In a fast-moving and historic couple of days in Augusta (pity they don't move so fast on other important issues), the Maine Legislature last week approved same-sex marriage, and Governor John Baldacci ended weeks of speculation about what he would do by signing it that very day.
The bill is now slated to take effect 90 days after the close of this legislative session, or September 14. But opponents are widely expected to collect the 55,087 signatures required to bring the question to the ballot in either November or June 2010, setting the stage for what may be a pretty intense fight. That's the short term. But it's much less clear what will same-sex marriage will be like in Maine after the post-battle dust settles, say, in late 2010.
We asked few folks involved in the debate what they think. And a large number of them — whether they are for or against same-sex marriage — predict that most people won't really give it a second thought, even a scant 18 months from now. Among the remainder, the chief sentiment is that the degree to which same-sex marriage is controversial will shift with time, possibly resulting in a repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (which limits federal marriage benefits to one-man-one-woman couples), subtle shifts in clerical practice, or both.
An expanding movement
"Gay and lesbian couples will be getting married," predicts Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, one of the organizations that led the drive for marriage equality in Maine. But, like a true activist, she doesn't see it ending there. "Some of those couples may start to look to the federal level to rectify the discrimination that's occurring federally," she says, adding that "Maine's success will inspire citizens of other states to advocate for equality." And on a personal note, "In 2050, I think that I'll be telling my grandkids about the most historic moment of my legislative advocacy, and they'll be bored. They won't be able to imagine a time when we discriminated against gays and lesbians," similar to how many young people today struggle to imagine discriminating against African Americans.
End of controversy
Like Bellows, Dennis Damon, the Democratic senator from Hancock County who was the lead sponsor of Maine's same-sex marriage law, expects the controversy will largely blow over, though there will remain pockets of people who don't accept it, "just like there are those probably in this nation who have never accepted desegregation."
Damon, a notary public who is allowed to conduct civil marriages under Maine law, says he has been pleasantly surprised to find that people have asked him to officiate at their same-sex marriage ceremonies. He says the law allows him to agree to conduct some, and not others, as he has previously decided individually whether or not he will conduct heterosexual marriages, and "I'm not worried about being sued" over those decisions, as some same-sex marriage opponents have suggested might happen.
Stronger traditional marriages
Damon finds what may be unlikely agreement from Bob Emrich, director of the Maine Jeremiah Project, which has opposed same-sex marriage, and which is leading the people's-veto effort. By late 2010, same-sex marriage will be overturned and not mourned, but rather considered "a fad that's passed by," Emrich says.