The tide of extending marriage rights to same-sex couples — which has swept across New England in recent months — has stopped at Maine.
Voters rejected a state law Tuesday that would have allowed same-sex couples to wed. The repeal comes just six months after the measure was passed by the Maine legislature and signed by the Democratic Gov. John Baldacci.
Maine would have been the sixth state in the country to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, but instead becomes the 31st state to oppose the unions in a popular vote.
With 87 percent of precincts reporting as of 2 a.m. today, gay marriage opponents claimed 53 percent of the vote to supporters’ 47 percent.
Marc Mutty, campaign manager for Stand for Marriage Maine which opposed gay marriages, claimed victory at a rally in Portland just after midnight. “We’ve struggled, we’ve worked against tremendous odds, as we’ve all known,” he said. “We prevailed because the people of Maine, the silent majority, the folks back home spoke with their vote tonight.”
Gay-rights activists had hoped Maine voters — known for thier moderate, independent-minded views — would have been the first to endorse same-sex marriage in a statewide ballot. In the five states performing gay marriages – Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts — the practice took effect after legislation or court order. New York and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, but do not grant them.
“We’re in this for the long haul. For next week, and next month, and next year until all Maine families are treated equally. Because in the end, this has always been about love and family and that will always be something worth fighting for,” said Jesse Connolly of the pro-gay-marriage group Protect Maine Equality.
Sources inside the Protect Maine Equality campaign tell ABC News the referendum is likely headed for a statewide recount. After the Maine secretary of state certifies the results, the campaign will have to pay a nominal fee to request the count, which could take at least several weeks.
Both campaigns spent millions in out-of-state funds on rallies, phone calls, e-mails and ads in the days leading up to the vote, and their messages resonated among voters of both sides.
Mary Lou Narbus, a 51-year-old mother of three from Rockwood, Maine, told ABC News she’s pleased Question 1 prevailed in rejecting same-sex marriage. “I believe that marriage is for a man and a woman… and I don’t believe that [gay marriage] should be taught in school, period,” she said.
Gay-marriage opponents had stressed the idea, disputed by supporters, that public schools would begin teaching children about unions between same-sex couples if the law were allowed to stand.
“That’s a red herring,” David Rutledge, a 43-year-old father of two in Bangor, told ABC News. “I have felt like this law was very important to equality.”
Ellen Sanford McDaniel, 35, of Fairfield, Maine, said she’s relieved the referendum passed, rejecting gay marriage. “I don’t feel anybody has the right to redefine marriage,” she said. “I would have been heartbroken for our country if it did not pass… We had a prayer night last night for it to go the way it should.”
But gay marriage supporters, like Carole Cheeseman Russo, 65, of Carmel, Maine, says this vote likely won’t be the last on the matter.
“No one in my family is gay – at least that I’m aware of — but I just don’t think anyone has the right to tell someone who they’re allowed to love or who their allowed to marry ,” she said. “[Same-sex marriage] has just got to come back.”