The problem with the current wording of the question, says Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, is that it only states one aspect of the proposed new law: allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples.
McTighe says the law, if passed would actually do something else as well: "It would add a new section to Maine's marriage law to strengthen and protect religious freedom by ensuring that no church or clergy be required to perform or host any marriage that goes against their religious beliefs," McTighe said at a news conference today.
McTighe says that language was included in the petition that gathered 105,000 signatures to put the question on the ballot. Regardless of what the final question says in November, those religious protections will be included in the law. But McTighe says Mainers should be clear on what they're voting for.
There is another reason McTighe wants language about religious freedom in the ballot question. "Opponents of marriage are already trying to scare voters into thinking their church could be forced to perform or recognize same-sex marriages or that their tax exempt status would somehow be put at risk. Nothing could be further from the truth," he said.
The executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, Carroll Conley, says religious organizations are already protected under the First Amendment, so adding that language is redundant and unnecessary.
He's worried about the broader implications the law could have. He says it could impact town clerks and adoption agencies which, despite religious convictions, may be required to perform certain duties. Conley says adding language about religious protection is misleading.
"You know, to have that we felt really was potentially confusing to people to think that it may be broader than just the very narrow protection that already exists," Conley says.
As a way to signal the potential reach of the law, Conley says he'd like to see something else added to the question: "We would ask them to consider to be more specific in the language to say if the people of Maine want to redefine marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry."
But Matt McTighe says that's just a distraction. "Well, I mean they've tried that same tactic in other states. I mean, they're trying to push that as a political motivation. The fact is we're not trying to redefine marriage, we're trying to join the institution of marriage," he says.
Clarifying the protection of religious freedom under the proposed law was a large part of Pastor Michael Gray's job. He's from the United Methodist Church in Old Orchard Beach, and was the lead signer on the petition.
"I hope that one day the leaders of the church will have a change of heart just as I have over the past few years," Gray said. "But it is our ability to disagree and to continue to serve God and one another that makes it possible for me to be both a strong advocate for allowing same-sex couples to marry while also fulfilling my duties and responsibilities to the church."
At the Secretary of State's office, spokesperson Megan Sanborn says they've received many responses to the ballot question in the week since they initially released the draft wording. "Those comments range from wanting to add something to the question, and some people really like the simplicity of the question and appreciate that, so we've kind of gotten a wide rage of responses," she says.
Sanborn says once the public comment period is over in a few weeks, the secretary of state will decide whether to revise it. In 2009, a question on the ballot asking voters to repeal the state's same-sex marriage law did include wording about the right of religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages.
Photo by Patty Wight (John Paterson of the ACLU of Maine addressing a news conference.)