Bill now moves to House for consideration
AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Senate gave two nods of approval to a bill to legalize gay marriage after extended and emotional debate Thursday, April 30.
The measure now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration next week, and then back to the Senate for a third, and perhaps final, vote.
In initial voting, the Senate voted 20-15 to give its preliminary approval. Next, an amendment to require a statewide referendum on the matter was rejected, 22-13. Then the Senate registered its support for the original measure again, this time by 21-14.
Gay marriage supporters were elated. But one organizer, Maggie Ricker of Chelsea, echoed a number of lawmakers in saying she expects opponents of same-sex marriage to use a petition drive to force a people’s veto referendum even if the bill wins enactment in the Legislature.
"We’ve been planning for it already," Ricker said. "And it’s their right."
Before voting began Thursday, senators for and against the measure rose to lay out their positions in unusually personal terms.
Many described family and marital histories, as well as religious leanings.
Casting herself as "a 68-year-old grandmother" who grew up in the segregated South with "a very strict Southern Baptist upbringing," Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell said she favored passage and that the issue of gay marriage is about "transforming how we view other people."
Mitchell, a Democrat from Vassalboro who previously served as speaker of the Maine House, said both sides needed to respect differing opinions and asserted that "this is not a political issue."
Nonetheless, the voting in the Senate closely followed party lines, with just one Republican voting in the majority and one Democrat in the minority on the first tally and just two Republicans in the majority on the last vote of the day.
Sen. Lawrence Bliss, D-South Portland, the Senate chairman of the Judiciary Committee that had given the measure a strong endorsement, recounted marrying his longtime partner in California last year while on a visit with their children and the subsequent impact of California’s withdrawal of legalized marriage for gays.
"My partner and I are once again just partners," Bliss said, declaring that government and society should act to bolster all families.
Republican Senate minority leader Kevin Raye of Perry placed himself in the ranks of gay rights supporters but said that on the issue of gay marriage there were alternatives, such as domestic partnership and civil union laws, that could provide sought-after support and protections.
"Perhaps no other issue … engenders and evokes such passions," Raye said, adding "it saddens me to see the polarization."
Pastor Bob Emrich, a traditional marriage proponent who directs the Maine Jeremiah Project, denounced the tone of much of the Senate debate as disrespectful to churches and the faithful.
"It’s an attack on religion," he said.
But assistant Republican floor leader Jonathan Courtney of Sanford, who voted against the stand-alone bill but in favor of the referendum amendment, disagreed.
"I didn’t hear that the way he did," said Courtney, who told his colleagues he hoped the tone of a referendum campaign debate would match the civility displayed in the Senate.
Offering the prayer at the opening of Thursday’s Senate session was Democratic Sen. Dennis Damon of Trenton, the sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill.
Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, is undecided.