Maine Legalizes Gay Marriage!

Maine Governor Signs Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Published: May 6, 2009

BOSTON — Gov. John Baldacci of Maine on Wednesday signed a same-sex marriage bill passed by the State Legislature, saying he had reversed his position on such marriages after deciding it was a matter of equal protection under the state’s Constitution.

“I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law,” the governor said in a news release from Augusta, Me., where he announced his decision to sign the bill in a news conference.

Later, in a telephone interview, he said, “It’s not the way I was raised and it’s not the way that I am.” He added: “But at the same time I have a responsibility to uphold the Constitution. That’s my job, and you can’t allow discrimination to stand when it’s raised to your level.”

With the enactment of the Maine bill, gay-rights activists have moved remarkably close to their goal of making same-sex marriage legal throughout New England just five years after Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to allow it.

But gay couples may not be able to wed in Maine anytime soon. The law would normally go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, which is usually in late June. But opponents have vowed to pursue a “people’s veto,” or a public referendum allowed in Maine to ask voters if they want to overturn the law.

The opponents would need to collect about 55,000 signatures within 90 days of the Legislature adjourning to get the question on the ballot, and if they did, the law would be suspended until a referendum could be held. That would be in November at the earliest, and more likely, in June.

Mr. Baldacci acknowledged the likelihood of a referendum on the issue, saying his enactment of the law may not be “the final word.”

“Just as the Maine Constitution demands that all people are treated equally under the law, it also guarantees that the ultimate political power in the State belongs to the people,” he said in the news release. “While the good and just people of Maine may determine this issue, my responsibility is to uphold the Constitution and do, as best as possible, what is right. I believe that signing this legislation is the right thing to do.”

Mr. Baldacci announced his decision to sign the bill about an hour after the State Senate gave final passage to the bill, which would codify marriage as a legally recognized union of two people regardless of their sex. Under state law he had 10 days to decide whether to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

But Mr. Baldacci, a Democrat who cannot seek reelection due to term limits, said he had already spent considerable time thinking about the issue.

“I have read many of the notes and letters sent to my office, and I have weighed my decision carefully,” he said in the release. “I did not come to this decision lightly or in haste.”

Supporters of same-sex marriage have won victory after victory this spring, with the legislatures of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine embracing it. Massachusetts let gay couples marry in 2004, and Connecticut began allowing same-sex marriage last fall.

Like Governor Baldacci of Maine, Gov. John Lynch of New Hampshire, also a Democrat, has opposed same-sex marriage but has said he might sign New Hampshire’s bill.

Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, vetoed a same-sex marriage bill in Vermont last month, and the Legislature then enacted it after an override. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, also a Republican, vetoed a similar bill in California in 2005.

Supporters of the measures probably do not have enough support to override a veto in New Hampshire.

With the movement enjoying momentum from the string of recent victories — including the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision last month that same-sex marriage should be legal there — Mr. Baldacci faced, and Mr. Lynch faces, considerable pressure from advocates and from their own party, which increasingly supports same-sex marriage.

Mr. Lynch will have five days to make a decision after the bill reaches his desk. Several political observers have guessed that Mr. Lynch, who might run again, would let New Hampshire’s become law without his signature, as state law permits.

After the New Hampshire Senate’s vote last week, Mr. Lynch restated his belief that the state’s two-year-old civil-union law provided sufficient rights and protections to gay couples. But he did not repeat an earlier statement that marriage should be only between a man and a woman.

In California, where the State Supreme Court may rule this week on whether a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional, gay-rights advocates are optimistic even though many expect the ruling to uphold the ban.

The next state to debate same-sex marriage will probably be New York. Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat, introduced a marriage bill last month and the State Assembly, which strongly supports it, will probably take it up next week. The bill’s fate in the Senate is less certain.

In Maine, the Democratically controlled House voted 89 to 57 for the bill on Tuesday; the State Senate, also dominated by Democrats, approved the bill last week in a 21-to-14 vote. .

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland was among the groups lobbying Mr. Baldacci, a Catholic, to veto the bill, as was the Maine Family Policy Council, an affiliate of the Family Research Council in Washington.

The House chamber in Augusta was thick with emotion on Tuesday as many legislators openly wept and revealed personal details. One told her colleagues for the first time that she has a lesbian daughter; another wept as he explained that he, as a white man, would not have been able to marry his wife of 25 years, who is black, if a law had not been changed. Other legislators spoke of sleepless nights debating how to vote.

While the Iowa decision gave supporters of same-sex marriage an important first victory in the nation’s heartland and a few other states are considering legislation this year, New England remains the nucleus of the movement. Gay-rights groups here have been raising money, training volunteers and lobbying voters and lawmakers as part of a campaign called Six by Twelve.

The region’s strong libertarian bent helps explain why the issue has found support. And voters in some New England states cannot initiate constitutional amendments, a strategy for blocking same-sex marriage elsewhere, although Maine does have its “people’s veto.” A Rhode Island bill is unlikely to be acted on soon; proponents believe its chances will improve in 2011, after Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, a Republican who opposes same-sex marriage, leaves office.

“We are closer than we thought we would be, although not closer than we hoped we would be,” said Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the group leading the New England campaign. Pointing out that May 17 is the fifth anniversary of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, Ms. Swislow added, “New England is such a small region that people have been able to see it’s good for everyone.”

Washington Acts on Marriages

The Council of the District of Columbia on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The measure now goes to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who has said he supports it. The committees in the House and Senate that oversee the District of Columbia would then have 30 session days to review the law. If Congress does not act within 30 days, the law will automatically take effect.