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Gay marriage proponents, foes gear up for another battle in Maine

Sarah Dowling (left, with her partner of 18 years Linda Wolfe) addressed a rally for gay marriage supporters in Portland Monday.

Joel Page/Associated Press

Sarah Dowling (left, with her partner of 18 years Linda Wolfe) addressed a rally for gay marriage supporters in Portland Monday.

PORTLAND, Maine — After months of mostly one-on-one campaigning, gay marriage supporters are rolling out television advertising, bumper stickers, and yard signs as they seek to make Maine the first state to legalize same-sex marriage through a statewide vote. Opponents also are stepping up their efforts.

Hundreds of gay marriage advocates gathered Monday at Portland City Hall to launch a ‘‘Yes on One’’ referendum push over the next eight weeks leading to the Nov. 6 election. Mainers United for Marriage will follow up with a $100,000, weeklong television campaign beginning Tuesday.

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Speaking from the steps of City Hall, Michael Brennan, Portland’s mayor, joined several ministers and activists in asking Mainers to approve the referendum.

‘‘My greatest hope is that the first marriage ceremony to be performed after the election in November will be here in Portland at City Hall,’’ Brennan said.

It will be the second vote in three years on gay marriage in Maine.

The Maine Legislature legalized gay marriage in 2009, but the law was overturned in a ‘‘people’s veto’’ vote later that year. Gay marriage supporters gathered signatures to put it on the ballot again.

Gay marriage opponents are also stepping up their efforts. The Roman Catholic Church has kicked off a series of meetings to promote its view of marriage being between a man and a woman. And the National ­Organization for Marriage has made a $500,000 matching contribution to fight same-sex marriage.

The Rev. Bob Emrich, chairman of Protect Marriage Maine, which opposes same-sex marriage, said ‘‘radical activists’’ are putting their interest ahead of children.

‘‘The data confirms what we know to be true: The ideal environment for children to thrive is one where they receive the love of both a mom and a dad,’’ he said.

But Monday’s rally by gay marriage supporters, which featured the orange and blue colors that will be used by the ‘‘Yes on One’’ campaign, featured a pair of clergy members who have changed their views on gay marriage.

One of them, the Rev. Will Brewster, a fourth-generation Episcopal priest from Kittery, said he thought gay couples should be satisfied with civil unions or domestic partnerships until his youngest son, who had led a scout platoon in Iraq, called a family meeting to announce he was gay.

‘‘No parent dreams about their child entering into a ­‘domestic partnership,' ’’ Brewster said. ‘‘We dream about them getting married.’’

Sarah Dowling of Freeport, who has been in a committed relationship for 18 years with Linda Wolfe, spoke about a ­recent emergency room scare that revealed a humiliating ­reality for those who are not married.

‘‘I was not only scared that I might lose the love of my life, but also panicked because I forgot to bring all of the paperwork that gives us as much status as a couple and a family as the law and a lawyer can provide,’’ Dowling said.

‘‘Not everyone understands what a domestic partner is, but everybody understands what a wife is,’’ she added.

Maine is one of four states that are voting on gay marriage in November.

Mike McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, said campaign volunteers still have plenty of work to do, and he pointed out that the National Organization for Marriage plans to spend $385,000 on advertising in the three weeks leading up to Election Day. McTighe said gay marriage opponents are fond of pointing out that they have never lost at the ballot.

‘‘Together we can change that,’’ he said. ‘‘We can kick the last leg out from the stool they've stood on to belittle our relationships and attack our families for years.’’

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