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PORTLAND, Maine -- Proponents of same-sex marriage vowed today to continue their fight in Maine a day after voters narrowly shot it down. Opponents of gay marriage said they, too, would keep up their efforts.
Yesterday, 53 percent of Maine voters repealed the state's gay-marriage law just six months after the governor signed it, and a year after California voters defeated same-sex marriage by a similar margin. It was a devastating blow for national efforts to expand gay marriage since Massachusetts was the first to allow it in 2003, and a victory for opponents who say marriage should be limited to a man and a woman.
On the steps of City Hall today in Portland, a city where gay marriage won overwhelmingly at the ballot box, exhausted and teary-eyed advocates and about 100 supporters said they would start over. They planned to regroup and come up with another strategy.
Many had hoped to be obtaining marriage licenses from the stately slate-gray building in coming months. Instead, they took hope in progress in other states, such as Vermont, which first allowed civil unions and until it instituted gay marriage this year.
"Here we are in a civil rights struggle," said Mary Bonauto, an attorney with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders in Boston. "What do we do in a civil rights struggle? We pick ourselves up and we stay the course."
The day before the vote, Mary Conroy, leader of Stand for Marriage Maine, which opposes gay marriage, said the group was aware the fight would not be over.
"They will continue to fight, I know that," she said. "We believe marriage is between a man and a woman. We believe that is best for our society."
With 99 percent of the precincts reporting this evening, 299,483 voters supported a repeal of the measure vs. 267,574 who wanted it to stand.
At today's news conference, Irina Malayev, a Scarborough business owner, showed up with a handmade sign proclaiming marriage as the union between a man and a woman. She said she hoped gay-rights advocates would drop the issue.
"I feel very strongly about redefining the institution of marriage," she said. "We can be equal without being the same."
Advocates acknowledged that they were devastated by the loss, especially those who are growing older and are worried that they will not have the legal rights to easily make medical and burial decisions for their partners.
"Are we disappointed? Yes, we're disappointed," said Pat Peard, a lead organizer of the No on 1 effort, told the subdued crowd. "We feel deeply what happened to us last night. This is personal."
But, she added, 47 percent of Mainers supported gay marriage, something unthinkable only a few years ago.
"That's a wonderful number, one that we're not going to forget," she said. "I assure you we are going to build in the future."
"We are on the right side of history," said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. "This is just another beginning."
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