PORTLAND — Same-sex couples in Maine should be able to obtain marriage licenses by Jan. 5, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office said Wednesday morning after voters approved a referendum to allow gay marriage.

The secretary of state has 20 days to approve election results and send them on to the governor, Megan Sanborn said. Gov. Paul LePage then has 10 days to certify the results. The law goes into effect 30 days after the governor certifies election results, Sanborn said.

Unofficial returns Wednesday morning showed that the historic vote on Election Day to legalize same-sex marriage was a mirror image of the vote three years ago to repeal a gay marriage law passed by the Legislature.

As of 12:35 p.m. Wednesday, the vote on Question 1 was 350,004, or 52.7 percent, in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry in Maine and 313,958, or 47.3 percent, against. The 2009 vote was 53 percent to 47 percent in favor of the repealing gay marriage law, which never went into effect.

Mainers United for Marriage claimed victory about midnight Tuesday. Campaign manager Matt McTighe attributed the win in part to the door-to-door work done by hundreds of staff members and volunteers.

That strategy, along with having the question on the ballot during a presidential election and the television ads featuring Maine families, turned the tide on the issue, according to Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.

“I do think the ads talking about family members were very effective,” he said in an email. “I also think the Yes on 1 ground game was exceptional. Knocking on doors and really talking to people is almost always an effective tactic.

“Finally, the electorate is not static,” he said. “It changes a bit every election cycle, and same-sex marriage is an issue that has time on its side due to population replacement. Young people are simply more supportive than older people.”

Although Maine’s same-sex marriage pendulum swung back toward legalization Tuesday, only time will tell whether the new law will endure.

David Farmer, a spokesman for Mainers United for Marriage, said it’s possible that opponents of same-sex marriage could launch another citizen initiative to bring yet another question to voters statewide.

Carroll Conley, co-chairman of Protect Marriage Maine, the group that led the effort to defeat Question 1, said Wednesday morning in a telephone interview that he would meet with campaign staff to assess whether to launch an effort to overturn Tuesday’s outcome.

“We have to assess whether we have the people and the resources to launch an effort right away or if at all,” he said. “We need to get a feel for where we go from here.”

Any new referendum effort would have to amend the law passed Tuesday, Matt McTighe, campaign manager for the winning side, said Wednesday morning. Under Maine law, a people’s veto cannot be used to repeal a referendum question passed by voters, he said.

A referendum question could be worded to put back into the statute the wording, struck by Tuesday’s vote, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It also could remove the language that says Maine recognizes “a marriage of a same-sex couple that is validly licensed and certified in another jurisdiction.”

Even if opponents of Question 1 did seek to overturn it, the evidence in Maine and beyond indicates tolerance of same-sex marriage is spreading. Even opponents of same-sex marriage said they knew this day would come.

On Tuesday alone, two states other than Maine approved same-sex marriage and a third, Minnesota, rejected a bid to redefine marriage as being between one man and one woman. In Washington and Maryland on Tuesday, voters approved same-sex marriage by rejecting bids to veto laws passed by those states’ Legislatures.

In New England, same-sex marriage is allowed in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Vermont, and civil unions for same-sex couples are allowed in Rhode Island. Other states that permit same-sex marriage are New York, Washington and Iowa, along with Washington, D.C.

In Maine, the fight over same-sex marriage is familiar. The Legislature and Gov. John Baldacci enacted a law to allow same-sex marriage in 2009, but it was repealed later that year by a citizen-initiated veto that passed 53 percent to 47 percent – which was the same spread that Question 1 passed by on Tuesday, according to unofficial results collected by the Bangor Daily News with 94 percent of precincts reporting.

In addition, Congress repealed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act in 2010 – clearing the way for gays in the military – and earlier this year President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to voice his support for same-sex marriage.

But until recent years, same-sex marriage has had a tough run. Opponents of gay marriage said that in the 32 states where voters had weighed in on the same-sex marriage issue before Tuesday, it had been rejected.

But Rick Jacobs, founder and chairman of the Courage Campaign, said Tuesday that the tide has been turning in favor of same-sex marriage since 2008, when California voters approved a measure known as Proposition 8, which amended its constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.

“When voters have the opportunity to really hear directly from loving, committed same-sex couples and their families, they voted for fairness and the freedom to marry,” Jacobs said in a press release. “How fitting that four years after Prop. 8 awakened the nation, and the world, to the injustice of marriage for some but not for all committed couples, we have now won at the ballot box. The Supreme Court can see that America is continuing its historic march towards equality and justice for all. Those who oppose the freedom to marry for committed couples are clearly on the wrong side of history. … It won’t be long at all before all loving, committed couples have the freedom to marry.”

Conley said in a written statement early Wednesday morning that his campaign knew from the outset that “marriage was in trouble in our country.”

“The problems that have weakened this critical institution started long before this attempt to redefine it,” said Conley. “We genuinely fear for the consequences we raised during the campaign. The fact remains, marriage still needs to be strengthened and promoted for future generations.”

Although the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland was not a coalition partner with Protect Marriage Maine this year as it was in 2009, Bishop Richard J. Malone, now head of the diocese in Buffalo, N.Y., issued a statement Wednesday morning expressing disappointment in the outcome of the election.

“I am deeply disappointed that a majority of Maine voters have redefined marriage from what we have understood it to be for millennia by civilizations and religions around the world,” Malone said in a statement emailed to the media. “I am thankful for those who engaged in sincere and civil discourse on this matter of such serious consequence to our society.

“I am grateful to those who supported and recognize the value of marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” he continued. “I especially want to thank the Catholic faithful who did not abandon Catholic teachings on the nature of marriage.”

Last month, Malone, who continues to act as the apostolic administrator for the diocese, said that any Catholic who voted in favor of a referendum to allow same-sex marriage “is unfaithful to Catholic doctrine.”

Malone was critical for the group Catholics for Marriage Equality, which publicly supported the referendum and demonstrated Sunday in favor of Question 1 outside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.

The bishop in January said the diocese would not be a part of the campaign to defeat the referendum but would focus its efforts on educating Catholics about church teachings on the issue of marriage. In 2009, the diocese gave $500,000 to the repeal effort and lent Marc Mutty, director of public policy, to the campaign full time.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, D.C., said in a statement Tuesday night that 29 states have constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

“People are sitting in those states knowing the trajectory of the country is moving in our direction and that people around the country are with us,” said Carey.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also in Washington, D.C., called Maine’s vote on Tuesday “a landmark election for marriage equality.”

“As we celebrate victory tonight we know we have added momentum to ensure that this victory is soon felt in every corner of the country,” said Griffin.

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said in a statement Wednesday that despite the outcome of the elections in four states, Americans do not support gay marriage.

“Americans remain strongly in favor of marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” he said. “The election results reflect the political and funding advantages our opponents enjoyed in these [four] very liberal states.

“Though we are disappointed over these losses, we remain faithful to our mission and committed to the cause of preserving marriage as God designed it,” he continued. “Marriage is a true and just cause, and we will never abandon the field of battle just because we experienced a setback. There is much work to do, and we begin that process now.”

Sidebar Elements

A supporter waves a sign during the Mainers United for Marriage campaign party at the Holiday Inn in Portland on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Hundreds of people gathered to watch the election returns.

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