May 6, 2009
By Ramona du Houx
Article I in the Maine Constitution states that ‘no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of that person’s civil rights or be discriminated against.’
An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom abides by Article I.
“I believe that signing this legislation is the right thing to do,” said Governor John Baldacci when he put his signature on the bill. “In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions. I have come 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.”
Until now civil unions in Maine did not give partners equality under the law, as does a civil marriage. Civil unions were unfair denying partners property, child custody and healthcare rights. This new law will right an imbalance within our laws while maintaining the integrity of all religious beliefs.
“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,” said the Governor. “It guarantees that Maine citizens will be treated equally under Maine’s civil marriage laws, and that is the responsibility of government.”
Sen. Dennis Damon, sponsor of LD 1020, said, “I am truly overjoyed. The government of the State of Maine has certainly come down on the right side of civil rights, equality and ending discrimination. I am very proud to be a member of the Legislature. And I am extremely proud to be a Mainer. This has been a long, and at times, difficult process. Today will stand forever as one of the most historic days in our grand and glorious history.”
On May 6, 2009 the Senate enacted LD 1020 by a vote of 21 to 13 with one absent.
“From the beginning, this debate was about the civil rights of Maine people. By passing this historic legislation we have removed a major piece of discrimination from the laws of our state and ensured that all Maine people are free to enjoy the rights and privileges conferred on them by civil marriage,” said Sen. President Elizabeth Mitchell.
The House had previously voted on enactment on Tuesday with a vote of 89 to 57 with 5 absent.
“I want to recognize Governor Baldacci for the courage he has shown today in signing this important legislation to extend civil rights to all of Maine’s committed couples,” said House Speaker Hannah Pingree. “This issue was a personal one for many in the Legislature and I know it was no different for him. Our nation is founded upon the belief that all our citizens will be provided equal protection under the law. Current laws do not meet this test. As this day passes into history and generations to come look back at these deliberations, I believe they will not ask why we did this; they will only ask why we didn’t act sooner.”
The public had ample opportunity to speak out about the issue. The Augusta Civic Center had a packed audience many of whom testified on the bill.
“Mainers traveled from every corner of the state to testify to their hopes for their families, and the harm that they suffer from not being able to marry. Legislators took these stories not only into theirs heads, but also into their hearts. They have responded quickly, in overwhelming majority, to make marriage for gay and lesbian couples the law of the land in Maine,” said Betsy Smith, Executive Director of EqualityMaine. “The state of Maine has stated clearly that gay and lesbian families are valued citizens, worthy of the same rights and protections as all Maine families.”
The momentum of the movement has begun in America. Maine is the second state to enact the law through the legislation process. Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa allow same-sex marriages. Vermont has passed a law making gay and lesbian marriages legal that takes effect in September. New Hampshire lawmakers are close to passing a similar bill.
“Same sex couples live in every part of our state in loving, committed relationships, yet they have not been afforded the rights and responsibilities that come with marriage. Today our state took a major step toward correcting that injustice,” said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree. “I am so proud to be a part of such an independent and forward thinking state, one of only five states that has taken such a landmark step towards equality for all of its citizens.”
For many this issue is the civil rights issue of a new generation, as African Americans rights were to the baby boomers.
“I pray that as Maine goes, so will the rest of the nation. For far too long people have been denied this basic right that so many of us are fortunate enough to take for granted,” said Damon. “In Maine, we have said that same-sex couples are not second class citizens, that separate is not equal, that justice and fairness ultimately prevails over fear and hatred.”