Quote of the day - Green Independent Senate candidate Lynne Williams complaining in an email to her list that the tactics of Equality Maine in supporting her Democratic opponent are tantamount to the marginalization experienced by the LGBT community:
"When an organization turns on its friends, I think is time for a good soul searching. What Equality Maine is doing is trying to marginalize me as a candidate. If any community should understand marginalization, it is the GLBT community."
For a good overview of each side's arguments in the same-sex marriage debate, check out this podcast of Nicole Witherbee from the Maine Center for Economic Policy discussing the legislation with Sen. Dennis Damon and Betsy Smith of Equality Maine:
...and this interview with Mark Mutty of the Portland Catholic Dioceses on WGAN:
Damon also discusses what led him to submit the bill, the correspondence he's received from his constituents, and the next steps in passing the legislation.
Gay rights groups in Maine have been very good at getting the right kind of media coverage lately. The events featuring religious leaders for gay marriage a few months ago were very well managed, and their latest effort, a Valentine's Day themed trip to the legislature, was perfectly on-message. Here are a couple TV reports:
The gay marriage bill has prompted a flurry of media activity. Here's some video from NECN, WGME, WABI and an interview with Sen. Dennis Damon from WLOB.
Speaking of youtube, Bill Nemitz of the Portland Press Herald devotes his column this week to urging readers to check out this video from Equality Maine featuring gay and lesbian couples in Maine discussing their families and why they want to get married.
Also good reading is this Bangor Daily News editorial endorsing the equal marriage bill.
Equality Maine and several other civil rights organizations held a press conference in Augusta today to announce the submission of an equal marriage bill for consideration this session. The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Dennis Damon.
The bill's supporters are buoyed by their recent unexpected success in gathering more than 33,000 signatures in favor of equal marriage on election day and believe that now is the time to begin the public debate on this controversial issue.
They seem to have won an early victory. Governor Baldacci, who has previously expressed opposition to gay marriage, released a statement today declaring his neutrality on the issue and stating that "unfortunately, there is no question that gay and lesbian people and their families still face discrimination."
The Maine Family Policy Council (formerly the Christian Civic League) and the Catholic Diocese of Portland will be fighting against the bill in the legislature and will likely mount a veto referendum if it passes.
Equality Maine had been preparing for election day for months, and had hoped to sign-up 10,000 supporters for a legislative push for same-sex marriage rights in Maine. They greatly exceeded their goals, and gathered more than 33,000 signatures.
Now same-sex marriage advocates have created a coalition of local religious leaders who are speaking out on the issue.
All this points to this issue being advanced in Maine through legislation and public advocacy rather than through court rulings, which have been the catalysts for equal marriage rights in other states.
Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts signed a bill today repealing the 1913 prohibition on out-of-state couples marrying in Massachusetts. This means that same-sex couples from Maine can now be legally married in both Massachusetts and California. However, when they return to the pine tree state, their unions will not be recognized.
The New York Times interviewed one such couple, Michael Thorne and James Theberge of Cape Elizabeth, who have been together for 25 years. They plan to make the trip to Massachusetts to be married, and say their children are a big reason why.
"we made a commitment to our 6-year-old a couple of years ago that we would get married, and he won’t let us off the hook. He has a little brother now who’s 8 months old and that makes it important for both of these guys to demonstrate to them our commitment to be a family for them, and to be a family as legitimate as any other."
Thorne and Theberge also shared their plans with WLBZ TV:
Equality Maine, the LGBTQ rights group, recommends that same-sex couples in Maine that are considering tying the knot read a series of publications from GLAD, including "How to Get Married in Massachusetts" and "Make Change, Not Lawsuits". The latter guide recommends that newlyweds use caution in approaching the political and legal issues surrounding their marriage, stating "suing in states where the courts aren’t ready is likely to get us bad rulings. Bad rulings will make it much more difficult for us to win marriage, and will certainly make it take much longer."
So the big question is, are the courts and people of Maine "ready", and what is the future of Michael and James's marriage in Maine? I asked Equality Maine Executive Director Betsy Smith for her take on that question.
"We have had conversations on marriage for two and a half years, and with the gains happening across the country (NH winning civil unions, CA winning marriage, MA repealing 1913), the debate on marriage in Maine is ramping up," she replied by email.
She outlined the gains that have been made so far in media exposure and public acceptance of same-sex couples in Maine and also laid out her organization's plans for the near future.
"On Nov 4, EqualityMaine will be at the polls in an effort to identify 10,000 pro-marriage voters. We are also working on a handful of state Senate races to help elect pro-marriage candidates. Our third and final strategy this fall is to continue our conversations on marriage with policy makers in an effort to build broad support for marriage for when the time is right to move forward," she wrote.
It looks like equal marriage advocates will be looking to he legislature rather than the courts to preserve their rights in Maine. It's another issue to add to the many that may be affected by the outcome of this year's elections.
In 2006, Equality Maine assissted candidates in Senate Districts 6, 7, and 19, among others.