As the November vote on changing the definition of marriage approaches in Maine, as it does in a number of other states, a group of local Republicans has come out in support of same sex-marriage by insisting that it should not be viewed as a political issue.
In a press conference on Monday, a number of members from a group called Republicans United for Marriage announced that their fellow party members should not be afraid to change their views on the issue. So far, the group has only 20 members, but they expect that number to grow.
"It's OK to change your mind," said Stacey Fitts of Pittsifeld, a representative of the group and Republican lawmaker, revealing that she had gone from a pro-traditional marriage view to an opinion in favor of homosexual marriage.
"I know many gay couples," Fitts added. "I've talked with my family, my friends, I've thought about it a lot, and as a husband and a father, I've come to believe that two people who love each other should have the freedom to get married."
Clare Payne, a Republican attorney who is also in the group, said at the conference: "I used to believe that marriage was only between a man and a woman, however based on my review of the legal issues and my own life experiences, I now believe that everyone deserves equal protection under the law when it comes to the right to marry."
Although the Republican Party has traditionally held firm to the conservative viewpoint that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, some have said it is time to leave behind the idea that same-sex marriage should be voted on based on party lines.
"It's not a contradiction to be a Republican who supports the freedom to marry for all loving committed couples," said Matt McTighe, a campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, which seeks to influence the November ballot on the side of gay activists.
"We see it in all the conversations we're having with Mainers across the state. We've had 113,000 conversations already with Democrats, with Independents, with Republicans, all across the board, and all of them understand that this is an issue about family not politics," McTighe added.
Although the group stands as a fairly unique in its mission, Republicans United for Marriage is not supported by a majority of Republicans.
"I'm registered as a Republican and I am disappointed by these people," said Bob Emrich, chairman of the Protect Marriage Maine committee. "The Republican Party since 1856 has supported marriage as a union of a man and a woman."
Emrich further clarified that despite efforts by people supporting same-sex marriage, those that do so are "on the fringes on the outskirts," and that Republicans stand behind traditional family values that seek to preserve the core family unit.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has also said he will defend the traditional definition of marriage if elected president in November.
"I have the same view on marriage that I had when I was governor. I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman," Romney said in May. "I have the same view I've had since, well, running for office."
The vote in November is set to be a close one – a poll by the Portland Press Herald revealed that 65 percent of Republicans still oppose same-sex marriage, but 57 percent of all respondents in Maine want the traditional definition to be amended.