By Dennis Hoey
An organization that describes itself as the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights group is donating $1 million to organizations in Maine and three other states that have same-sex marriage measures on the November ballot.
The Human Rights Campaign, based in Washington, D.C., said the $1 million will be divided equally among same-sex marriage advocacy groups in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. That means Mainers United for Marriage will receive $250,000.
Supporters of same-sex marriage said those funds will be used to pay campaign workers and to buy ads that are expected to start showing up on radio and television after Labor Day.
"This is a tipping-point year in the fight for marriage equality that requires significant investment," Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said Sunday in a prepared statement. "We are committed to making sure this is the year that our opponents can no longer claim Americans will not support marriage equality at the ballot box."
Last month, Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers announced the final language for Maine's Nov. 6 ballot question: "Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?"
After the announcement, spokesmen for both sides praised Summers' decision, calling the language fair and easy to understand. They said the real war of words will take place in the months ahead as both sides try to win voters to their cause.
Opponents of same-sex marriage in Maine waged a successful campaign in 2009 to overturn a law that would have allowed same-sex unions. The final margin was 53 percent to 47 percent.
Same-sex marriage supporters said the tide of public opinion has begun to turn. The Human Rights Campaign cites a June 2012 poll by CNN that showed that support for marriage equality nationally stands at 54 percent.
David Farmer, a spokesman for Mainers United for Marriage, said polls in Maine have demonstrated similar margins.
"It's looking good so far, but we have a long way to go," Farmer said.
"The only poll that matters is going to happen on polling day," said Carroll Conley, executive director of Maine's Christian Civic League. Conley's organization opposes same-sex marriage.
Conley said he expects that same-sex marriage supporters will outspend their opponents -- Protect Marriage Maine -- but he is not worried about the money. Conley said people who support traditional marriage will continue to do so.
Voters in Maryland and Washington are being asked to affirm legislatively passed marriage equality laws. In Minnesota, voters will consider a constitutional amendment to ban gay and lesbian couples from marrying, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
"Bans on marriage for same-sex couples have sent the devastating message to young people that they cannot grow up to live their dreams and be full and equal citizens," Griffin said. "This is the year we will change that."
Bob Emrich, leader of the Protect Marriage Maine campaign, said it's "starting to look more and more like they will be flooding the state with money aimed at changing the definition of marriage."
Emrich said he expects more out-of-state money to be funneled to same-sex marriage proponents.
"It's not because they care about the people in Maine," Emrich said. "It's because they care about their movement. They desperately need a victory."
Farmer said 84 percent of the contributions received so far by Mainers United for Marriage have been $50 or less. More than 4,700 contributions have been made by Maine residents.
"It's a huge investment (the $250,000) at a time when we really need it to combat our opponents' negative tactics," said Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage,
Opponents of same-sex marriage have argued that the Maine ballot question represents an infringement on religious freedoms, forcing clergy to marry same-sex couples even if it goes against their personal beliefs, as well as exposing them to lawsuits.
McTighe said that claim is false.
The proposed law protects clergy or churches from being sued for refusing to perform a same-sex marriage.
"This investment will help us set the record straight," McTighe said of the $250,000 contribution.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: