March 11, 2010

Language f inalized for same-sex marriage veto

DENNIS HOEY

— By

Staff Writer

Maine's secretary of state consulted with a ninth-grade English teacher and a college political science professor, among others, to come up with the wording for a ballot question concerning same-sex marriage.

Both sides say that Matthew Dunlap got it right.

With the official language set, those seeking a people's veto of the same-sex marriage bill can begin collecting petition signatures to get the question on the November ballot.

Dunlap issued a statement Tuesday describing how the question will be worded. Dunlap normally doesn't publicize such matters, but said it was important to let all the parties know.

The question will read, ''Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?''

The bill includes those latter stipulations. A ''yes'' vote means you are opposed to same-sex marriage, and a ''no'' vote means you support the new law.

''We found it (the question) to be appropriate and straightforward,'' said Marc Mutty, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, a group opposed to gay marriage. ''I don't think we could have asked for anything better.''

Dunlap said he sought input from members of the state's volunteer Ballot Clarity Advisory Board before developing the language. Board members include a couple of college professors, English teachers and a town clerk. Dunlap has sole authority to develop people's veto questions, but in this case, he decided to use the panel as a sounding board.

''A lot of wordsmithing went into this question,'' Dunlap explained. ''We wanted to make sure that someone walking into the polls at the last minute, with no prior knowledge of the question, could understand what it meant.''

A bill to allow same-sex marriage was approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. John Baldacci on May 6. It will become law 90 days after the Legislature adjourns -- sometime in mid-June -- unless opponents can, in that time, secure the number of certified signatures needed (55,087) to put the question on the ballot.

Dunlap said he needs the people's veto petitions by early August if they expect him to have enough time to certify signatures for a November referendum. If they cannot file by early August, but are able to collect enough signatures, then the vote would be held in June 2010.

Mutty said more people would vote in November than in a special election in June. Of the August filing deadline, he said, ''It's going to be very challenging to meet that.''

Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, said her group has no problems with the way the ballot question has been framed. She said she hopes Mainers will not forget how and why the bill passed.

''We are confident that Maine people will vote to uphold this law, which grants equality to all Maine couples, and we are looking forward to continuing the conversation with Maine people about the importance of this law,'' Smith said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

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