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Gay marriage foes launch TV ads in Maine

PORTLAND, Maine — A high school guidance counselor whose job was targeted after he spoke out against same-sex marriage is featured in a television campaign by gay marriage opponents that launches Monday.

One of the two ads by Protect Marriage Maine features Donald Mendell of Palmyra, who was the subject of a complaint with the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation after appearing on TV during a 2009 referendum in which the state’s gay marriage law was repealed.

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The ad says that in states where same-sex marriage has been legalized, opponents like Mendell have been ‘‘fired, sued, fined, and punished.’’

‘‘I was a successful school counselor in Maine for over 20 years — once nominated as teacher of the year. Yet when I supported traditional marriage, they tried to get me fired,’’ Mendell says in the 30-second television spot.

A second ad says the rights of same-sex couples can be protected through an existing domestic registry without the need for changing the definition of marriage. ‘‘Every Mainer has a right to love whom they choose but nobody has the right to redefine marriage,’’ it says.

With a month to go until Election Day, the television campaign marks a public escalation in debate by gay marriage opponents, who have been outspent in the campaign.

Campaign disclosure reports filed with the ethics commission on Friday indicate the Protect Marriage Maine PAC has raised $415,000. Mainers United for Marriage, which is leading the drive to legalize gay marriage, has raised more than eight times that figure, a total of about $3.4 million.

The ads lay out the potential ramifications as gay marriage opponents try to keep Maine from becoming the first state to enact a gay marriage law at the ballot box, said Carroll Conley from Protect Marriage Maine, which paid for the ads with help from the National Organization for Marriage.

‘‘This is not a live-and-let-live proposition,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s no tolerance for anyone who dares to speak out against their definition of marriage. Don Mendell is the perfect example.’’

While the proposed law would protect clergy with a stipulation that they would not have to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples, it doesn’t protect the religious freedoms of others, Conley said.

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