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In the trenches

Marriage | The word from activists against gay marriage: If the battle hasn't come to your state it will; be ready to work hard and be weary

Issue: "2009 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 19, 2009

Surrounded by Catholic, Orthodox, and evangelical leaders at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 20, Chuck Colson revealed a 4,732-word document representing a year's worth of ecumenical work. Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, described the Christian-based Manhattan Declaration as a "call to conscience for the church" and a "clear message to civil authorities" on issues pertaining to life, marriage, and religious liberty.

The 148 original signatories included evangelical leaders like J.I. Packer and Tim Keller, and prominent Catholics like Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia. (WORLD founder Joel Belz and editor in chief Marvin Olasky are also signatories.)

A lengthy section on marriage includes a confession that the church has often failed to uphold the institution of marriage and offers an adamant defense of traditional marriage: ". . . we pledge to labor ceaselessly to preserve the legal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman and to rebuild the marriage culture. How could we, as Christians, do otherwise?"

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In a small office near the granite walls of the capital building in Augusta, Maine, Michael Hein echoes that question. The administrator of the Christian Civic League of Maine is one of hundreds of Maine citizens who worked for months to fight gay marriage legislation in the left-leaning state. The results surprised many: In a ballot initiative on Nov. 3, Maine voters repealed a state law that would have legalized same-sex marriage.

The victory was a relief for people like Hein, but the battle was hard-fought: What began with pavement pounding in the pouring rain in June ended with death threats at two organizations that oppose gay marriage in November. "It's tough, frankly," says Hein, who discovered a death threat in his group's voicemail.

And the victory could be short-lived: Soon after the legislation's defeat, Equality Maine, a gay rights group driving the "No On 1" campaign to support gay marriage, announced a series of five meetings to begin re-grouping. Jesse Connolly, the campaign's manager, assured gay marriage supporters: "We're in this for the long haul."

That may be one thing both sides have in common. With gay marriage battles likely to resurface in Maine, and new battles looming in other states, opponents of gay marriage say defending their principles involves rolling up their sleeves, facing hard work, and overcoming weariness. For those living in states without gay marriage battles now, they add this advice: Assume it will come. Begin to prepare.

Scott Fish began preparing last spring. The Maine resident and editor of As Maine Goes, a popular, conservative political blog covering state politics, became communications director for Stand for Marriage Maine, a coalition of Mainers, including conservatives, Christians, pastors, and others who opposed a gay marriage provision that was set to take effect on Sept. 12.

Maine Gov. John Baldacci had signed the legislation minutes after it reached his desk from the state legislature in May. The move angered many: Baldacci, a Roman Catholic, had assured voters he would oppose same-sex marriage. But the governor said he changed his mind, calling it discriminatory to oppose the law.

Fish says that set a rushed plan in motion: Maine's constitution allows for a vote on "a people's veto" of legislation if opponents can gather 55,000 signatures of registered voters to put the issue on the ballot. With the bill set to take effect in September, time was short. "We had 90 days," says Fish. After 45 days of knocking on doors in one of the rainiest Junes on record in Maine, the group had what it needed, says Fish: "We turned into the secretary of state 100,343 signatures of registered Maine voters."

The secretary certified the petition on Sept. 2, giving gay marriage opponents two months to campaign against gay marriage supporters who had been working toward such legislation for years. Local groups like Stand for Marriage, the Christian Civic League, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, and some evangelical churches helped with legwork to promote the repeal.

Fish says it was hard to get traction in a liberal state: "There were a lot of people in Maine who were afraid of being labeled haters and bigots." When the "No On 1" campaign publicized groups that supported gay marriage, including businessmen, lawyers, and teachers, Fish says: "We were having a hard time finding a teacher who would go on camera."

He doesn't know what changed the momentum, but by Election Night, groups supporting the repeal had gained traction: Voters narrowly repealed the law, with 53 percent of the vote, handing gay marriage supporters a significant defeat.

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