Gay marriage opponents are claiming victory in a closely watched referendum in Maine on a new state law that would have allowed same-sex couples to wed.
The law in question was passed by the Legislature in May but never took effect because of a petition drive by conservatives.
With more than 84 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday, the side seeking to repeal the law had 53 percent of the vote. Their campaign organizer, Frank Schubert, claimed victory and declared that Maine voters had helped preserve the institution of marriage.
Gay marriage supporters refused to concede, holding out hope that that the tide might turn as the final returns came in. They had been hoping Maine would become the first state to approve same-sex marriage at the ballot box.
The vote in Maine was being closely watched by both supporters and opponents of gay marriage across the country one year after voters in the most populous state, California, passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Only five states currently allow same-sex marriage.
As voters went to the polls on Tuesday, gay marriage advocates were emboldened by what appeared to be higher than expected turnout in Maine. Even before polls opened on Tuesday roughly one-tenth of the state’s registered voters submitted mail-in ballots or voted early.
And in an interview late Tuesday night on MSNBC, Maine’s Democratic Gov. John Baldacci said that at polling places it looked like “the presidential election all over again.”
“A lot of young people were showing up, a lot of first time voters were showing up,” Baldacci said. “I was encouraged by that.”
Supporters also hoped money would make a difference in the outcome. The main group working to keep the state’s marriage law on the books, Protect Maine Equality, outraised the leading opposition group, Stand for Marriage, by more than $1 million.
Gay marriage supporters were looking to make Maine the sixth state — in addition to Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut — to legalize same-sex marriage.
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