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Maine marriage campaign optimistic going into referendum

Polls indicate majority of voters would support ballot measure to allow same-sex marriage.

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Yes on 1, same sex marriage, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade
Maine, same sex marriage, Sanford, Washington Blade, gay news

A Mainers United for Marriage volunteer speaks with likely voters in Sanford (Photo courtesy of Mainers United for Marriage)

SCARBOROUGH, Maine – Portland resident Ellen Ward never thought she would find herself speaking with fellow voters in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The self-described introvert changed her mind, however, in 2009 when she listened to gays and lesbians and others testify in support of a same-sex marriage bill during a legislative hearing in Augusta, the state capital.

“They were leading very what most people call normal lives and just wanted to be able to affirm their love and commitment in the same way that other people got too,” Ward told the Washington Blade as she canvassed a suburban Portland neighborhood in the rain on Thursday afternoon. “And I was just really impressed with people standing up and testifying about that and churches testifying about that.”

Nearly three years after Maine voters repealed the state’s same-sex marriage law that then-Gov. John Baldacci signed, supporters of nuptials for gays and lesbians remain confident that a ballot question that would allow them to tie the knot will pass.

“What’s so unique about Maine is because we’re the first state to ever go on the offensive and bring the issue directly to the voters; we’ve been able to dictate our own timeline,” Matt McTighe, campaign manager of Mainers United for Marriage, the group supporting Question 1, told the Blade during an interview at his Portland office on Friday. “There was never a ticking clock. Every time this has come up before when it’s defensive it’s always in the current — something happens, a precipitating action, a court case, a legislative victory whatever. Our opponents then do something to undermine that or write something into the constitution or whatever. And now we’re on their turf. Now we’re playing defense on their side of the field.”

Voters in 2009 repealed the same-sex marriage law by a 53-47 percent margin. McTighe, a former Human Rights Campaign staffer who has worked on marriage efforts in Massachusetts and in other New England states for MassEquality and the Boston-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, described the 2012 campaign in Maine as a “night and day kind of difference” from that run ahead of the 2009 referendum.

“It’s always been designed from the ground up as a campaign for voters,” he said. “We didn’t have to worry about the legislature. We weren’t thinking about a court case or anything like that. Right from the beginning we’ve tried to figure out who are the voters we need to be talking to, let’s employ some of the most sophisticated modeling and tactics that have ever been applied to the marriage movement, let’s bring in the best people, the best consultants, the best field organizers, the best team and put together a plan and a model to figure out who we need to talk to.”

Voter: Same-sex marriage “doesn’t really affect me”

Maine is one of four states with either a same-sex marriage referendum or a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman on the ballot next month. The Maine Freedom to Marry Coalition in January submitted more than 105,000 signatures to the Secretary of State in order to bring the issue before voters.

Yes on 1, same sex marriage, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

Polls indicate a majority of Maine voters would support a ballot measure to allow same-sex marriage. (Photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A Portland Press Herald poll conducted between Sept. 12-16 shows Question 1 leads by a 57-36 percent margin. A Public Policy Polling survey late last month indicates 52 percent of likely voters support the ballot measure, compared to 44 percent who oppose it and four percent who remain undecided.

Several Scarborough residents with whom Ward spoke said they would support Question 1.

“I’ll probably vote for it,” said one teenager who turns 18 on Nov. 1. He told Ward that he also works with a lesbian. “It doesn’t really affect me. I’m not really 100 percent for it, but I have nothing against it. Not to put it the wrong way but I really don’t care. Do whatever you want. If anything it’ll be better for the economy.”

A woman who lives on a nearby cul-de-sac told Ward that she plans to vote against the ballot question.

“I personally don’t have a problem with you getting together, but I’m not in favor of calling it marriage,” she said. “It’s a sacrament. To redefine marriage, I would vote no.”

Ward conceded the woman’s position against marriage rights for same-sex couples was “discouraging.” She did acknowledge, however, that she feels that her support of basic rights for gays and lesbians was encouraging.

“People have come a long way on that issue, certainly than even 20 years ago,” said Ward, who recalled a telephone conversation she had a couple of months ago with a 90-year-old woman who marched against racial segregation in the 1960s. She initially said she opposed nuptials for gays and lesbians, but Ward said she suddenly changed her mind when she realized the parallels between the civil rights and same-sex marriage movements. “I just feel there are so many people that we talk to these days who are completely supportive.”

Marriage remains “personal” for voters

Six Mainers United for Marriage ads continue to air on local television stations. These include one that features four generations of a family from the Downeast town of Machias and another that spotlights firefighters who support nuptials for gays and lesbians. Protect Marriage Maine, the group opposing Question 1, debuted their first two television ads on Monday.

“You have to make this about the voter themselves. You need to give them a personal reason to connect with the gay people that they know in their lives, to think about this issue in a way that they haven’t thought of before,” said McTighe, who is also a firefighter in the southern coastal Maine town of York. He applauded President Obama for supporting marriage rights for same-sex couples, but stressed the issue remains what he described as a deeply personal one for each potential voter. “You don’t just change your mind because somebody else did. You have to change your mind because somebody made it personal to you. Somebody showed you what is at stake. And also gave you an opportunity to have your questions and concerns addressed. That’s why the grassroots approach has been so unique, to be able to go out and have door-to-door with everyone in our persuadable universe, those people we identified early on.”

Mainers United for Marriage reported to the state Commission on Ethics and Election Practices late on Friday that it has raised slightly more than $3.35 million so far this year, compared with the $429,794.32 that Protect Marriage Maine has pulled in. McTighe told the Blade that he would like to raise another $750,000 to $1 million “to keep pace with” the amount of airtime that the National Organization for Marriage has reserved on the state’s television stations in the weeks leading up to Election Day.

“Now is sort of the crunch time,” he said. “We’ve been prepping for his. We’ve been planning for this so now we feel like we’re prepared for everything. When they come out with one attack, we’ve got plan A. When they come out with a different attack, we’ve got plan B. We can pull it as needed. We can execute as we need to, as long as we have the resources.”

McTighe said another challenge that the campaign faces of potential complacency.

“Because we are doing really well in the polls and because people are seeing all this great stuff and people love our TV ads and all this other stuff and we’re getting all this great earned media, it’s almost too easy for people to say, well they don’t need my help. They don’t me to volunteer. They don’t need me to donate. They don’t need me to write a check. They’ve got 57 percent in the polls. Well I don’t care as much now,” he said. “But the fact is we’ve never won before. Whether that 57 percent is solid or soft or who knows, we’ll see, but we’ve never won. Until we win, we should just assume that our opponents will dump whatever resources they need. We should just assume that they will stop at nothing. And we should assume that no lead is safe until we can actually win and hold one for just once, at least once. Then we can start saying okay well is a point where you’re safe. We’re just not there yet. We’re not there in any of the states.”

In spite of these potential hurdles, McTighe remains optimistic that Mainers United for Marriage will be able to successfully respond to Question 1 opponents’ ads and statements against nuptials for gays and lesbians during the final weeks of the campaign.

“We feel extremely well positioned to deal with anything they throw our way because we’ve had two and a half years to prepare for everything,” he said. “That is what’s so unique about Maine.”

Ward agreed.

“People have had a lot more chance to think about this,” she said, noting the passage of same-sex marriage laws in New York and other states since the 2009 vote. “It’s very much on people’s minds and people are talking about it now. It’s not so unheard of. I think people are just kind of more getting used to the idea and saying, oh, I have people in my family that this [impacts] or I have neighbors and I think they’re very nice people and wow, you know they want to get married. A lot of people had never thought of that before. I think part of it is people are getting used to the idea. And people who are already on board are saying of course, of course this matters. And more and more they want to see this happen. It just seems a no brainer to them.”

Maine, same sex marriage, Brunswick, Washington Blade, gay news

A Mainers United for Marriage volunteer speaks with a likely voter in Brunswick (Photo courtesy of Mainers United for Marriage)

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Arizona

Anti-transgender Ariz. ballot measure dies

SCR1013 will not go before voters in November

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Arizona state Sen. Ken Bennett (R-Prescott) (YouTube screenshot)

BY ERIN REED | In a stunning defeat for anti-transgender activists in Arizona, a major bill targeting trans people in schools has failed. The bill, Senate Concurrent Resolution 1013, would have banned trans students from using bathrooms matching their gender identity. It also would have forced teachers to misgender their trans students unless parental permission was received. 

Most importantly, the bill would have placed the issues on the November election ballot, bypassing Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs’ veto, which has been used against similar legislation. This represents the first major ballot referendum on trans people that has been defeated in 2024 and could signal Republican hesitancy around the electoral impacts of such referendums.

The bill was brought forward by Sen. John Kavanaugh, who has previously sponsored other legislation targeting trans people in schools. Kavanaugh’s district includes portions of Scottsdale, Ariz., which is notably the same city where the Alliance Defending Freedom is headquartered

The ADF has been intricately involved in the drafting and defending of anti-trans laws across the U.S. this year and has backed Chloe Cole, who is leading a similar referendum effort in California.

In the Senate Education Committee earlier this month, over 500 people registered opposition to the bill, and only 32 registered in favor, one of the most lopsided testimony ratios in any bill this year nationwide. Speaking against the bill in the hearing, Democratic Sen. Christine Marsh pointed out the negative consequences that hearing such a bill would have, stating, “This will become a debate on a statewide level harming god knows how many kids and forcing them into further isolation, harassment, bullying, victimization and vulnerability that comes. I think the effect of that will be incalculable.”

When it came time for a committee decision, Republican Sen. Ken Bennett voted in favor of the bill but stated he had concerns with the way the bill was written and that he would have trouble supporting it for final passage in the Senate.

Then, on Monday, the bill was brought forward for a final vote on the full Senate floor. Democratic senators read statements from parents and trans youth who would be impacted by the bill as the votes rolled in. Then, Bennett voted “no,” explaining his vote: “I am very concerned about putting this bill to a vote of the people. These bills combined are roughly a third of the entire U.S. Constitution. When we put things on the ballot for people to vote on them, if something goes awry, if there are unintended consequences, we have to go back to the people to fix it.”

The defeat means that in Arizona, the question will not advance to the November ballot. However, in other states, ballot measures are currently being pursued. In California, the group “Protect Kids California” has enlisted high-profile anti-trans activists such as Cole and Chris Elston to collect signatures. Measures there would out trans students to their parents, ban them from participating in sports and using bathrooms that match their gender identity, and would ban gender-affirming care for trans youth. Similar ballot measures are also being pursued in Colorado. Nevertheless, with the defeat of SCR1013, there may be hesitancy to push for this as a major ballot issue in 2024 in a swing state like Arizona.

Anti-LGBTQ legislation is not highly popular, especially in general election contests. In the most recent school board elections in 2023, Moms for Liberty lost 70 percent of their school board elections, having run primarily on anti-trans issues in schools. Meanwhile, Democrats took the House and Senate in Virginia after Gov. Glenn Youngkin pushed a party platform at rallies that targeted trans youth throughout the state. Anti-trans politics have also previously failed to help Republicans in Arizona. In the 2022 governor’s race, Republicans attempted to target Hobbs’ husband for providing counseling for trans youth in the closing weeks of the campaign — a gambit that failed to swing results in their favor.

That is certainly what Gaelle Esposito, a partner at Creosote Partners who has worked with major organizations supporting trans people in the state, believes. When asked about what the bill’s defeat says in an election year, she responded, “we are also starting to see that Republicans recognize that anti-trans hatred and pure bigotry is not a big winner for them. It’s not like they have seen time and again, including here in Arizona, that this just doesn’t play well with voters. It doesn’t sit well with people.”

Esposito added a hopeful message: “The fact that we didn’t see the full force of their network trying to squeeze them to get this on the ballot shows they know it too. That they, in an election year here in Arizona, where so much is critical for them, this went down in flames … I think shows how the tide is turning in our favor.”

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

The preceding post was previously published at Erin in the Morning and is republished with permission.

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District of Columbia

Trial for man charged with assaulting gay men in D.C. park postponed for third time

Indictment says attacker squirted victims with pepper spray

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Meridian Hill Park (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The trial for a 50-year-old man who was arrested July 14, 2022, on charges that he allegedly assaulted five men he believed to be gay at D.C.’s Meridian Hill Park between 2018 and 2021 was postponed for the third time last month and has now been rescheduled for Aug. 19 of this year.   

The arrest of Michael Thomas Pruden came two weeks after a federal grand jury handed down an indictment on June 29, 2022, charging him with five counts of assault on federal park land, one count of impersonating a federal officer and a hate crime designation alleging that he assaulted four of the men because of their perceived sexual orientation. 

Prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. filed a motion in court on Jan. 10 of this year opposing a request by Pruden’s defense attorney to postpone the most recent prior trial date set for Feb. 26. 

“Following indictment in June 2022, the defendant has delayed the trial in this case several times, including by firing two prior attorneys,” the prosecutors’ motion states. “While the government has not previously objected to any continuance, no further delay is warranted,” the motion says. “This is a straightforward case that should proceed to trial as currently scheduled.”

The indictment against Pruden by a U.S. District Court for D.C. grand jury provides some of the details surrounding the case.

“After nightfall, Meridian Hill Park was informally known in the Washington, D.C., community to be a meeting location for men seeking to engage in consensual sexual encounters with other men,” the indictment says. “This practice is colloquially known as ‘cruising,’” the indictment continues. 

“Michael Thomas Pruden frequented Meridian Hill Park after nightfall and on multiple occasions, including those described below, assaulted men in Meridian Hill Park by approaching them with a flashlight, giving them police-style commands and spraying them with a chemical irritant,” the indictment states. 

Virginia court records show that the D.C. indictment against Pruden was handed down 11 months after a U.S. District Court jury in Alexandria, Va., found him not guilty of a charge of assault with a dangerous weapon for allegedly pepper spraying and hitting in the head with a large tree branch a man in Daingerfield Island Park in Alexandria, which is also known as a gay cruising site. 

Federal Public Defender A.J. Kramer, who is representing Pruden in the D.C. case, said in his own motion calling for postponing Pruden’s Feb. 26 trial date that he has at least two other unrelated trials coming up soon and what he called voluminous documents recently provided to him by prosecutors made the latest postponement necessary. 

“Firstly, while Mr. Pruden prefers to go to trial as soon as possible, counsel cannot be ready by February 26, 2024,” his motion states. “Given that the case against Mr. Pruden is actually five cases spanning a three-year period, the discovery is extremely voluminous, in excess of 7,000 pages,” he states in his motion. “Due to this as well as counsel’s other pending matters in the coming weeks, counsel is unable to effectively prepare motions and prep for trial under the current timeline.”

By the 7,000 pages of “discovery” documents, Kramer was referring to the requirement that prosecutors turn over to the defense attorney in advance of a trial details of the evidence prosecutors plan to present at a trial. U.S. District Court Judge Jia M. Cobb approved Pruden’s request for the postponement in a Feb. 5 ruling. 

Court records also show that Pruden was released on personal recognizance following his arrest into the custody of his mother, who lives in Norfolk, Va., where he has been staying since his release. Among other things, conditions for his release prohibit him from having any contact with the individuals he is charged with assaulting and require that he always remain inside his mother’s residence from sunset to sunrise. 

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Texas

Abbott tells UN to ‘pound sand’ amid criticism of anti-LGBTQ policies in Texas

Governor signed seven anti-LGBTQ laws last year

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Texas Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs the “Save Women’s Sports Act” on Aug. 7, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Sunday dismissed news coverage of a letter issued last month to the United Nations that expressed alarm over the “deteriorating human rights situation” for LGBTQ people in the Lone Star State.

Signed by Equality Texas, ACLU of Texas, GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and the University of Texas at Austin School of Law Human Rights Clinic, the letter details how Texas legislators introduced 141 bills targeting the LGBTQ community, passing seven into law.

“The UN can go pound sand,” Abbott wrote in a post on X.

In 2023, the governor signed a ban on gender affirming care for transgender youth, a ban on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at public universities, a ban on transgender athletes competing in college sports, a law allowing schools to use religious chaplains for counseling services, a ban on “sexually oriented performances” on public property accessible to minors (which targets drag shows), a law allowing schools to restrict LGBTQ books, and a ban on nondiscrimination ordinances by local governments.

The groups argued in their letter that these policies constitute a “systemic discriminatory policy” in violation of international human rights laws, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a multilateral treaty whose tenets are enforced by the UN Human Rights Committee.

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