AUGUSTA – The group that donated nearly $2 million to help repeal same-sex marriage in Maine last year returned Wednesday to start its “Summer for Marriage” tour of states where the issue remains contentious.

The National Organization for Marriage held a 50-minute rally in Augusta’s Capitol Park, where speakers urged supporters to be aware of court cases and legislative action in other states, and to stay active in Maine.

“We must understand that the enemy will never accept defeat in their effort to destroy the family as God designed,” said Charla Bansley, Maine state director of Concerned Women for America. “Let’s be spiritually prepared for the long haul, but realize the battle belongs to the Lord.”

The National Organization for Marriage will take its bus tour to 17 states, including New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey, before ending it Aug. 15 in Washington, D.C.

The organization’s executive director, Brian Brown, said he was proud to have been a key part of the Question 1 campaign last fall, when 53 percent of voters in a statewide referendum repealed the same-sex marriage law that the Legislature and the governor had approved.

Even though voters weighed in, he said, there will be more attempts by gay-marriage supporters to bring it forward.

“There are still attempts throughout our country to say, ‘Your vote doesn’t matter,’ ” he said. “‘Your civil right to stand up for something as simple as the definition of marriage doesn’t count.’ “

The rally, which drew about 100 people on a sweltering day, prompted supporters of same-sex marriage to organize their own event at the State House.

EqualityMaine and other groups held a news conference in the Hall of Flags to talk about why they will continue to fight for same-sex marriage.

Gov. John Baldacci, who signed the marriage bill into law in May 2009, made a surprise appearance at the news conference, prompting the crowd to cheer when he rounded the corner from his office.

“I know we came up a little bit short in the last election, but I think you really did change a lot of minds and hearts,” he said.

In the days leading up to the bill’s signing, there was doubt about whether Baldacci would support the law.

He previously had supported civil unions instead of marriage rights.

On Wednesday, it was clear that he has become a strong proponent of same-sex marriage.

“It was one of the most passionate, committed causes that I’ve been a part of, and proud to be a part of,” he said. “I know what the future looks like, and I know that we’re going to have an opportunity to make sure that everybody will be able to enjoy that equally and without discrimination.”

Although gay-marriage supporters in Maine say they don’t have a time line to bring the issue back before the Legislature, it continues to be a hot topic in California and Massachusetts.

Californians are waiting for a ruling by a federal judge on Proposition 8, a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage that is being challenged as unconstitutional. Regardless of how the judge rules, the case is expected to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last week in Massachusetts, a federal judge ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited same-sex couples who are legally wed in their respective states from qualifying for the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.

For gay and lesbian couples in Maine, November’s defeat continues to be painful.

Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, said she didn’t know what to say to her 7-year-old son when he asked what had happened on Election Day.

“I couldn’t find the words to answer his question, because I knew the answer was going to hurt,” she said. “When I finally shook my head and said, ‘I’m sorry sweetheart, we lost the campaign,’ he couldn’t comprehend it.”

She accused the National Organization for Marriage of using “fear mongering” to win the election.

“That’s exactly why they are back in Maine today,” she said. “To scare Mainers into thinking their families are under attack by families like mine.”

Bob Emrich, who helped lead the repeal effort in Maine, told the crowd in Capitol Park that voters clearly said they didn’t want to change the definition of marriage.

“I’m asking you to continue to stand strong,” he said. “Be ready. Be watchful. We cannot let legislators, governors or activist judges and radical politicians destroy this age-old institution.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: scover@centralmaine.com