PORTLAND – The Southern Maine Pride Parade and Festival on Saturday featured major plugs for this fall’s statewide referendum on gay marriage.

Nearly every one of the hundreds of marchers making up 50 groups and floats carried banners or posters in support of the November vote. If passed, the vote would make Maine the first state in the nation to pass a popular referendum to make gay marriage legal.

Volunteers from Mainers United for Marriage combed the crowds for donations.

“The voters are just as important as the donations,” said Jaclyn Ashla of Gorham, a volunteer.

The colorful parade, in its 26th year, started out from Monument Square at 12:30 p.m. and took close to an hour to make its way up Congress Street, down High Street and into Deering Oaks park for the festival.

Organizers estimated the crowd at 6,000 to 7,000.

The festival featured about 20 food vendors, informational booths and performers, including Naya’s Trance Belly Dance group, which kicked off the festivities.

“We are expecting lots of invitations to weddings next year,” shouted Kimberly Sinclair, lead dancer, to loud applause.

Comedian Khris Francis, who served as festival emcee, told the crowd that gay people support their heterosexual friends by buying them engagement, wedding and baby gifts. Now it is time for them to return the gesture and vote in favor of gay marriage, he said.

“And we are not going to register at Walmart’s. It’s Macy’s or better,” Francis quipped.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, a parade grand marshal who marched with a group from Catholics for Marriage Equality, told the crowd that one of his first acts as mayor was joining a national coalition of mayors who support gay marriage.

“The Catholic Church has been on the wrong side” of this issue, Brennan said.

Portland Police Chief Mike Sauschuck, who rode in an open Mercedes coupe convertible as a parade grand marshal, threw his support to gay marriage, citing his own 10-year marriage.

“I think of how much happiness my marriage has brought me,” Sauschuck said.

Robert Long of Richmond was among the marchers. Long played the sousaphone with a contingent from the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Augusta. Long said the last time he performed in a parade was in his high school band nearly 40 years ago.

“I had some worries that I would make it,” said Long.

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

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