November 5, 2012

Most Maine top elected officials steer clear of gay-marriage issue

Our U.S. senators say it is a state question, while Gov. LePage offers no comment.

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — Of the state's five highest elected officials, only two will say whether they support or oppose the gay-marriage ballot question.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, is a longtime supporter of gay marriage, and Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, plans to vote in favor of the referendum, according to spokesmen for the representatives.

But the state's two Republican U.S senators say they don't take public positions on state-level ballot questions, and Gov. Paul LePage's spokeswoman declined to comment.

"It is left to individual states through the legislature or referenda to make their own determinations on this personal issue -- and the people of Maine will now make this final determination come Election Day," said Sen. Olympia Snowe in a statement issued by her spokesman Brandon Bouchard.

Sen. Susan Collins, like Snowe, does not take public positions on state-level referenda, said her spokesman Kevin Kelley.

"In my years serving Maine in the United States Senate, I have never expressed a position on a state referendum question because it is a matter of state, not federal, law, and the people of Maine can cast their votes directly rather than relying on their representatives," Collins said in a statement.

"Historically, laws regulating family and domestic affairs have been almost exclusively regulated by the states, which is why I have voted against federal constitutional amendments defining marriage," she said. "It is up to the voters of Maine to decide how marriage should be treated under Maine law and, like the voters, I am considering this issue very carefully."

Collins, who has supported other gay rights issues at the national level, is not up for re-election this year. If she chooses to run again, she'll be back on the ballot in 2014.

Marvin Druker, a political science professor at the University of Southern Maine's Lewiston-Auburn campus, said voters don't necessarily look to their congressional delegation when trying to decide this type of state-level issue. But they may be curious to know where the delegation stands on gay rights, particularly since the federal Defense of Marriage Act is likely to be considered by the Supreme Court next year.

And with regard to Snowe, who is not running for re-election and presumably has the least to lose by taking a public stand, Druker said she may be thinking of her future plans. Snowe has said she wants to work to help increase the level of bipartisanship in Washington after she retires.

"There's no reason to antagonize anybody," he said.

Two of the three major candidates who are running to replace Snowe support gay marriage. Independent Angus King, who served as governor from 1995 to 2003, and state Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, support same-sex marriage, while Republican Charlie Summers, Maine's secretary of state, opposes it.

Gay-marriage advocates say they have approached all members of the delegation to seek their support -- particularly Snowe and Collins.

"We are actively looking to recruit Republicans," said David Farmer, spokesman for Mainers United for Marriage, the primary group promoting the ballot question. "We would love to have their support if they were willing to offer it."

On the other side, Carroll Conley of Protect Marriage Maine said that group has not approached any members of the delegation on the issue.

"We haven't even courted them," he said.

When he ran for governor in 2010, LePage said he opposed same-sex marriage, but supported some legal measures to protect couples in committed relationships. But his spokeswoman declined to comment this time around.

"I politely decline to offer comment on behalf of the governor," wrote spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett in an email. "However, I thank you for the inquiry."

(Continued on page 2)

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