AUGUSTA — Two men who led the fight against gay rights for years resurfaced at the State House Monday to denounce same-sex marriage in a much more aggressive tone than has been heard during the campaign to date.

Mike Heath, former executive director of the Christian Civic League, and Paul Madore, a Lewiston Catholic activist, are part of a splinter group that formed to oppose Question 1, which asks voters if they want to allow the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The men are not affiliated with Protect Marriage Maine, the leading opponents to gay marriage, but they have formed their own No Special Rights political action committee so they can spend money to influence the vote.

“Legalizing same-sex marriage is an opportunity to use the weight of the legal system to indoctrinate and force an acceptance of a lifestyle,” Madore said to about 40 people who gathered Monday in the State House Hall of Flags.

Among the signs: “Pope Benedict: No! To Homosexual Marriage (He is smarter than Mr. Obama).”

In response, David Farmer, spokesman for Mainers United for Marriage, said Madore’s statement that the campaign is about a larger homosexual agenda is “ridiculous” and evidence of why Heath and Madore are not part of the formal campaign.

“Same-sex couples want to get married for reasons similar to why other people get married,” he said. “They are looking for stability and protection and the joy that comes from being married. What these folks are saying, that somehow our gay and lesbian friends and neighbors want something else, it’s ridiculous and offensive and it’s a good indication of why these people have been marginalized by their own allies.”

With just a week to go before the Nov. 6 election, both sides are busy shoring up support. On Wednesday, the alternative rock group fun. will perform in Portland for a fundraiser for the Yes on 1 campaign, and on Thursday, a large group of gay-marriage supporters are expected to rally in Monument Square at 5:30 p.m., then head over to Portland City Hall to vote.

While this is the second time in three years Mainers have voted on gay marriage, Heath and Madore were instrumental in campaigns in 1998, 2000 and 2005, when voters were asked to add gays and lesbians to the state’s anti-discrimination law. They gathered the signatures, raised the money and led passionate State House rallies where hundreds packed the steps to show their opposition to the expansion of gay rights. In 2005, Mainers upheld a legislatively-adopted law to add gays and lesbians to the state’s list of classes protected from discrimination.

Madore said Monday that when he and Heath were in charge, they raised thousands of local dollars to support the campaign. This year, he noted that most of the money to fight gay marriage is coming from the National Organization for Marriage, which has given more than $1 million of the $1.4 million raised by gay-marriage opponents in Maine so far this year.

“That shows a dismantling of the grassroots network,” Madore said. “It shows a dismantling of the organizational skill that we had to lead a front against this kind of attack.”

This year, there’s been little indication that Heath and Madore would have the influence or money to be a factor in the campaign. So far, their No Special Rights PAC has raised about $1,600.

In 2009, when voters repealed a gay-marriage law in Maine, opponents were led by Bob Emrich, a Baptist minister in Plymouth, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Neither Heath nor Madore played a formal role in the campaign, although they organized a press conference similar to the one held Monday.

In April of this year, Heath and Madore expressed frustration that they were once again not being included in the group fighting gay marriage. Emrich, the National Organization for Marriage and the Christian Civic League, which is now led by Carroll Conley, are in charge of the campaign.

“In 2009, (Emrich) refused to work with Heath claiming that Heath couldn’t be trusted,” Heath and Madore said in a joint press release. “While we are eager to work with anyone who will fight sodomy based ‘marriage’ … we wonder why Rev. Emrich willfully excludes us.”

Conley said it’s not unusual to see changes in campaign staff over time, but he acknowledged that he and Emrich wanted to adopt a less aggressive tone for the campaign this time around.

On Monday, for more than an hour, Madore, Heath and Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality talked about what they believe is a homosexual agenda that stretches beyond an effort to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. They complained that anyone who disagrees with gay marriage will be called a bigot if it becomes legal, and said they are worried it will be not only taught, but encouraged, in schools.

It’s a message you won’t hear from the official No on 1 campaign.

“Typically our focus has been a more narrow focus,” said Conley of Protect Marriage Maine, the lead opponents of Question 1. “We focus on the definition of marriage and what the consequences would be.”

Conley replaced Heath in 2009 after Heath resigned from the Christian Civic League shortly before the vote on gay marriage. He said Heath and Madore deserve credit for their previous success in fighting gay rights, but that the communications strategy has now taken a different course.

“It has to be done with respect and compassion,” Conley said. “Not everybody is as committed to that. Anybody that was going to be part of this team had to have our level of commitment to that.”

Susan Cover — 621-5643
[email protected]

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