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Prop 8 déjà vu in Maine
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Prop 8 déjà vu in Maine

by Rex Wockner - SGN Contributing Writer

Maine voters will decide November 3 whether to veto a law passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor that legalized same-sex marriage. The law has not yet taken effect pending the outcome of the election.

The TV ad war got underway September 15, and it looks and smells like the Proposition 8 ad war last year in California. Some analysts believe Gays lost marriage in California because the No on 8 campaign lost the TV ad war.

In one Maine ad, the anti-Gay side even uses the same video it used in California of a horrified straight couple whose second-grader apparently learned about same-sex marriage at school in Massachusetts.

The anti-Gay side's first ad said: "Special-interest groups got the Legislature to approve homosexual marriage and tried to prevent Mainers from voting. But Question 1 gives us our vote. Unless Question 1 passes, there will be real consequences for Mainers. Legal experts predict a flood of lawsuits against individuals, small businesses and religious groups. Church organizations could lose their tax exemption. Homosexual marriage taught in public schools, whether parents like it or not."

The anti-Gay side's second ad said: "Opponents of Question 1 say that legalizing homosexual marriage has nothing to do with schools. But it has everything to do with schools. 'After Massachusetts legalized Gay marriage, our son came home and told us the school taught him that boys can marry other boys. He's in second grade! We tried to stop public schools from teaching children about Gay marriage, but the courts said we had no right to object or pull him out of class.' It's already happened in Massachusetts. Vote yes on Question 1 to prevent homosexual marriage from being taught in Maine schools."

The Gay side in Maine - called NO on 1/Protect Maine Equality - has aired two response ads. The first one said: "Schools should be safe havens where children can learn and be accepted. In Maine, we protect all families, and we all want to keep our children safe. That's the Maine way. But outsiders are trying to harm our kids in schools by deceiving families about what's taught in Maine classrooms. It won't work, because in Maine all families put children first. 'I've been teaching in Maine schools since 1983. We teach respect and Maine values. That will never change.' Vote no on 1 to protect Maine equality."

The second response ad, released September 25, says: "In Maine, we're proud of every family and every child, regardless of who their parents are. That's the Maine way. But outsiders are trying to harm our kids and make them feel ashamed by making false claims about what's taught in Maine classrooms. They're baseless, untrue. It won't work. 'Schools should be safe havens for children, places where all children feel welcome, accepted and safe.' Vote no on 1 to protect marriage equality."

If the shocking language of the "yes" side sounds familiar, and the mild language of the "no" side sounds familiar, it should. It happened before. In California.

"The religious right is targeting marriage equality in Maine with big money and false attacks, virtually identical to the fearmongering strategies in 2008's Proposition 8 campaign in California," said People for the American Way.

Said writer Andrew Sullivan: "The anti-Gay forces are pounding Maine with exactly the same scare tactics that worked in California. Most of the pro-Gay ads are as lame as they were in California as well."

Indeed, some activists are concerned that NO on 1/Protect Maine Equality is on a path to repeat the failed No on 8 campaign in California. Blogger Phillip Minton (unitethefight.org) summarized the concern September 17.

"We knew [from the Prop 8 battle in California] what the opposition was going to say [in Maine]," Minton wrote. "Shouldn't we have had an ad on the air already addressing these specific concerns before the Yes on 1 opened their lying mouths? ... We need to kill their arguments before they even voice them. We need to tell Mainers: 'You're going to hear that marriage is going to be taught in schools, but you have the power to decide that yourself in your districts. You're going to hear that your church is going to be sued, but you already have protections in place by law. The other side is going to try and confuse this issue, to state things that are not in the law. They want to mislead you. They will lie to you. This is not about curriculum, not about religion. What this is about is civil marriage for all. It's about protecting families. It's about being fair.' But that's just a start. It's got to hit harder. Expose the lies as lies."

NO on 1/Protect Maine Equality Campaign Manager Jesse Connolly doesn't seem worried, however.

Writing at Daily Kos on September 18, he said: "We feel confident that we have the right strategy, and we're running a Maine-based campaign. We have organized an unprecedented grassroots effort with organizers on the ground in every county, on every college campus, in towns and cities across Maine and reaching out to Maine people from Kittery to Fort Kent. Our campaign emphasizes Mainers talking to their friends, neighbors, coworkers and families to build the support we need to win on November 3rd."

If that sounds familiar, it should. That's how Harvey Milk and friends beat Proposition 6 in California in 1978. Prop 6 would have banned Gays from teaching school.

But in the intervening 30 years, the anti-Gay side has honed its rhetoric to near-perfect pitch. GLBT Californians watching the Maine campaign have a distinct feeling of déjà vu - if not one of dread.

Same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont. There also are 18,000 married same-sex couples in California, though voters have banned any more same-sex marriages. Same-sex marriage becomes legal in New Hampshire in January.

With assistance from Bill Kelley

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