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Gay marriage debate comes to Maine

Civil rights
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  December 17, 2008

Even as same-sex marriage supporters across the country reel from the Election Day approval of California's Proposition 8 — which changed that state's constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman — they are optimistic about bringing gay marriage to Maine, possibly in the upcoming legislative session.

Equality Maine, this state's advocacy organization, along with the legal-rights organization Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) are considering bringing a bill before the state legislature in 2009; an opposition group, the Maine Marriage Alliance, has sprung up and is doing its own lobbying for a constitutional amendment like the one recently passed in California.

On Election Day, Equality Maine outdid its own 10,000-signature goal by collecting the names of more than 33,000 same-sex marriage supporters. "The number of volunteers and signatures gathered on election day were both way beyond my expectations," Portland Dyke March organizer and local activist Jill Barkley wrote in an e-mail to the Phoenix.

And while its staff is cognizant of the $838-million budget gap that legislators need to address when they convene in January, Equality Maine is talking to several (unnamed) lawmakers about sponsoring a bill that would make it legal for gay and lesbian couples to get married. Organizers plan to meet with Governor John Baldacci in the coming weeks, to gauge his support. The Maine Civil Liberties Union and the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry are also talking up the issue.

The Maine Marriage Alliance (MMA), comprised of individuals, several faith-based groups, and a new Maine branch of the conservative national organization Concerned Women for America, is taking different approach. To change the state constitution, two-thirds of the legislature must vote to do so, then the change goes on the ballot for public approval. The MMA is specifically calling on church leaders to "prayerfully protect the institution of marriage" and "warn the people under your care of the threat to marriage and society."

Troublingly, one of the alliance's major worries, according to a fact sheet available on its Web site, is that "if same-sex 'marriage' is legalized in Maine, we can expect to see hate crime laws expanded and more strictly enforced." (Heavens no! Never that!)

All the while, the outcome of California's marriage fight will loom like a long-distance ghost.

"We are greatly encouraged by the outcome of Prop 8," says Bob Emrich, the Plymouth pastor who heads the Maine Jeremiah Project, a leading partner in the Maine Marriage Alliance.

Indeed, as Prop 8 organizer Ron Prentice said in the wake of the victory: "California's vote in favor of traditional marriage should give the silent majority comfort that they do have a voice and can and should stand up for this precious institution in legislatures throughout the world."

But Equality Maine executive director Betsy Smith says the difference in scale between Maine and California makes the comparison moot. "In Maine, we can have those one-on-one conversations with voters," she says. "The momentum is very positive. If we do [bring a bill before the legislature], we would not let the fact that California lost affect us."

  Topics: News Features , U.S. Government, U.S. State Government, Elections and Voting,  More more >
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