November 25, 2012

Pro-gay-marriage ad targets decision makers

The TV spot, produced by a Portland firm, will air Sunday in New York, Los Angeles and Washington.

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA - A new pro-gay-marriage television advertisement was to begin airing Sunday in key markets around the United States as the country's largest gay and lesbian rights organization looks to build on momentum gained in Maine and two other states where voters approved same-sex marriage this month.

The Human Rights Campaign hired Portland-based company Chi/Donahoe+Cole/Duffey to produce the 30-second spot, which features the voice of actor Morgan Freeman and depicts images of past civil rights battles such as women's suffrage and racial equality.

"It's really to capture the momentum of the incredible victories we had at the ballot box a few weeks ago," said Human Rights Campaign spokesman Fred Sainz. "As Morgan Freeman says, there's still a journey ahead of us."

The advertisement -- which will air in Washington, D.C., New York and Los Angeles -- is designed to influence decision makers, not voters, he said. While the group wants to build on success in Maine, Maryland and Washington, all of which approved gay-marriage ballot questions Nov. 6, it also casts an eye to the future, with the U.S. Supreme Court set to begin consideration of a challenge to the Federal Defense of Marriage Act and other gay-marriage-related lawsuits Nov. 30.

Also, state legislative battles are expected early next year in Rhode Island, Delaware, Illinois, Hawaii and Minnesota, where voters rejected a state-level constitutional ban on gay marriage this month.

While the Human Rights Campaign is touting recent success, it's clear the movement has a long way to go. Even with this month's votes, only nine states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry. State constitutional bans are in place in 31 states, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act prevents all gay couples -- even those living in states that allow same-sex marriage -- from receiving any federal benefits granted to opposite-sex married couples.

Opponents say they plan to renew efforts to fight the expansion of gay marriage and that they will keep an eye on how things play out in Maine after gay couples begin marrying, which is likely to be sometime in January.

The day after the Nov. 6 election, Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, sent out a statement calling the results a "setback" but not a true reflection of where voters stand on the issue.

"Our opponents and some in the media will attempt to portray the election results as a changing point in how Americans view gay marriage, but that is not the case," he said. "Americans remain strongly in favor of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The election results reflect the political and funding advantages our opponents enjoyed in these very liberal states."

Nationwide, supporters of gay marriage raised $33 million while opponents raised $11 million, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Mainers United for Marriage, the primary group supporting same-sex marriage in Maine, raised $4.3 million and Protect Marriage Maine, the lead opponent, raised $1.4 million, according to campaign finance reports filed in late October.

Brown, who did not return calls last week, also indicated in the statement that his group will remain active on the issue.

"Marriage is a true and just cause, and we will never abandon the field of battle just because we experienced a setback," he said. "There is much work to do, and we begin that process now."

Gay-rights advocates are claiming momentum now that the first states have approved gay marriage by popular vote. Until just a few weeks ago, voters had never approved gay marriage and had in fact put in place constitutional amendments to ban it. Prior to Nov. 6, only state legislatures or courts approved it. The outcome was particularly poignant in Maine, where voters in 2009 rejected gay marriage by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent, and then reversed themselves by the same margin this year.

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