People of Faith Stand Up for Marriage in Maine

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday September 14, 2009

Even as anti-gay religious organizations ramp up efforts to rescind legal rights for gay and lesbian families in Maine, the fight has been joined by people of who do not believe that same-sex couples should face different treatment under the law.

A Sept. 7 Associated Press story carried at EDGE reported that a Portland, Maine Catholic church was set to make an additional collection from parishoners in order to help pay for a campaign to convince voters to take away the rights of gay and lesbian families, Proposition 8-style, in the next election.

The funds from the additional collection were to be funneled to anti-gay group Stand for Marriage Maine, a leading organization in the drive to eradicate marriage equality in the state.

Marriage equality for gay and lesbian families was approved by state lawmakers last May.

The effort to convince voters to rescind the rights of their fellow citizens is playing out in a manner similar to last year's bitter and deeply divisive campaign to promote Proposition 8, the California voter initiative that consumed scores of millions of dollars, much of which was poured into the battle by two major marriage equality opponents: the Roman Catholic church and the Mormon church.

The Mormon church in particular drew scrutiny after the church's leadership instructed the faithful to support the anti-gay amendment with funds and by volunteering.

Mormon volunteers from across the country poured into California along with the millions raised from coast to coast by adherents of the faith. In the end, Proposition 8 was narrowly approved, marking the first time existing rights had been taken from a minority group through a ballot initiative.

Even as the Catholic church dedicated itself in Maine to a repeat of last year's blow to gay and lesbian families, money was pouring into Maine from the Mormon church and its membership.

An Aug. 18 article at EDGE recounted that much of the money being funneled into Stand for Marriage Maine has come from a handful of religious sources, including The Knights of Columbus and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), two major players in the California struggle last year.

The EDGE article said, "Most of the money raised came from the National Organization for Marriage ($160,000,) the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland ($100,000,) the Knights of Columbus, a national Catholic fraternal organization ($50,000,) and Focus on the Family's Maine Marriage Committee ($31,000.)

"Stand for Marriage Maine has hired the California political consulting firm Schubert Flint, which managed Prop. 8, to run the campaign," the EDGE article continued.

"Advocates working to repeal Prop. 8 have raised red flags about Stand for Marriage Maine's funding sources," the article went on.

"Californians Against Hate founder Fred Karger sent a letter to Maine election officials on Aug. 13 that warned of possible money laundering by the two religious denominations. He contends the Mormon Church is NOM's largest funding source."

The article quoted Karger as saying in a press release that NOM "sure looks like they are trying to hide the donors in their latest effort to strip away marriage equality."

The article noted that, "NOM's funding is a closely guarded secret, because it creates separate PACs in each state where it has launched campaigns against same-sex marriage laws.

"Karger has accused NOM of being a 'front' for the Mormon Church. He accused the church of creating NOM in 2007 just to qualify Prop. 8 for the California ballot."

Pro-marriage group No on 1 Protect Maine Equality has thrown itself into the fight, but does not have the financial wherewithal to match spending from the anti-marriage side, which in California blanketed the airwaves with ads claiming that small children would be forced to learn about same-sex marriage in school unless gays and lesbians lost equal family rights at the ballot box.

Even so, the marriage equality group expressed optimism about the fight ahead.

Jesse Connolly, the group's campaign manager, said that staff and volunteers had been "working hard night and day to try to defeat the campaign to repeal same-sex marriage."

Added Connolly, "We're really excited about the level of enthusiasm."

Connolly admitted, "We're expecting to be heavily outspent in this effort," but added that, "we're planning on spending the money we need to win this election."

Meantime, people of faith also stood up in defense of the right of gay and lesbian families to marry.

A Friday, Sept. 11 release from Protect Maine Equality reported that the group Catholics for Marriage Equality had spoken out on the issue of the extra collection at Catholic masses in Portland.

The group stated, "Catholics for Marriage Equality calls on its members and all Catholics who share our support for marriage equality to take two peaceful but effective actions in our parishes this Sunday so that the diocese will know it is not speaking for all faithful Catholics."

The group called on Catholics who reject discriminatory legal treatment for gay and lesbian families to contribute not money, but letters of support for gay families when the basket was passed for the additional collection.

"First, instead of money, we urge parishioners who support marriage equality to place a note in the special collection envelope stating that they do not support the bishop's stance to deprive same-sex couples of the right to civil marriage and will instead donate funds to NO on 1/Protect Maine Equality, which opposes Question 1, or to a charity that is inclusive of all families," the group said.

"Second, we ask supportive Catholics to sign our petition affirming that the Church can define marriage as it wishes for its members but that marriage as a civil right is the prerogative of the state to define," the group added.

The statement traced the origin and rationale for the group. "C4ME exists to give hope to those who are hurt and angry because of our bishop's determination to overturn the legislature's passage of marriage equality," the statement said.

"We will disseminate information that is truthful and respectful stating why marriage equality is a matter of civil rights and social justice that Catholics are free to support-indeed, may feel compelled to support as a matter of social conscience and responsible citizenship," the group continued.

A second release on the same day from Protect Maine Equality announced that another denomination, the Unitarian Univeralist church, had also stood up to the attempt to revoke fair and equal treatment before the law for gay and lesbian families.

The group released a statement jointly with the Unitarian Universalist Association's leader, the Rev. Peter Morales.

"The May 2009 passage of marriage equality legislation in Maine was a historic step towards justice for same-sex couples and their families," the statement declared.

"We owe tremendous thanks to the citizens of Maine, including many Unitarian Universalists, and to their elected officials who supported this legislation.

"But now marriage equality is in danger in Maine," the statement went on.

"I call upon supportive Mainers to reaffirm their commitment to fairness for all families by voting against repeal of the legislation recognizing same-sex marriage."

The Rev. Morales continued in the statement, "I know that Unitarian Universalists in Maine will continue to be at the forefront of the struggle for equality.

"Commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of every person is at the core of Unitarian Universalism, and Unitarian Universalists in Maine have a strong history of support for bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender (BGLT) rights.

"In 1996, the Unitarian Universalist Association called for full legal recognition for same-sex couples nationwide, and our faith community has advocated in support of marriage equality ever since," the Rev. Morales noted.

"We will continue this witness in Maine in the coming months."

Added the Rev. Morales, "Unitarian Universalists will stand on the side of love.

"I invite you to stand with us."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.