The crusade for gay marriage in America could suffer a stinging rebuke or score a historic victory, depending on how Maine voters cast their ballots in a deadlocked showdown that the polls show could go either way.
Traditional marriage proponents acknowledge that they're seriously outgunned. They say they can raise a fraction of the funds that are pouring into gay rights' coffers from liberal donors around the country.
Maine's vote on "Question 1" will mark the 31st time same-sex-marriage activists have tested U.S. voters on the issue of gay marriage. A victory by gay advocates would mark the first time the voters of any state supported a gay-marriage initiative.
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The struggle began in May, when Maine Gov. John Baldacci became only the second U.S. governor to sign a gay-marriage bill.
It took only 45 days after Baldacci's signature began to dry before Stand for Marriage Maine, the organization defending the state's traditional definition of marriage, submitted a petition with 100,000 signatures to suspend the law.
Now, with polls showing a virtual dead heat, the issue will go to the voters. Both sides are gearing up for a critical get-out-the-vote push that could be decisive.
"If they can win in Maine, it would be historic," warned Marc Mutty, chairman of the Stand for Marriage Maine campaign, in a recent fund-raising letter. "They will use a victory to attempt to convince the media that the mood of the nation has changed and that it is time for America to also abandon the God-created idea of marriage."
Protect Maine Equality, the organization pushing for a pro-gay marriage statute, has raised $4 million for its campaign, compared with just $2.6 million for Stand for Marriage Maine.
It is believed that more than $1 million of Stand for Marriage Maine's funds came from the National Organization of Marriage, a New Jersey-based nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving traditional marriage and faith-based communities.
"Unless we act now," National Organization for Marriage Executive Director Brian S. Brown recently wrote his members, "marriage will be redefined in Maine. . . If we lose marriage in Maine, we risk losing marriage everywhere."
Scott Fish, communications director for Stand for Marriage Maine, concedes that his group has been outgunned in advertising dollars.
"Yeah we've been outraised," Fish says, "and the other side had been planning for this well in advance. Still, it's a neck-and-neck campaign."
Fish adds: "This is not an anti-gay vote for us. This is their bill. We didn't create this bill. This wasn't our idea. The prime issue for us is this is a pending law that will redefine traditional marriage. That's the debate for us, that's the issue."
Stand for Marriage Maine lost one skirmish in court Wednesday. It hoped to avoid compliance with a Maine law requiring it to release the names of all of its contributors. In California, those lists were used to harass people who contributed to groups supporting traditional marriage.
U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby expressed concern that Maine's law could unduly burden First Amendment rights but decided not to issue a restraining order blocking officials' efforts to get the names.
Hornby's ruling: "Maine has a strong and even compelling interest in helping the electorate assess the particular issue on its merits by providing voters with information about where the money supporting a measure comes from and therefore whose interest it serves."
What impact that decision will have on the groups' fundraising leading up to the vote Tuesday remains to be seen.
On Wednesday, Gov. Baldacci attended a pro-gay marriage rally in Bangor.
"I think Maine people have recognized. . . that we are all unique people, we are all different," Baldacci said, according to the Bangor Daily News. "But we are all under the same Constitution and we all want to make sure there is equal protection for all citizens."
Baldacci's appearance came on the same day President Obama elevated the issue of gay and lesbian civil rights by signing the Matthew Shepard Act, which is named after a gay college student in Wyoming who was murdered 11 years ago. The act expands civil rights laws, making it a federal hate crime to attack people based on their sexual orientation.
The battle over Question 1 in Maine gives same-sex marriage advocates a chance to make a big comeback after their bitter defeat California, when voters passed Proposition 8 to change the state's constitution to specify that marriages are between a man and a woman. The Protect Maine Equality group campaigning for gay marriage did not immediately return a Newsmax request for comment late Wednesday afternoon.
Those assuming Maine will go the way of California could be in for a surprise, for two reasons.
First, because polls show African-Americans are strong supporters of traditional marriage, pollsters believe strong African-American turnout on behalf of then-candidate Barack Obama probably put Prop 8 over the top. Coattails won't be a factor.
Second, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which has a strong presence in California and provided social conservatives with a major source of both funds and volunteers, will have far less impact in Maine.
Still, social conservatives are heartened by the fact that the five polls taken by various organizations all show the electorate in Maine evenly divided on the question of gay marriage.
Richard D. Land, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, tells Newsmax the battle in Maine isn't as significant as the one in California. But it's still important, he says, and he's confident of the outcome.
"We're going to win in Maine," he tells Newsmax. "The pro marriage forces are being outspent considerably, maybe as much as 2-to-1. But the poll numbers look close, and we've outperformed our poll numbers in all of these elections. . . every single one."
Many pundits believe polls understate voters' support for traditional marriage, presumably because voters keep their views on gay marriage private.
Land says support for traditional marriage in Maine may be "six, seven, even eight points higher" than the polls indicate.
Neither side is taking the outcome for granted.
"We have every reason to think this will be a razor-thin election," Protect Maine Equality campaign manager Jesse Connolly told The New York Times recently.
Land says: "I'm sure their money is coming in from people like the Soros-type groups. But we were at a disadvantage monetarily in others states as well, and won.
"Now, one thing I do know," he added. "If the other side wins in Maine, The New York Times will make much more of it than it really deserves. And if they lose, they'll make much less of it than it really deserves. That you can take for granted."
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