Fighting for a basic civil right without repeating other states' mistakes
From the podium at EqualityMaine's 25th anniversary dinner last Saturday night, former state senator Ethan Strimling posed a question to the 630 people in attendance: If gay marriage were allowed in Maine, how many of you would tie the knot? Almost half the room stood up. Couples hugged and kissed and cheered. They are on the brink of achieving a victory many of them only imagined. They are aware that their moment to seize is now.
ACCEPTING ACCOLADES Same-sex marriage advocates applaud State Senator Dennis Damon, right, D-Hancock County, for taking the lead on introducing a marriage bill in the Maine Legislature. CREDIT RISE PHOTOGRAPHY
Supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage in Maine have just under a month to make serious headway convincing both the public and the Legislature that their position on bringing civil marriage to the Pine Tree State is the correct one. On April 24, the state's Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary will convene a public hearing to hear arguments for and against a bill, proposed early this year, that would lift the state's prohibition on gay marriage (learn more about the bill's particulars in the sidebar, "The Text of the Bill"). Both sides hope to have at least 1000 advocates in attendance. (This goal is well within reach; 2005 hearings related to the Maine Won't Discriminate ballot initiative drew similar numbers.)
"The hearing is going to play an important role in the outcome of this," says Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. And it's not just the legislators whom organizers hope to influence at the hearing — it's regular Maine citizens, too. At the EqualityMaine event on Saturday, that organization's executive director, Betsy Smith, implored the crowd to be there on April 24, warning them: "If the opposition outnumbers us ... that's the image that will stay with Maine voters for the rest of the campaign."
The short-term goal is to convince a majority of the judiciary committee's 14 members to pass the bill on to the full state Senate — where LD 1020 needs 18 votes to pass, and will require the support of several GOP senators. It's generally assumed that proponents will have no trouble garnering the 76 votes they need in the state House. Farther down the line, there's a good chance that the question will be put before Maine citizens — the same voters who defeated an anti-gay ballot question in 2005; the same pool from which EqualityMaine has already identified 45,000 pro-marriage voters. But for now, this campaign is primarily a legislative one.
: News Features
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