AUGUSTA – Two men who led the fight against gay rights in Maine for years returned to the State House on Monday to denounce same-sex marriage in a much more aggressive tone than has been heard in this year’s campaign on a referendum that could make it legal.
Mike Heath, former executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, and Paul Madore, a Catholic activist from Lewiston, are part of a splinter group that formed to oppose Question 1, which asks voters if they want to allow the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The men are not affiliated with Protect Marriage Maine, the leading opponent of the gay-marriage proposal. They have formed the No Special Rights political action committee so they can spend money to influence the vote.
“Legalizing same-sex marriage is an opportunity to use the weight of the legal system to indoctrinate and force an acceptance of a lifestyle,” Madore said to about 40 people who gathered in the State House Hall of Flags.
Among their signs: “Pope Benedict: No! To Homosexual Marriage (He is smarter than Mr. Obama).”
In response, David Farmer, spokesman for Mainers United for Marriage, said Madore’s statement that the campaign is about a larger homosexual agenda is “ridiculous” and evidence of why Heath and Madore aren’t part of the formal campaign.
“Same-sex couples want to get married for reasons similar to why other people get married,” he said. “They are looking for stability and protection and the joy that comes from being married. What these folks are saying, that somehow our gay and lesbian friends and neighbors want something else, it’s ridiculous and offensive and it’s a good indication of why these people have been marginalized by their own allies.”
Just a week before the Nov. 6 election, both sides are shoring up support. On Wednesday, the alternative rock group fun. will perform in Portland for a fundraiser for the Yes on 1 campaign. On Thursday, a large group of gay-marriage supporters is expected to rally in Monument Square in Portland at 5:30 p.m., then go to Portland City Hall to vote early.
Heath and Madore were instrumental in campaigns in 1998, 2000 and 2005, when voters were asked to add gays and lesbians to the state’s anti-discrimination law. They gathered signatures, raised money and led passionate rallies where hundreds packed the steps of the State House to show their opposition to the expansion of gay rights.
In 2005, Mainers upheld a law passed by the Legislature to add gays and lesbians to the state’s list of classes protected from discrimination.
Madore said Monday that when he and Heath were in charge, they raised thousands of dollars in Maine to support the campaign. This year, he noted, most of the money to fight gay marriage is coming from the National Organization for Marriage, which has given more than $1 million of the $1.4 million raised by gay-marriage opponents in Maine this year.
“That shows a dismantling of the grass-roots network,” Madore said. “It shows a dismantling of the organizational skill that we had to lead a front against this kind of attack.”
This year, there has been little indication that Heath and Madore will have the influence or money to be a factor in the campaign. Their No Special Rights PAC has raised about $1,600.
In 2009, when voters repealed a gay-marriage law that legislators had passed, the opponents were led by Bob Emrich, a Baptist pastor in Plymouth, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Neither Heath nor Madore played any formal role, although they organized a news conference similar to Monday’s.
In April, Heath and Madore expressed frustration that they were once again not included in the group fighting gay marriage. Emrich, the National Organization for Marriage and the Christian Civic League, now led by Carroll Conley, are in charge of the campaign.
“In 2009, (Emrich) refused to work with Heath claiming that Heath couldn’t be trusted,” Heath and Madore said in a joint news release. “While we are eager to work with anyone who will fight sodomy based ‘marriage’ … we wonder why Rev. Emrich willfully excludes us.”
Conley said it’s not unusual to see changes in campaign staffing over time, but he acknowledged that he and Emrich wanted a less aggressive tone for this campaign.
On Monday, Madore, Heath and Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality talked for more than an hour about what they believe is a homosexual agenda that goes beyond the effort to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.
They said that anyone who disagrees with gay marriage will be called a bigot if it becomes legal, and said they worry that it will be not only taught, but encouraged, in schools.
That hasn’t been the message of the official No on 1 campaign.
“Typically, our focus has been a more narrow focus,” Conley said. “We focus on the definition of marriage and what the consequences would be.”
Conley replaced Heath in 2009 after Heath resigned from the Christian Civic League shortly before the vote on gay marriage. He said Heath and Madore deserve credit for their previous success in fighting gay rights, but the communications strategy has changed.
“It has to be done with respect and compassion,” Conley said. “Not everybody is as committed to that. Anybody that was going to be part of this team had to have our level of commitment to that.”
Staff Writer Susan Cover can be reached at 621-5643 or at: