The Approval and the “People’s Veto”
Same-sex marriage is currently unrecognized in the state of Maine due to a rare series of events. A bill to legalize gay marriage passed with legislative approval and was signed by Governor Baldacci on May 6, 2009 but opponents were quick to react and successfully petitioned for the legislation to be put to vote. This effectively placed the law on hold. Despite being known for their moderate political views, the people of Maine passed the referendum on November 3, 2009 with a fifty-three percent majority thus, reversing the gay marriage bill.
The law regarding domestic partnership, however, was not affected.
Maine had the opportunity to be the sixth state to legalize marriage for gay couples but turned at the last minute and joined dozens of other states that have rejected similar legislation by vote. Fast action on the part of opponents meant that not one gay couple entered into holy matrimony.
Both Sides of the Debate
The national gay marriage debate brings up many different reasons and justifications for either supporting, or opposing the issue. In Maine, Protect Maine Equality and the Governor himself were among those in favor of the gay marriage bill. Governor Baldacci admitted that “in the past, [he] opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions” but “[he] c[a]me to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.”
Gay marriage opponents used, primarily, an educational argument, stressing that children would begin learning about same-sex couples in schools. Stand for Marriage Maine, the leading organization against the gay marriage law, explained that this would then lead teenagers to experiment with their sexuality, and eventually, that same-sex marriage would become widespread. According to them, having won anti-discrimination protection should suffice and that the issue of marriage for same-sex couples should be left alone. A spokesman for the organization, Scott Fish, echoed this sentiment by claiming that the issue was never over homosexuality but rather “a campaign about protecting traditional marriage.” The group feels that inequities between marriage and domestic partnerships could be resolved with legislation and strengthening the existing law regarding domestic partnerships.
It is hard to determine which was the attack or the defense, but Governor Baldacci’s only real reassurance for opponents was based on religious opposition, which was not really the focus of opponents’ argument. He assured the public that “this new law does not force any religion to recognize a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs. It does not require the church to perform any ceremony with which it disagrees. Instead, it reaffirms the separation of Church and State.”
Both sides of the debate made incredible efforts with each side raising around four million dollars for their respective causes.
Regardless, the ultimate decision was made by Maine’s voters. Supporters of gay marriage like Mary Bonauto, a Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) lawyer, who lives in Maine with her partner, were extremely disappointed and let down but learned a great deal in the process. Others, like Carole Cheeseman Russo, supported the cause despite having no gay family members (to her knowledge) and feel that no one “has the right to tell someone who they’re allowed to love or who their allowed to marry… [same-sex marriage] has just got to come back.” Hopefully, it will.
Can gay couples marry in Maine? No.
Can gay couples enter into civil unions? No.