People have always lied in political campaigns.

They lie about policy, they lie about their records and they lie about their opponents.

It was true in 1800, when President John Adams’ supporters distributed pamphlets accusing Thomas Jefferson of being a “mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian” woman. And it’s true today, when Mitt Romney, on live television, accuses President Barack Obama of having cut Medicare.

Lies, mistruths, exaggerations and slander are something every candidate knows they may have to deal with, whether they’re running for the local water district board or the U.S. Senate. It’s part of the price of offering up yourself for public service.

In one campaign being waged right now in Maine, however, it’s not candidates being attacked by campaign lies, but private individuals and their families.

The lies being told by the anti-same-sex marriage campaign, which has styled themselves as Protect Marriage Maine, aren’t targeted at a politician or a policy. They’re attacking the fundamental fitness of hundreds or thousands of families in Maine led by same-sex couples to raise their children.

If you visit the Frequently Asked Questions page of the Protect Marriage Maine website, you won’t see much about sexual orientation or religion or civil rights. Four out of six of what they claim are “factual responses to common questions people have about marriage” are about children being raised by same-sex couples.

“Children raised by their biological, married parents are significantly less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, and thoughts of suicide,” they claim, without citing any evidence.

If one actually wanted to take this claim seriously, however, and take a look at the evidence, it quickly becomes clear how bald-faced this lie is.

This newspaper, for instance, examined the relevant studies and gave these claims from the anti-same-sex marriage campaign its lowest rating for truthfulness, declaring it false and noting that “There’s no body of reputable evidence that two straight parents are better for kids than two gay parents.”

What study after study has shown is that children do better with two loving parents, whatever their gender.

To really understand the scope of this lie (and it’s just one of many), however, you have to look at who it targets. They’ve gone beyond simply arguing against same-sex marriage here and are arguing against same-sex families raising children at all.

These aren’t candidates for office or public figures that they’re talking about. These are Maine people and their children. People who, because they lack the legal protection of marriage licenses, are more vulnerable than most.

Even some of those against same-sex couples having the freedom to marry seem to understand the hurt and damage that these lies can cause.

In the documentary “Question One,” shot during and after the 2009 vote on the freedom to marry, Mark Mutty, anti-same-sex marriage campaign manager and public affairs director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine, makes some startling admissions.

On the ads his side showed, he admits that “they’re not completely accurate.” And that “I think we use hyperbole to the point where, you know, it’s like ‘Geez!'”

“I know we need to do what we have to do, not only slam people over the head with a two-by-four, but a two-by-four with nails sticking out of it,” he says.

“And it’s nuts. Unfortunately, I think it’s a lousy approach. But it’s the only thing we’ve got. It’s the only way. That’s the way campaigns work.”

Later he obviously regrets his role, saying “I fear that I will be remembered for the work I did on this campaign.”

The lies are likely to get worse and more numerous.

The anti-same-sex marriage side won in 2009 with a last-minute TV ad blitz spreading lies about same-sex marriage being taught in schools. Those ads were funded by $1.9 million in secret contributions funneled through the National Organization for Marriage in violation of Maine’s campaign ethics and disclosure laws.

We can almost certainly expect a similar effort this year, as NOM already has begun pumping money into Maine in order to protect a perfect record of defeating equal marriage rights at the ballot box.

When you see those ads, remember who they’re talking about. Unlike the other ads on the air, these lies, exaggerations and mistruths aren’t about Barack Obama or Mitt Romney or Angus King or Charlie Summers. They’re about our friends and neighbors — families and children.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie. He writes his own blog at MainePolitics.net and works for the Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine People’s Resource Center. He’s @miketipping on Twitter. Email to [email protected]

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