Wednesday, December 4, 2013
AUGUSTA -- If Secretary of State Charlie Summers wanted clear direction from the public on the wording of the same-sex marriage ballot question, he didn't get it.
Secretary of State Charlie Summers, a Republican who is running for U.S. Senate, has said he opposes same-sex marriage.
Staff photo by Andy Molloy
An analysis by MaineToday Media of the more than 660 comments received by his office shows a broad range of opinions about the question, with some saying it should stand as is and others pressing for more information on the ballot.
Last month, Summers proposed this wording for the November ballot: "Do you want to allow same-sex couples to marry?"
That began a public comment period that ended at 5 p.m. Monday.
"Finally, a referendum question that can be understood and you don't need to be a Philly lawyer," wrote the Ancona family, of Lisbon Falls and Durham, in support of the proposed wording.
On the other side, Laurie Fogelman, of Franklin, wrote that Summers was playing "fast and loose with the truth" by neglecting to mention that the proposed law would not require clergy to perform same-sex marriages if it goes against their beliefs.
"I am so bitterly disappointed in your dismemberment of the referendum that over 60,000 Mainers asked for and supported," she wrote. "Far from objectively representing the people of the state, you are forcing your own agenda in place of ours."
Summers, a Republican who is running for U.S. Senate, has said he opposes same-sex marriage.
Then there was this suggestion from Bill Tower, who did not list a place of residence: "Do you support the continuance of 'special' rights for heterosexual couples?"
The proposed wording of the question has been controversial since Summers released it last month. Gay-marriage advocates said they felt it failed to mention an important part of the proposed law that states that clergy would not be required to perform same-sex marriages if it goes against their beliefs.
Those who oppose gay marriage said the question should let voters know that approving the law would redefine traditional marriage.
"It would have been even better and more accurate to say that Maine is being asked to redefine marriage," wrote Gayle Finkbeiner, of Belgrade. "Same-sex couples have never been considered 'married' by any society in history until recently."
It appears both sides rallied their supporters to write to Summers because much of the language used in the emails and handwritten notes is similar.
The wording of the question is likely to be one factor that shapes the debate as both sides gear up for what's expected to be a heated campaign.
Although the campaign has yet to begin in earnest, the question of a religious exemption already seems to be emerging as a point of contention among advocates on both sides of the issue.
A recent poll commissioned by MaineToday Media, using the question as written by Summers, showed 57 percent saying they would vote yes, 35 percent indicating no and 8 percent undecided. In 2009, Mainers rejected a gay-marriage law 53 percent to 47 percent.
Summers received 662 public comments, which fall roughly into four categories: keep it as is (197), change it so voters know it will redefine marriage (140), change it to include wording about the religious exemption (293), and random responses (32) that were mostly opinions about same-sex marriage, not the wording of the question, according to statistics from the Secretary of State's Office and an analysis by MaineToday Media.
Summers now has until July 30 to decide whether to stick to the original wording or tweak it. Megan Sanborn, Summers' spokeswoman, said he will begin consideration today and will meet with high-level deputies in the office this week. His decision can be appealed to Superior Court.
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