March 10, 2010

Freedom to Marry touts pledge cards, gets name change

BETH QUIMBY

— By

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — A coalition fighting a move to repeal the state's gay-marriage law says it has collected more than 60,000 pledge cards of support from Maine residents.

Maine Freedom to Marry organizers announced at a noon rally Thursday at Portland City Hall that more than 400 volunteers had collected the cards from across the state. The announcement came a day before opponents are scheduled to deliver signatures to Augusta to put the issue of gay marriage on the November ballot.

The rally was the latest development in a campaign that is expected to be highly emotional and very expensive. By mid-July, the coalition of opponents of gay marriage, the Stand for Maine Marriage political action committee, had raised more than $343,000, while those fighting the repeal had taken in $138,640 in contributions.

The Legislature legalized gay marriage in May, making Maine the fifth state in the country to do so. An April poll concluded that Maine voters were closely divided on gay marriage, with slightly more opposed.

Gay-marriage proponents at the rally said they had collected the pledge cards during the past year. Jesse Connolly, campaign manager, said volunteers will collect even more this summer.

''We are the local grassroots campaign,'' Connolly said.

Stand for Maine Marriage, which includes the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and other groups, says it has collected way more than the required 55,000 signatures to allow Maine voters to decide whether to reject the new law in a people's veto.

The group declined to reveal the final signature tally until today, when it will deliver them for certification to the secretary of state.

Marc Mutty, chairman of Stand for Maine Marriage, said the number of signatures collected by gay-marriage opponents is more than enough to get the repeal on the ballot. Responding to the opposition's criticism that his coalition is running a campaign staffed and financed by out-of-staters, Mutty defended his group's signature-gathering effort.

''The majority were collected by volunteers,'' he said.

At the rally, Connolly announced that Maine Freedom to Marry had legally changed its name to No on 1/ Protect Maine Equality. Mark Sullivan, a spokesman for the campaign, said the name change is designed to make it clear that a ''no'' vote on the referendum question in November would retain the gay-marriage law.

''We want people to be absolutely clear what they are voting about,'' Sullivan said.

The law was scheduled to take effect Sept. 12, but it will be placed on hold until after the November referendum if the signatures collected by opponents are validated by Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com

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