Bay Area LGBTs pitch in to help Maine in marriage fight

by Seth Hemmelgarn
Monday Aug 17, 2009

As same-sex couples in Maine face the prospect of losing marriage equality, some volunteers in California are coming to their aid.

In May, Maine became the fifth state to legalize same-sex marriage. But a proposed "people's veto" vote in November could result in the law's undoing.

Julie Flynn, Maine's deputy secretary of state, said that the veto's backers claimed to have submitted 100,000 petition signatures. That's almost twice the number needed for the proposal, Question 1, to appear on the state's November 3 ballot. Flynn said her office is just beginning the process of verifying signatures.

In Silicon Valley, some volunteers are already working to help defeat the proposed veto.

Greg Belaus, 43, who lives in Santa Clara and married Mark Hatfield last year, said that over three phone banks, Silicon Valley callers have made almost 1,000 calls altogether and had 300 conversations. So far, they've been contacting people in Oxford County, Maine, which he said is a fairly conservative and older area of the state.

Marriage Equality Silicon Valley and the Santa Clara County chapter of the Courage Campaign have organized the phone banking. Belaus said that from five to 10 people have been involved in each of the phone banks, which are open to anyone.

The goal is to call registered voters, ask them about same-sex marriage, and rate their support for further targeted action from the No on 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign, said Belaus.

The plan is to continue to do the phone banking, which have been run from homes in Santa Clara and Mountain View, on a weekly basis.

Belaus said that phone bankers don't mention that they're calling from California. He said that they say they're from the No on 1 campaign. If asked, they're supposed to say where they're calling from, but "I personally have not been asked that question."

He noted that people in Maine are also phone banking.

There has been some discussion in the community about whether it's better to push for repeal of California's Prop 8 or help people who are fighting urgent battles in other states.

Belaus said people should do what they're passionate about, "and not cast aspersions on folks who are doing something different."

Belaus said that volunteers from Silicon Valley came up with the idea of phone banking for Maine, and that the campaign in that state provided the lists of people to call.

With all the discussion of whether to try to repeal Prop 8 in 2010 or 2012, a number of people were saying "there's something more pressing," said Belaus.

He said that he and Hatfield want everyone else to have the same opportunities that they were given in California - "albeit for a short time."

Belaus also said securing marriage equality in Maine and other states "will have a trickle down effect into society accepting the LGBT community as a whole."

Schubert Flint Public Affairs, which ran the Yes on 8 campaign last year and has been credited with its success to pass Prop 8 has been hired by marriage equality opponents in Maine to run that campaign.

The view from Maine

Mark Sullivan, communications director for No on 1/Protect Maine Equality, said marriage equality supporters had anticipated a veto effort even before the marriage equality law cleared the state Legislature. He said they’re operating under the assumption that marriage equality opponents will have the 55,087 valid signatures they need.

But Sullivan sounded hopeful, saying Maine is a diverse state where people "do appreciate what’s at stake in this election."

"The opponents of marriage equality boast about how they’ve never lost a referendum," said Sullivan. "... Because of the support we have among the people of Maine, we really feel that we have a chance to break the streak and actually defeat Question 1."

Sullivan called the California phone bankers’ efforts "awesome."

"Ours is very much an effort that’s about people reaching out to people on a volunteer basis more than anything else," he said.

Stand for Marriage Maine, which is working against marriage equality, did not provide comment.

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