Online Extra: Wedding Bell Blues: Same-sex union backers weeks away from Election Day
by Seth Hemmelgarn
The national organization Freedom to Marry is asking people to help win marriage equality in the four states where the issue is being put to voters November 6.
"In the fight for marriage at the ballot this November, a few good neighbors lending a hand in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, or Washington could be the difference between winning and losing," Shawn Werner, Freedom to Marry's political director, said in an email blast. The group is joining with campaigns in the four states, the Human Rights Campaign, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to encourage people to take volunteer vacations.
In Maine, voters will have a chance to weigh in on Question 1, a proactive ballot measure to legalize same-sex marriage.
Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, said in an interview, "We have a great need for volunteers. We have a ton of work to do." Efforts where help is needed include fundraising and volunteer recruitment phone banks.
The campaign needs money, he said, but having volunteers "is one of the most critical aspects of any campaign." Marriage equality opponents have the "built-in advantage" of being able to send buses to churches in order to bring people out, McTighe said.
Several former Californians are on the campaign staff, and they've had many friends visit and volunteer for weeks at a time, he said.
Marriage advocates in Maine are "very optimistic," but "cautiously so," McTighe said. He said the campaign is the first to go on the offensive – backers went to the ballot with a citizens' initiative, "rather than responding to a constitutional amendment" or other measure.
"We've never won one of these fights before," McTighe said, and "we cannot get complacent."
The Portland (Maine) Press Herald reported in July that 57 percent of Mainers support marriage equality, while 35 percent oppose it. Eight percent didn't know how they would vote, according to the Press Herald .
The paper commissioned the poll by Critical Insights, a nonpartisan firm. The survey was conducted June 20-25 among 615 registered voters statewide. The paper noted that "It also included an oversample of 100 women respondents to judge female voters' attitudes on issues affecting women." The overall margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
In Maryland, where approval of Question 6 would make the state the first below the Mason-Dixon line to have marriage equality, Maryland Equality spokesman Kevin Nix said, "As we head into the final weeks of the campaign, our side has the momentum but there's still a lot of work to do."
He said, "We definitely need volunteers for some on the ground work in diverse communities." Nix said they also "need to educate voters about what is on the ballot. The ballot language is very clear about granting civil marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, while also protecting religious freedom, so we need to get that message out."
For those who don't want to or can't leave home, Nix said donations are helpful, but people can also "spread the word online, both to folks within Maryland and outside Maryland."
Maryland's legislature passed, and the governor signed, a marriage equality law earlier this year but opponents filed enough signatures to force the issue to the ballot.
In Washington state, Referendum 74 will give voters a chance to approve or reject the state's recently enacted law allowing same-sex marriages. (Those marriages have not yet started, pending the ballot measure.)
Andy Grow, spokesman for Washington United for Marriage, said, "We need many volunteers across the state, in a lot of different roles," including door-to-door and phone canvassing.
In an emailed statement about the volunteer vacation program, Grow said, "This small program made sense to us simply because so many people on the West Coast have a connection to Washington state. Either their family is still here, or they grew up here and they want to support our marriage law and Referendum 74. With nearly 3,000 active volunteers statewide, we welcome these additional hands-on-deck, but we certainly expect it to be a very small portion of what's become an impressive, statewide, grassroots volunteer base that grows every week."
Among 534 likely Washington voters polled by SurveyUSA September 7-9, 56 percent would approve the referendum, while 36 percent would reject it and 8 percent weren t sure. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
Staff at Minnesotans for Marriage Equality didn't respond to an emailed interview request. The campaign is encouraging people to vote "No" on a same-sex marriage ban there.
In his email, Freedom to Marry's Werner said volunteers can get assistance with travel and other arrangements, and they'll receive training. For more information, visit www.unitedformarriage.org.
State campaign finance commission approves fines
California's campaign finance watchdog has approved fines for three committees that worked unsuccessfully to defeat the state's Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban. Voters approved the anti-gay measure in November 2008.
At its Thursday, September 13 meeting, the Fair Political Practices Commission voted 4-0 in favor of three proposed fines.
No on 8, Equality for All and its treasurer, Steven Mele, failed to timely file late contribution reports, according to the FPPC. The total penalty is $42,500.
In an email, Cary Davidson, who served as legal counsel for the No on 8 campaign committee, said, "With virtually every grassroots campaign today, you're going to get some kind of fine. This is particularly the case with a campaign of this size with such a huge number of small donations."
The EQCA Issues PAC and its treasurer, Timothy Hohmeier, failed to file pre-election campaign statements for two reporting periods and failed to timely file late contributions reports, among other violations, the FPPC said in its agenda for the September meeting. Total fines are $31,500 in this case.
In an email to the Bay Area Reporter in August, after the fines were proposed, EQCA spokesman Stephan Roth said, "The No on 8 campaign committee was advised by the treasurer and legal counsel at the start of the campaign that an FPPC fine was likely long after the campaign was over. Such fines are imposed on virtually every campaign of this type, and given the unprecedented magnitude of small donations to the No on 8 campaign, it's no surprise that the campaign was fined. Campaign leadership acted responsibly to ensure that enough money was retained at the end of the campaign to cover any fine."
The Human Rights Campaign PAC and its treasurer James Rinefierd also failed to timely disclose data regarding contributions received for three reporting periods, according to the state commission. The total penalty is $6,000.
In August, in response to an emailed request for comment, HRC spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz said, "During the fast-paced six month campaign against Prop 8, HRC s California ballot measure committee made a good faith effort to fully comply with the reporting requirements of California law, including hiring a professional treasurer to prepare our reports. Following the election, on our own initiative, we conducted an internal review and discovered less than five percent of the total raised by the committee had not been reported properly. We then voluntarily amended our campaign filings to include these inadvertently omitted contributions and ensure full public disclosure.
On the other side of the Prop 8 fight, the FPPC approved a $49,000 fine against Protectmarriage.com in August.
Wedding Bell Blues is an online column looking at various issues related to the marriage equality fight in California and elsewhere. Please send column ideas or tips to Seth Hemmelgarn at or call (415) 861-5019. Wedding Bell Blues appears every other Tuesday.