If you turned on your television during the 2009 election season, you were likely to hear something like this:
(Woman) "Our son came home and told us the school taught him that boys can marry other boys. He’s in second grade. (Man) We tried to stop public schools from teaching children about gay marriage but the court said we had no right to object or pull him out of class."
"You saw this series of ads that were like debates about what teachers would be forced to say in school to children about gay marriage," says Brian Duff, an associate professor of political science at the University of New England.
In 2009, he says, ads like that one were the hallmark of the anti-gay marriage campaign. "It was really almost a strange tangential issue. But somehow that became what all these ads were about, these back-and-forths."
This time around, that issue – what kids might be taught in schools – has remained largely on the sidelines – although an ad similar to the one from 2009 did come out this week.
Carroll Conley is the co-chair of Protect Marriage Maine, which opposes same-sex marriage. He says there have been new issues to raise this time around. "Now there are more areas that have been fleshed out in the other states."
They include what the "No" campaign says are potential consequences for business owners, and for others, like this guidance counselor featured in a current ad:
Donald Mendell in ad: "I was a successful school counselor in Maine for over 20 years, once nominated as teacher of the year. Yet, when I supported traditional marriage, they tried to get me fired. They went after my state license, claiming that supporting marriages between one man and one woman is discriminatory."
Independent fact checkers have found many of the "No" campaign’s ads to be false or misleading. Many of the issues they focus on relate to anti-discrimination laws, and have nothing to do with same-sex marriage.
Brian Duff says they are also hard for most people to relate to. "The average Mainer does not imagine going to work and giving a speech about why gay people shouldn’t be married," he says. "They don’t imagine blogging about it, tweeting about it. They certainly don’t imagine standing at the door of their restaurant or inn, and telling gay people they can’t stay here or eat here. And so it’s a little hard to relate to these people."
Duff points out that the opposite is true of the people featured in ads for the "Yes" campaign. Many are older Mainers, talking about what they want for their children, or grandchildren.
Paul Rediker in ad: "We weren’t always so gay-friendly. We didn’t even grow up in an area where it was discussed." Jeannette Rediker in ad: "We had just found out our daughter was gay. There was a lot of emotion. We went to see a priest. And I will never forget the answer he told me – she is the same person that you loved yesterday."
Brian Duff says, to him, that has been one of the most interesting aspects of this campaign. "The question of what’s good for the kids, what does it mean to love children, how do we protect kids, has seemed to be seized upon effectively by the pro-gay marriage side."
"It’s very similar to the strategy that we’ve taken at the door. It’s real Mainers talking in their own voice about why marriage matters to them," says David Farmer, the communications director for Mainers United for Marriage.
Farmer says the whole campaign has been about having those kinds of conversations — more than 225,000 of them over the past three years – and that having the time to do that has been the biggest difference between 2009 and this year.
Other things have changed, too. The Catholic Church is not actively involved in the "No" campaign this year. The president and other political figures have come out publicly in favor of same-sex marriage. And this time, supporters of gay marriage are the ones asking voters to weigh in.
Farmer says if they win, it will be because of what they learned from the first campaign. "It was the building blocks of this campaign, what happened in 2009," he says. "And we learned that in Maine, particularly, an issue like this is going to be decided by the people. And we hope we’ve picked the time when voters are ready to vote ‘yes.’"
Current polling indicates that a majority of voters are ready to vote ‘yes.’ But Carroll Connelly points out that, ultimately, it will come down to which side is able to mobilize its base and get people to the polls on Election Day.