Marriage in Maine
The effort to win marriage equality in Maine began in early 2006, not long after winning non-discrimination protections for LGBT people. While the non-discrimination law, passed by the Legislature and upheld by voters in 2005, provided important protections for LGBT individuals, it did not provide protections for LGBT families.
In January 2006, EqualityMaine and GLAD drafted a 3-5 year strategic plan to win equality for LGBT families in Maine. We convened a marriage roundtable that included Maine Civil Liberties Union, Maine Women’s Lobby, Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence, NAACP, and Christians for Justice. We met monthly for purpose of carrying out a coordinated plan for education and advocacy in support of marriage equality.
In June 2006 we officially launched our Public Education Initiative, with a goal of building broad support for the freedom to marry. Highlights from our 3-year Public Education Initiative include:
- Educational print piece featuring two Maine LGBT families—distributed over 15,000 through mailings, canvasses, and events
- DVD featuring three Maine LGBT families—shown to over 100 diverse audiences with follow-up panel discussions, distributed over 2,500 DVDs
- Storybook Project—identified 50 LGBT couples/families to share their stories with the media and policy makers
- Constituent Meetings—held 65 “living room” meetings to educate policy makers on why marriage matters
- Feature Stories—generated 20 feature stories on LGBT families in Maine newspapers and TV
- Earned Media—generated 25 supportive editorials & over 150 letters-to-the-editor in Maine newspapers
- Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry—begun in 2007 and launched publicly in November 2008, the Coalition grew to over 200 faith clergy from 18 denominations.
All of this work ramped up significantly over the three years, culminating on Election Day 2008, when we identified over 33,000 supportive marriage voters at the polls. Our goal was to identify 10,000 voters, which would have been the largest single day action in EqualityMaine’s history. By Election Day, we had volunteers at 86 polls in 12 counties across Maine. Moreover, these polls were strategically chosen to be in legislative districts where we needed to build constituent support for marriage equality—the vast majority being in rural and conservative towns.
In preparation for Election Day, we distributed 20,000 blank postcards to our volunteers around the state. Polls opened at 8am and around 10am we began receiving frantic calls from our volunteers, who were already running out of postcards. After waiting in line an hour to vote, people were waiting in line to sign our postcards. We scrambled to print and deliver thousands more postcards across the state. As the postcards ran out, voters began signing scraps of paper, jotting their names and addresses down on anything they could find. By 1pm, we surpassed our goal of 10,000. By the end of the night, we had collected 33,190 postcards.
In December 2008, we made the formal decision to go forward with a marriage bill in 2009.
Senator Dennis Damon (D-Hancock County) agreed to sponsor the bill and on January 13, 2009, we launched our campaign to win marriage equality in Maine, on the day he introduced the bill at the State House.
From the beginning we understood that our best chance for winning marriage was through the legislature and that once we passed a bill, we would have to defend it at the polls. So we ran a legislative campaign while simultaneously laying the groundwork for a referendum campaign.
During the legislative campaign we identified 50,000 supportive voters through an aggressive field effort that had volunteers in target legislative districts talking one-on-one with voters at their door and over the phone. Once identified, we mobilized supporters to contact their legislators through phone calls, emails and handwritten letters. We also conducted more than 30 in-district meetings, where we trained groups of constituents to meet face-to-face with their legislator to talk about why marriage matters. Finally, we collected more than 100,000 postcards—signed by constituents—and delivered them to legislators in the final weeks leading up to the vote.
Supplementing this grassroots effort, we mobilized opinion leaders inside and outside the state to talk with target legislators and reinforce the campaign’s messages. We also developed a comprehensive earned media campaign that culminated in a public hearing that drew nearly 4,000 people and resulted in widespread news coverage in support of the marriage bill. Four of the five daily papers editorialized in our favor. As part of our media campaign we also produced three videos, which proved to be useful tools in galvanizing our base and reinforcing messages delivered to undecided legislators by the grassroots and grasstops.
We surpassed every goal we set for ourselves in the legislative campaign:
- Our goal was to secure 50 co-sponsors for the bill—we secured 64 (1/3 of the legislature)
- Our goal was to outnumber our opponents at the Public Hearing by 2-1—we outnumbered them 4-1
- Judiciary Committee vote (first vote ever taken on marriage in Maine)—we needed 7 votes, we got 11
- Senate vote—we needed 18, we got 21
- House vote—we needed 76, we got 89
On May 6, 2009 Maine became the first state in the country to pass a marriage bill through its Legislature and have it signed by its Governor. Veteran political experts called our campaign the “best, most well-executed legislative campaign in Maine’s history.”
Within days of this victory, the opposition announced they would pursue a People’s Veto referendum campaign—modeled after California’s Prop 8—to take away the right of same-sex couples in Maine to marry. Maine became ground zero in the national fight for marriage equality.
In June 2009 EqualityMaine and its coalition partners hired Jesse Connolly (who ran Maine Won’t Discriminate in 2005) to run the referendum campaign to uphold Maine’s new marriage law. In July we named the campaign Protect Maine Equality.
Protect Maine Equality partnered with top-notch consultants to help steer the campaign, including Anna Greenberg from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (polling), Mark Squier and Tom Ochs from McMahon Squier Associates (TV and radio), Amy Pritchard from Mission Control (direct mail), and communications consultant Mary Breslauer.
The communications teams had a huge challenge on its hand when our opponents began attacking us on school curriculum—claiming that if the law was upheld, gay marriage would be taught in school. We had anticipated this attack (from California) and met the challenge head on by arguing, in several instances, that children should not be made to feel ashamed of their families, regardless of who their parents were. Also, Mainers pride themselves on local control and while the opponent’s ads created some doubt about whether marriage would be taught in school, we succeeded in making the case that school curriculum is decided at the local level.
While one part of the campaign was working hard on communications (TV, radio, and earned media) another part of the campaign was working hard on the ground. We began building our field team in January, at the beginning of the legislative campaign, and by September the field team had grown to 15 full-time staff and over 100 active volunteers. We understood from the beginning that we would be successful in upholding the marriage law only if we were able to identify our supporters and then get them out to vote. Heading into October we had identified 100,000 supportive voters.
Throughout October we had hundreds of Volunteer Vacationers from around the country, people who paid their way to come to Maine to work on this historic campaign, because they were deeply committed to winning marriage equality for all LGBT couples. They canvassed, phonebanked, did data entry, recruited volunteers and spoke to voters about the importance of marriage equality.
On Election Day we began with a GOTV (got-out-the-vote) universe of 270,000 voters, in an election we estimated would take 275,000 votes to win. Turnout was much greater than anyone predicted and in fact, it was a 40-year high of nearly 60% in an off-year election. While we originally thought high turnout would benefit us, in the end it didn't.
We turned out nearly 100% of our GOTV universe — 268,000 of 270,000 voters. It was not enough to balance the aggressive lobbying of the Roman Catholic Diocese, who heavily pressured their parishioners to vote Yes on 1. Had we turned out the full 275,000 voters, we still would have fallen short. The results of the election were:
YES = 299,808 = 52.8%
NO = 267,785 = 47.2%
The work done in 2009, and before, allowed us to identify 267,784 supporters, laying the groundwork for a future marriage equality campaign. We will continue to educate and identify supporters with the help of our volunteer leaders and their teams in towns, places of worship, and campuses statewide, who are poised to continue the critical work of having conversations about marriage equality with people in their communities. We know now that we will need an estimated 325,000 marriage equality supporters. Thus, we need to identify an additional 60,000 supportive Mainers to win marriage in the future. In order for us to do that, we all need continue talking about the importance of marriage equality. Identifying 60,000 voters will not be easy. We need to reach out to people in every city, town, and unorganized territory, in grocery stores, churches and town halls. It is through personal one-one-one conversations that we will change the hearts and minds of those who were unsure about marriage in 2009.