In about two weeks, retiring congressman and leading gay-rights activist Barney Frank will marry his partner, Jim Ready of Ogunquit, in a private ceremony in Newton, Mass.

After that, Frank says, he will work to ensure that same-sex marriage becomes legal in Maine.

“We want to get married in Maine,” Frank said in an interview with the Portland Press Herald, “but it’s not legal.”

The Democrat from Massachusetts has already participated in fundraising for the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage, and he said he plans to get more involved in the effort.

Frank’s role in the campaign here may be different from his past advocacy efforts in other states.

The nationally known congressman could bring star power to Mainers United for Marriage, the group leading the initiative that voters will consider Nov. 6.

But his caustic oratory style and polarizing past may conflict with a campaign-messaging strategy designed to persuade a majority of Mainers to support gay marriage, less than three years after 53 percent rejected it at the polls.

Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, said Frank may not have an active public role.

“Certainly, in terms of events and outreach to our community, helping the fundraising and mobilizing our base, he’s somebody that people in our community look to,” McTighe said. “People think of him as a smart, dedicated leader who’s been active on this issue longer than most of us.”

He acknowledged that Frank could be a lightning rod for opponents, who have been quick to cite the congressman’s liberal politics and his past.

“That’s why he’s not going to be playing a lead role, or a public role, in the campaign,” McTighe said. “We’re not looking to Barney to speak to the voters of Maine.”

Frank, who is 72, announced late in 2011 that he would retire at the end of his current term. He has been in Congress since 1980, and has developed a reputation as a quick-witted policy wonk on financial and banking matters.

He’s a co-author of the “Dodd-Frank Act” of 2010, considered one of the most sweeping efforts to introduce regulatory reforms to the financial industry.

In 1987, he became the first congressman to announce voluntarily that he is gay. He has survived several tough re-election battles, perhaps none tougher than in 1990.

Shortly before that election, a male escort told The Washington Times that Frank’s former driver, Stephen Gobie, was running a prostitution ring out of Frank’s apartment in Washington, D.C.

Frank survived calls for his resignation and admitted his role in the scandal before the House Ethics Committee. Frank’s reputation took a hit, but he remained popular with voters, winning his 1990 election with 66 percent of the vote.

The controversy has since faded. Today, Frank is considered one of the pre-eminent voices of the gay-rights movement.

He said that initiatives to legalize same-sex marriage demonstrate “reality beating myth.”

“I think more and more people see there’s no downside to same-sex marriage to people who don’t want to do it,” he said. “It’s just become impossible for anybody to argue that it has real-world bad consequences for anybody.”

Carroll Conley, head of the Christian Civic League of Maine and the group that’s leading the opposition to gay marriage, lived in Frank’s congressional district when Conley was the headmaster at a parochial school from 1981 to 1992.

“Certainly, we would disagree with congressman Frank’s perspective on this issue, but we would honor and respect anyone who has a passion to support any issue,” Conley said.

He said Maine’s referendum is a national issue, so it makes sense for advocates of gay marriage to use “local, regional and national resources and assets” like Frank.

“Our disagreement is that we feel that at this time in our country, it’s time to promote and to strengthen marriage, not redefine it,” Conley said.

For Frank, getting involved in the campaign is personal and practical.

Earlier this year, he announced that he would marry Ready, who is 42. The two met in 2007 at a political fundraiser in Maine.

“Look, I have a partner now, Jim Ready,” Frank said during an appearance on “The Charlie Rose Show” on PBS in January. “I’m in love for the first time in my life.”

Frank said he plans to spend more time in Maine after he retires from Congress at the end of this year. The couple own a house in Maine and an apartment in Massachusetts.

Harry Gural, Frank’s spokesman, said the congressman will maintain a primary residence and pay taxes in Massachusetts.

Frank said he isn’t sure how he will next assist Maine’s same-sex marriage effort, but he plans to be “very involved.”

He has donated $1,000 to the Mainers United for Marriage political action committee. He said he will appeal to others to donate.

“We’re getting married in a couple of weeks so we’re taking a little time for ourselves,” he said. “But by the end of August, and in the fall, I’ll be available.”

State House Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

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