PORTLAND, MAINE — Maine voted to legalize same-sex marriage today in a reversal of a vote in 2009, when same-sex marriage was defeated.
With 65 percent of precincts reporting at 1:47 a.m., 54 percent had voted to approve the measure, 46 percent against it. Maine now joins six other states, as well as the District of Columbia, in allowing lesbians and gays to marry. News of the vote was met with jubilant cries at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland, where hundreds of supporters of the ballot initiative gathered to await the results.
“I feel that this is something that was destined to be,” said Alice Brock, 57, of Falmouth. “It says the best things about what Maine is and who Maine people are.”
Carroll Conley, spokesman for Protect Marriage Maine, said that support for traditional marriage had eroded in rural communities in the southern part of the state. As the numbers shaped up, he said “it was not what we expected.”
Before today, no state had approved gay marriage through a popular vote, rather than a court decision or legislative act. Three other states also had same-sex marriage questions on the ballot in Tuesday’s election. Voters in Maryland approved same-sex marriage. In Washington, a similar measure was undecided early Wednesday morning. In Minnesota, voters considered a ban on same-sex marriage; results there were also inconclusive.
Three years ago, the same-sex initiative failed in Maine by a narrow margin: 53 percent of residents voted to nullify a bill passed by the State Legislature that would have allowed gays and lesbians to legally wed.
Since then, gay marriage supporters, led largely by the group Mainers United for Marriage, waged a campaign to convince voters across the state to support the initiative. They were met by an intense advertisement campaign from groups such as Protect Marriage Maine, which argued that same-sex marriage would hurt Maine communities.
Supporters of the same-sex marriage initiative anticipated that the vote would come out in their favor because of larger numbers of young voters attracted to the polls by the presidential election.
But the approval of Question 1 remained up in the air in a state with a variety of political influences.
Perhaps no family better exemplified Maine’s complex perspective on the issue than the Grants, who live in Gray, a town about 30 minutes north of Portland. Alena Grant, 20, said her Christian upbringing led her to vote in favor of the same-sex marriage initiative.
“I believe everybody deserves to be happy,” she said.
Her father, who declined to give his first name for fear of negatively affecting his business, voted no.
“I have nothing against them, and I have nothing against giving them civil unions and equal benefits,” he said. “But they don’t, or can’t, procreate, and so they can’t spread the word of God, and that, to me, is what marriage is all about it. I don’t condemn them for it.”
And Alena’s mother? She was undecided right up until she reached the ballot box.
“In the end,” Leni Grant said, “I did vote yes.”
“I won her over!” Alena exclaimed.
“You didn’t,” she said matter-of-factly. “But we have wonderful friends who are gay, and I think they deserve many things in life, and one of those things is happiness.”
“As for the biblical part of it,” she continued, “that decision is up to God.”
A 74-year-old Gray resident, who declined to give her name out of fear of offending family members, voted against the referendum. It was a painful decision, she said.
“My nephew is gay. He and his partner had a beautiful ceremony. To me, they’re married but not in the eyes of the law,” the woman said as she walked out of the downtown polling station in Newbegin Hall. “I figure they can all do something like that. It was a tough situation for me, but that’s my belief and I can’t change that.”
At the Howard C. Reiche Community School in liberal-leaning Portland, many voters exiting the polls seemed in favor of approving the question.
“It’s time, and I think a lot has happened in the last three years,” said Alison Smith, 57, a Portland resident. “More people understand that this is a fundamental question of equality.”
Smith said she believes same-sex marriage supporters were more effective with get-out-the-vote efforts this year than in 2009.
“People thought it was a slam-dunk, they assumed it was going to pass, and then they didn’t bother to show on election day,” Smith said.
Erin Daly, 25, is a member of the Maine Republican Party’s state committee who says she plans to vote no on Question 1. She said she believes gays and lesbians have the right to marry, but with her self-described libertarian leanings, her vote is a protest against government regulation of any kind of marriage.
Martine Powers can be reached at email@example.com.