PORTLAND — State Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Trenton, was among those honored by the EqualityMaine Foundation on Saturday at its 26th annual awards dinner at Holiday Inn by the Bay.

The evening celebrated the organization’s best of 2009, when Maine became the first state in the nation to pass a marriage equality bill through both chambers of its Legislature and have it signed into law by its governor, John Baldacci.

Damon, described as a “straight ally” during the awards ceremony, sponsored the bill to end discrimination in civil marriage and kicked off a historic year for Maine, said Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine.

November, nearly 8,000 volunteers, led by EqualityMaine, were campaigning against a voter referendum to overturn the law. The referendum passed, but the experience laid the groundwork for a continued effort to allow marriage for all families, Smith said.

“This awards ceremony is particularly meaningful because we went through a major effort last year to protect our families,” Smith said outside the packed banquet room. “We need to recommit ourselves because it’s not an issue that’s going away.”

Founded in 1984, EqualityMaine is the state’s oldest and largest organization that advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

EqualityMaine also honored Jimmy Lucibello of Ogunquit, an HIV/AIDS outreach worker who played a critical part in campaign to oppose the referendum.

In accepting the award, Lucibello noted that of the people in Maine newly infected by HIV, one in three is under age 35, and the rate of infection within the gay community continues to climb, even as federal funding for domestic HIV prevention has been cut by $23 million.

“The fight must continue to end this global epidemic,” Lucibello said.

Equality Maine gave two Faith in Action awards this year, to the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry and to Catholics for Marriage Equality, both of which worked on the referendum opposition campaign.

The Religious Coalition is committed to keep working for equality in marriage, inviting people of faith in Maine to build a community where there is justice for all.

Catholics for Marriage Equality works to give hope to those hurt by their bishops’ efforts to overturn the law and promote the idea that civil marriage as a right that Catholics can support.

EqualityMaine also gave Out Front Awards, recognizing outstanding volunteer leadership, to Tom Reynolds and Ira Bittues of Lewiston; Ellie MacCallum of Windham; Carla Hopkins and Victoria Eleftheriou of Mount Vernon; Lucie Bauer and Annie Kiemaier of Rockport; David Cox of Orono; Meredith Hunt and Melissa Hamkins of Bowdoin; and Tom Muise and Brian Dustin of Biddeford.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com