Senator who introduced it says its time to rectify discrimination; opponents pledge to fight bill ‘with everything we’ve got’
AUGUSTA, Maine — The gay marriage issue moved onto the legislative agenda Tuesday, Jan. 13 as supporters of the idea said this is the time to recognize marriages between same-sex couples — even if the debate comes amid major concerns in the State House over budget cutbacks and their impact.
Sen. Dennis Damon said he is introducing a bill to rewrite Maine’s existing statute that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, instead defining it as a union between two people. In addition, it recognizes gay marriages from other states.
Damon, D-Trenton, answered critics who questioned the timing of the bill as lawmakers face a $838 million shortfall by saying it’s "long overdue."
"Currently there is discrimination. Heterosexual couples who have decided to spend their lives together are treated differently than same-sex couples who have … that same commitment to each other," Damon said. "I don’t see the fairness of that. I don’t see the need for that, and this bill will put an end to that."
Maine currently has a domestic partnership registry that’s open to gay couples. But that’s not enough for gay marriage supporters. Damon says it’s time to "fully end discrimination in Maine."
Gay marriage is being debated elsewhere in the region.
In New Hampshire, a bill’s been submitted to replace the term "civil union" with "marriage" in the state’s 1-year-old civil union law. Vermont, the first state to recognize same-sex couples with its civil unions law, is now likely to consider a gay marriage bill.
In Maine, Damon’s gay marriage proposal faces a fight.
House Minority Leader John Tardy, R-Newport, is expected to propose bolstering the state’s one man-one woman definition by putting it in the Constitution.
The Maine Family Policy Council also plans to oppose the gay marriage bill "with everything we’ve got," Executive Director Michael Heath said.
Heath said gay marriage supporters are making a mistake running their bill now, when so much else is at stake because of the recession and state budget problems.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland also will work aggressively against the bill, which goes to the heart of a fundamental issue for many, said Marc Mutty, diocesan public affairs director. Mutty believes the proposal will ultimately be sent to referendum.
Gov. John Baldacci issued a statement in which he acknowledged his past opposition to same-sex marriage, adding the debate "is extremely personal for many people, and it’s an issue that I struggle with trying to find the best path forward."
"Right now, I’m focused on creating jobs and doing what I can to help our economy recover from an unprecedented recession. We cannot allow ourselves to be divided or turned against one another during this crisis," the governor said.
The gay marriage bill has won that support of leaders of more than a dozen faiths across the state, who formed the Coalition for the Freedom to Marry in Maine.
EqualityMaine, which advocates on behalf of gay and lesbian Mainers, said it gathered more signatures of gay marriage supporters than it expected when it sent volunteers to polls on Election Day.
Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders have announced their intention to secure same-sex marriage rights in all six New England states by 2012. Massachusetts and Connecticut already recognize same-sex marriages.