It's unusual, but not unheard of, for churches to take up collections for political causes. Maine's Catholic diocese says it raised about $80,000 with a designated collection in 2009 in its effort to overturn Maine's same-sex-marriage law, which was passed by the Legislature that year and later rejected by voters. The Catholic Church isn't actively campaigning this time, instead focusing on teaching parishioners about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.
Father's Day, June 17, seemed an appropriate time to kick off this year's fund-raising campaign because of the day's focus on family, Conley said.
"The messaging we're using is that those who are seeking to redefine marriage in Maine believe there's no difference between moms and dads," Conley told the Associated Press.
Protect Marriage Maine has been in contact with about 800 churches across the state and expects 150 to 200 to participate in the Father's Day collections, Conley said. They include Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Nazarene, Church of God, Wesleyan, Evangelical Free, Advent Christian, and other denominations.
While many churches are joining the campaign against the referendum, others of various denominations are working to support the ballot measure.
Some churches have hosted phone banks where congregation members have made calls in favor of the referendum, said the Rev. Sue Gabrielson, the minister at the Sanford Unitarian Universalist Church. Other churches have held educational forums and training sessions on door-to-door canvassing.
The referendum, she said, is about inclusion, a "loving God," and being nonjudgmental and compassionate. "What we want is for people to know that this is a religious issue," she said.
Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who created an international uproar when he became the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican church in 2003, is coming to Maine in June on behalf of the campaign in support of same-sex marriage. He will appear at three screenings of the film Love Free or Die, which depicts his life.
Churches in Maine and elsewhere have raised money from parishioners for political campaigns in the past on issues including gay rights, doctor-assisted suicide, abortion, and gambling.
Federal law prohibits churches and other 501(c) (3) charitable organizations from supporting or opposing candidates running for office, either through financial contributions or endorsements, said Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, a Washington advocacy group that supports separation of church and state.
"But they can, with near impunity, support issues and causes, including same-sex-marriage referenda," Walker said.
Supporters of Maine's ballot question have said they expect to raise $5 million or more for their campaign. Opponents have said they expect to raise far less, but collection plate offerings will go a long way toward helping fund the campaign, Conley said.