PORTLAND, Maine — Same-sex marriage supporters talked up their religious reasons for backing the “Yes on 1” campaign Monday, taking the debate straight to the political battlefield many opponents consider their strength.

Nearly 500 people turned out Monday afternoon at Portland City Hall to join the rally promoted as the official kickoff to the “Yes on 1” campaign. The event took place after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland organized a series of outreach meetings across the state in an effort to energize voters against the Nov. 6 referendum, which would legalize same-sex marriages in Maine.

Speakers who took the lectern at Monday’s event — including at least two Catholics — said they believe Christian teachings lead followers to support same-sex marriage.

“I worship a God of inclusion, not exclusion,” the Rev. Michael Gray of the Old Orchard Beach United Methodist Church told the cheering Portland crowd.

“I’m very proud as a Catholic to be a member of Catholics for Marriage Equality, and I’m certain that this Nov. 6, that Catholics and people of all faiths are going to join together to make sure we pass this referendum to allow everybody the right to marry,” said Portland Mayor Michael Brennan.

Amelia Nugent, a canvasser for Mainers United for Marriage — the organization which held Monday’s rally — told attendees of one man she had met while knocking on doors for the campaign. She said he immediately told her he’s opposed to same-sex marriage because his religion doesn’t allow them, but acknowledged that someone close to him was gay and wanted to be supportive of that person.

Nugent said “Yes on 1” campaign organizers have encountered thousands of conflicted voters like that man, with whom she said she spoke for a long time about religion that day.

“We agreed that God makes no mistakes, and we agreed that our deepest calling as people of faith is to go through life with compassion and love for others,” she said.

Retired Episcopal Priest Will Brewster told the crowd about the day when his youngest son, a captain in the U.S. Army who led a platoon in Iraq, announced to his parents he was gay.

“I couldn’t understand why, if my son was willing to risk his life to fight for our freedoms, he couldn’t come back home and have the same freedom to marry the person he loves, just like his brother and sister,” Brewster said.

Opponents of the referendum from the organization Protect Marriage Maine issued a reaction to the rally Monday, reiterating that the coalition’s top argument against same-sex marriage remains the interests of children, which the group said are best raised when they have the benefit of both male and female parental influences at home.

“The data confirms what we know to be true — the ideal environment for

children to thrive is one where they receive the love of both a mom and a dad,” said Bob Emrich, chairman of Protect Marriage Maine in a statement. “A man and woman bring separate but complementary skills to parenting that simply cannot be matched by two parents of the same sex. It’s devastating that radical activists are putting their own political agenda ahead of what’s clearly best for current and future generations of Mainers.”

In 2009, voters repealed a law allowing same-sex couples to marry six months after the Legislature passed the bill, which had been signed into law by then-Gov. John Baldacci.

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.