AUGUSTA, ME -- Supporters of Tuesday's effort to overturn Maine's "gay marriage" law believe they have a pre-election October Surprise, and it comes thanks to an untimely letter from someone friendly to the opposing campaign.
With two new polls showing the race over Question 1 a dead heat, the Yes on 1/Stand for Marriage Maine campaign released a new radio ad Monday spotlighting what it says is harassment and intimidation of public high school counselor Donald Mendell Jr., who faces the possible loss of his social worker license for his support of Question 1, which would reverse the new law.
Mendell appeared in a Stand for Marriage Maine TV ad in early October, warning that "gay marriage" would be "pushed on Maine students" if Question 1 doesn't pass. Mendell's public stance resulted in an Oct. 19 complaint to a Maine government agency by a public school counselor asserting that Mendell "does not have the right as a licensed social worker to make public comments that can endanger or promote discrimination." The two-page letter alleges Mendell violated at least three sections of the social workers' code of ethics.
Mendell, who works at Nokomis Regional High School in Palmyra, Maine, hired an attorney and must give a "detailed" response within 30 days of the complaint to the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. Mendell made the letter public, and the Stand for Marriage Maine campaign responded by releasing a 60-second radio ad warning that "If Question 1 fails and homosexual marriage is legalized, those in power in Maine schools will push it on students just as they are trying to punish one of Maine's best educators for supporting traditional marriage."
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group, is representing Mendell. The ADF's Austin R. Nimmocks says the controversy over Mendell should serve as a warning to Mainers that "gay marriage" legalization does have negative consequences on free speech and religious freedom.
"The significance here is that Don Mendell is a Maine educator who has done one thing, and that's believe that marriage is one man, one woman," Nimmocks told Baptist Press. "And because he believes that fundamental belief about marriage, he is being persecuted and having his very livelihood threatened."
If Question 1 passes, then the "gay marriage" law -- signed by Gov. John Baldacci -- would be overturned. But if Question 1 fails, Maine would become the first state ever to approve "gay marriage" at the ballot box.
"This debate is about much more than protecting marriage," Nimmocks said. "It's also about preserving free speech, freedom of conscience, religious liberty and what our children are taught in schools. If you value your right of conscience -- regardless of which side of this debate you may be on -- the only vote you can make on Tuesday is a yes vote."
The outcome likely will depend on which side gets its voters to the polls. A Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll of 600 likely voters conducted Oct. 26-28 showed Question 1 losing, 48-47 percent. A Public Policy Polling survey of 1,133 likely voters Oct. 31-Nov. 1 showed Question 1 winning, 51-47. Nate Silver, a polling analyst at FiveThirtyEight.com, believes the election could be determined by how many people under the age of 45 -- who tend to be more opposed to Question 1 -- show up and vote. The Research 2000 poll, he wrote on his website, had people under 45 representing 51 percent of its sample, while the Public Policy Polling survey had that age bracket representing about 38 percent of its sample. Silver still gives a slight edge to the No on 1 side.
The vote on Question 1 is but one of several nationwide races being closely watched by social conservatives. Among recent surveys on those races:
-- A Survey USA poll conducted Oct. 24-26 showed Washington Referendum 71 passing, 50-43 percent. Passage would mean that voters approve of a new state law that grants same-sex couples all the legal benefits of marriage minus the name. Conservatives are working to defeat the referendum. The survey interviewed 764 registered voters. Nearly all of the state's voting is done by mail.
-- In the special election to fill New York state's 23rd congressional district, Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman leads in two new polls. Republican Dede Scozzafava dropped out of the race Saturday and the next day endorsed the Democrat, Bill Owens. In a Public Policy Polling survey conducted Saturday and Sunday, Hoffman led Owens, 51-34 percent. A Siena poll conducted Sunday had Hoffman up, 41-36 percent. Hoffman was the only candidate to oppose both "gay marriage" and abortion rights.
-- In the New Jersey governor's race, Republican Chris Christie leads Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine by 1.2 points in an average of the seven most recent polls on RealClearPolitics.com. Christie opposes "gay marriage," Corzine supports it.