendum to repeal the state’s same-sex marriage law was leading by 52.13 percent to 47.87 percent.
The Associated Press reported early Wednesday that gay-marriage opponents claimed victory. But gay-marriage supporters refused to concede, hoping for a last-minute surge of votes.
Turnout was heavy throughout Maine. Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap told The Associated Press that turnout was higher than what is usually expected for an off-year election. More than 100,000 people out of the state’s 1 million registered voters had cast absentee ballots as of Election Day.
In May, the state Legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. It was signed into law by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, and then put up for a voter referendum.
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Baldacci said he signed the law because he saw it as a question of fairness to same-sex couples.
The bitter battle pitted gay-rights activists from Maine and elsewhere across the nation against opponents who likewise saw the referendum’s national implications. The referendum’s approval deals a major setback to gay advocates who had hoped to see Maine become the first state to approve the redefinition of marriage by referendum.
Protect Maine Equality spent $4 million in its effort to defeat the referendum and collected donations from 20,000 donors, and the Human Rights Campaign was among its largest donors. On the pro-referendum side, Stand For Marriage Maine collected $2.5 million including $1.8 million from the National Organization for Marriage.
Referendum proponents argued that same-sex marriage would have to be taught as normal in public schools throughout the state, which state officials disputed.
Preceding the vote, Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, told the Washington Times that gay-rights supporters had hoped the referendum would show last year’s banning of same-sex marriage in California was “a fluke.”
According to CNN, the group Equality California assembled phone banks prior to the vote asking Maine voters to reject the referendum and preserve the law legalizing same-sex marriage.
California voters passed Proposition 8, which amended the state's constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage following the state supreme court’s decision to declare the state law limiting marriage to between a man and a woman unconstitutional.
New England currently is the most liberal in the nation where same-sex marriage is concerned, with Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire allowing it. Iowa joined the New England states last spring in allowing same-sex marriages after the state supreme court declared the law defining marriage as between one man and one woman unconstitutional.
The District of Columbia currently is considering legalizing it.
A similar measure in Washington state to repeal a law passed by the state legislature last spring that granted same-sex couples in state-registered domestic partnerships to have all of the rights of marriage without calling it such was losing as of press time.
Referendum 71 as it is known was approved by 51 percent to 49 percent according to the Washington Secretary of State’s office.
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