Thursday, May 23, 2013
By Steve Mistler firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2009, Pittsfield Republican state Rep. Stacey Fitts voted with the majority of his caucus against a bill that allowed same-sex marriage in Maine. Fitts later stayed out of the fight that overturned the law.
The Rev. Bob Emrich, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Plymouth and leader with the Protect Marriage Maine campaign that opposes same-sex marriage, left, said "The Republican party has recognized that marriage is between a man and a woman since 1856. These are liberal Republicans. I don't know why these people even call themselves Republicans."
Today, he wishes he hadn't.
Fitts is one of about 20 Republicans who has joined Republicans United for Marriage, a new group that builds on the coalition hoping to legalize same-sex marriage at the ballot box in November. Matt McTighe, the campaign manager for the Mainers United for Marriage, the flagship organization for that effort, said during a press conference Monday that Republicans like Fitts showed that it's no longer a "contradiction to be Republican and be for marriage equality."
The media event at the State House was described by supporters as evidence of increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage by the party that has often opposed it. There are signs nationally that some in the GOP are tacking toward supporting same-sex marriage. However, there was also evidence that Maine Republicans who do so will face the public backlash that Fitts feared in 2009.
Rev. Bob Emrich, a leader with the Protect Marriage Maine campaign that opposes same-sex marriage, described the GOP contingent unveiled Monday as "insignificant" and "just another excuse" for the same-sex marriage supporters "to hold a press conference."
"There are no leaders in that group," he said.
He added, "The Republican party has recognized that marriage is between a man and a woman since 1856. These are liberal Republicans. I don't know why these people even call themselves Republicans."
Three members of the GOP group won't be calling themselves legislators much longer. Fitts is termed-out. He acknowledged that he no longer faces the same pressure to oppose same-sex marriage that he did in 2009. The two other Republican lawmakers who joined the same-sex marriage supporters on Monday -- state Sen. Meredith Strang Burgess, of Cumberland and Rep. David Richardson, of Carmel -- are not running for reelection in 2012, although Strang Burgess was the lone GOP co-sponsor of the 2009 bill.
"Some people said they would never talk to me again," said Strang Burgess, describing the reaction to her support of the 2009 law that was ultimately overturned by voters.
The Republicans who spoke Monday framed their support with a mix of compassion and the GOP ideology of limited government.
"This is about the fundamental right to marry the person you love without the government getting in the way," Strang Burgess said.
It's unclear if that narrative will prompt more Republicans to join Strang Burgess. McTighe seemed confident, saying that Monday's launch was just the beginning of the outreach effort.
Emrich is unconvinced that the the Republican party is tacking toward same-sex marriage.
"They're trying to say that the momentum is shifting, but this is what they do all the time," Emrich said. "Now suddenly Republicans support same-sex marriage? No, they don't."
There are indications that the GOP is warming to the idea of allowing gay and lesbians couples to marry.
Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled Legislature in New Hampshire shot down an effort to repeal that state's same-sex marriage law. More than 100 GOP lawmakers voted to uphold the law.
Tuesday is the one-year anniversary of the marriage equality law enacted by the New York State Assembly. Passage of the law required key Republican votes. The National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, immediately vowed to spend $2 million to remove the N.Y. GOP lawmakers from office.
Fred Sainz, the vice president of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign, says the NOM pledge was a "hollow threat."
"We found that when it comes to NOM, they talk big but perform low," said Sainz, adding that the group is losing its influence within the GOP.
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