Have We Reached A Tipping Point? Maine Catholic Diocese Will Not Fight Gay Marriage In Maine

This November, voters in Maine will be able to take a second crack at an issue that they nixed in 2009, gay marriage. It will be an uphill battle, but proponents will see one less obstacle, the Catholic Church, or at least part of it.

Proponents of same-sex marriage have gathered more than 85,000 signatures. Not all have been verified, but they only needed 57,277 for the referendum to appear on the November ballot.

In 2009, gay marriage was legalized by the state legislature, but a voter referendum overturned the law. Why do activists expect that 2012 will be any different? From The Bangor Daily News:

Gay marriage activists say many people who opposed gay marriage in 2009 have shifted their stance. They base that view on poll numbers, one-on-one discussions with 40,000 residents and the strong response they had in collecting more than 100,000 signatures to get the matter on the ballot.

“Mainers have changed their minds on this issue,” said Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, which is spearheading the campaign. “They want the chance to right a wrong.”

Opponents disagree, saying that Maine is even more conservative than it was in 2009, when the law legalizing gay marriage was overturned by a margin of 57% to 43%.

Some legislators were voted out of office in 2010 because they supported gay marriage when the Legislature legalized it in 2009, said Emrich, pastor of Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church in Plymouth.

“That tells you not only has the Legislature changed, but the people who sent them there said we don’t want any more of this, we don’t want this to be voted on any more, this is settled,” Emrich said. “I think there’s been a change, but by any indicator it’s that Maine is becoming more conservative, not the other way around.”

Supporters are claiming that the polls favor them and that 54% in a recent poll, favored gay marriage. One clear difference between 2012 and 2009 might be voter turnout. Although high in 2009, as much as 50%, Presidential elections always bring out a larger number of voters.

The most shocking element of this year’s referendum is that unlike in 2009, the Catholic Church is backing off. Bishop Richard Malone of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland issued a letter called, “Marriage, Yesterday – Today – Always.” The letter contains the usual Catholic definitions of marriage…between a man and a woman, for procreation, etc.

In a statement, Malone said,

“It is unfortunate that citizens will be subjected to this divisive issue again, especially considering other challenges before us such as homelessness, hunger and societal care for all vulnerable people,” added Bishop Richard Malone. “The Church will remain firm in her constant teaching that marriage is exclusively the union of one woman and one man—a nearly universally-accepted truth until very recently. Truth not based first on religious principles, but on natural law knowable by human reason alone.”

But he also said that the “diocese would not be joining the Protect Marriage Maine political action committee being formed to raise funds to oppose the same-sex marriage referendum. The diocese was part of the PAC formed to repeal the same-sex marriage law.” In 2009, the diocese contributed more than $550,000 in effort to overturn the legislation. They were the largest contributor in an election that saw more than $7 million change hands between both sides. Other diocese and people within the Catholic Church also gave, and Malone’s decision might not have any bearing on them.

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