In this off year, there are not a lot of elections of import across the country.  There are hotly contested governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, and an interesting Congressional race in upstate New York, but many eyes will be on the state of Maine as the latest battleground regarding marriage equality. 

Here’s the background according to the Associated Press:

Maine MoosePORTLAND, Maine — Bolstered by out-of-state money and volunteers, both sides jockeyed Monday to boost turnout for a Maine referendum that could give gay-rights activists in the U.S. their first victory at the ballot box on the deeply divisive issue of same-sex marriage.

The state’s voters will decide Tuesday whether to repeal a law that would allow gay marriage. The law was passed by the Legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci last May but has never taken effect.

The contest is considered too close to call, and both campaigns worked vigorously — with rallies, phone calls, e-mails and ads — to be sure their supporters cast votes in the off-year election.

If voters uphold the law, it will be the first time the electorate in any state has endorsed marital rights for same-sex couples, energizing activists nationwide and deflating a long-standing conservative argument that gay marriage lacks popular support.

Conversely, a repeal — in New England, the corner of the country most receptive to same-sex marriage — would be a jolting setback for the gay-rights movement and mark the first time voters overturned a gay-marriage law enacted by a legislature. When Californians voters rejected gay marriage a year ago, it was in response to a court ruling, not legislation.

Religious activists are on both sides of the issue.  Roman Catholic Bishop Richard J Malone of the Portland Diocese (which includes the entire state) has been particularly active according to the National Catholic Reporter and quoted in Talk to Action blog:

Besides spearheading a parish-based petition signature drive, assisted by local and national socially conservative groups, Malone also padded church bulletins with anti-gay marriage messages — on six consecutive Sundays. He required that pastors throughout the diocese preach on traditional marriage.

Malone has produced a DVD, in which he stars, explaining why marriage matters, and directed that it be shown in all parishes. (See Marriage: What the church teaches.)
Last month, Malone called for a second collection to be taken up during Sunday Masses, with proceeds going to Stand for Marriage, the organization leading the repeal effort.

The second collection netted $86,000. In total, the Portland diocese has given $550,000 to the effort to repeal the same-sex marriage legislation.

But many Catholics resist their bishop, including Governor John E. Baldacci who signed the legislation.  The Bangor Daily News reports that many Catholics joined four recent statewide  rallies sponsored by the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry in Maine.

After Mass on Sunday morning, Ed Oechslie left St. John Catholic Church and walked alone to Hammond Street Congregational Church.

The Brewer man wore a sign made on his computer and pinned to the back of his jacket. It showed a cross in the foreground with a rainbow rising behind its base, arcing across the background. Above the cross were the words, “Maine Catholics for Marriage Equality.”

“I think it’s important for Catholics to speak up,” Oechslie said before the Bangor service began. “The bishop has taken a stance that, in my view, has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus.”

The Talk to Action blog post quotes other progressive Catholics who oppose their Bishop’s overt politicking.  William H. Slavick of Portland, a retired college professor and long-time coordinator of the Pax Christi Maine chapter,

favors keeping the civil marriage law, saying that the church is wrong to try to impose a Catholic view of marriage on society.

Catholic attorney, Anne Underwood, in public testimony before the legislature, stated:

As a practicing Roman Catholic and attorney, I thank each of you for your daily work on behalf of our democratic form of government. A government based not on Halachah (Jewish), Shari’ a (Islamic), or Canon Law (Roman Catholic), but on Civil Law.

The Religious Coalition for the Freedom to marry includes a diverse group of religious leaders including Rabbi Darah Lerner of Congregational Beth El, Bangor’s Reform synagogue, who said her religion required her to speak out at the rally.

“I am participating because my tradition calls me to pursue equality and justice for all people,” she said. “Full equality under the law for gay men and lesbians requires the legal recognition of monogamous domestic gay and lesbian relationships. All loving couples should be included in the civil right and the responsibility of marriage.”

Pam’s House Blend blog has voting instructions and an open thread for comments throughout the day.