Maine gay marriage opponents gather 100,000 petition signatures

Opponents of gay marriage in Maine have collected over 100,000 petition signatures, nearly double the amount needed, to prompt a November referendum on the state policy. Bob Emrich, founder of the Maine Jeremiah Project and a primary petition drive organizer for the Stand for Marriage Maine coalition, dropped off the petitions Friday morning at the office of Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. The precise total – 100,363 – is well over the 55,087 needed to prompt a “People’s Veto” ballot initiative. Maine’s legislature legalized gay marriage in May, prompting opponents to launch their petition drive. Dunlap’s office has 30 days to make a final determination on the validity of the signatures. Gay marriage opponents are confident that even with signatures that will be invalidated, they will be well over the required threshold and are focusing on the general election campaign. “We are absolutely 100 percent certain this will be on the ballot in November,” Emrich said. “Typically you might expect 10 or even 20 percent of the signatures to be invalidated, but even so that still gives us a huge margin. “We will encourage people right away to try and get people registered to vote and we’ll begin doing literature drops and those kinds of things. We are definitely going into campaign mode now.” Emrich acknowledged opponents hired a national petition management firm to help them get the ball rolling on the drive but contended more than 1,200 Mainers were the principal people on the ground collecting the signatures. Demographically many of the signatures came from churches and related communities, Emrich said, although he added efforts were made to reach out to a broader secular base which will be very much in play in the general election. “I think this excites and energizes people and gives proponents of traditional marriage a real confidence boost,” Emrich said. “Not only are there a huge number of signatures, but along with that number is the time frame the signatures were gathered in. “We had a deadline of September 12th and got it done in half the required time to get it on the November ballot (instead of having to wait until June 2010). It shows Christians in particular can make a difference. It’s a great start and we hope that many people will stay engaged in the process.” Emrich, who hails from Plymouth, credited the help of Tim Russell, a deacon from a local church with helping him distribute petitions around the state to people who sought them. Emrich said calls kept coming and traveling was frequent as he and Russell helped train people from around the state on signature-gathering. “At one point we said to ourselves that we needed to cut off handing out petitions and making sure we got the signatures we needed, but we kept getting calls from all over the state of motivated people wanting to take participate,” he said. Initially, 70,000 signatures were thought of as a reasonable goal to account for invalidated signatures and still getting the ballot measure approved. “Our expectations grew as went along,” Emrich said. “When we reached 70,000 we flew right past that. Even this morning there were several thousand signatures on petitions that did not get turned in because they didn’t get certified with town officials or notarized properly. “God does what He does always exceedingly and abundantly above all.” Proponents of gay marriage are also preparing for the campaign. Maine Freedom to Marry said it collected 60,000 pledge cards from citizens vowing to keep gay marriage legal, according to Friday’s edition of the Kennebec Journal. The story also said quoted financing reports filed with the state July 15th which stated Stand For Marriage Maine had collected $343,000, while Maine Freedom to Marry had logged $138,640. Mark Sullivan, a spokesman for Maine Freedom to Marry, told the Journal , the group is changing its name to No on 1/Protect Maine Equality to clearly define a no vote on the measure will retain the gay marriage law. “We want people to be absolutely clear what they are voting about,” said Sullivan. For Emrich and gay marriage opponents, their focus will be on defining the issues as clearly as possible. “I really think it’s going to be important to ignore some of the rhetoric coming from the other side and we’re just going to focus about protecting marriage,” he said. “It’s not about homosexuality, it’s not about privacy, it’s not about civil rights. We will try our very best to stay on message that is all about marriage being redefined.” Links: Stand for Marriage Maine: http://www.standformarriagemaine.com/ Maine Freedom to Marry: http://mainefreedomtomarry.com/

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