Gay couples will be able to get married in Maine as soon as Dec. 29, now that the governor has certified the results of the referendum Nov. 6 that made it legal.
But it remained uncertain Monday who will be the first Maine same-sex couple to wed, and when and where they will tie the knot.
Maine’s law allowing gay couples to get marriage licenses will take effect on a Saturday, when city and town offices are normally closed. Couples may have to wait until the following Monday, which is New Year’s Eve.
The law takes effect 30 days after Gov. Paul LePage’s certification of the voting results, which came on Thursday, said Megan Sanborn, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office.
Sanborn said her office doesn’t decide whether city or town offices open on Saturday. “That will depend on the municipalities.”
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said he will look into the possibility of opening City Hall on that Saturday, possibly at 12:01 a.m., for the city’s — and possibly the state’s — first same-sex marriage ceremony.
“We just found out about this today, and we’ll look into all the details and make a determination from there,” Brennan said Monday afternoon. “We can’t say for sure we’ll be open on Dec. 29 or rule that out as a possibility.”
But whether it’s Dec. 29 or Dec. 31, Brennan said he’s certain of one thing: He wants to be there.
“I’m going to be very pleased and happy when the first (same-sex couple) in the city of Portland gets to be married in a ceremony of their choosing,” Brennan said. “Certainly this is a historic event. I think if Portland could be part of this historic event, we’d want to be.”
Maine residents voted 53 percent to 47 percent on Nov. 6 to approve gay marriage, making Maine the ninth state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.
Betsy Smith, executive director of the pro-gay-marriage group EqualityMaine, said her group will not lobby cities or towns to change their office hours.
“We’re first going to find out whether city halls and town halls have hours on Saturday. If there are some with Saturday hours, then theirs will be the first” ceremonies, Smith said.
Even Smith was caught off guard by the timing of the law’s effective date. She expected that the governor would wait until his deadline, rather than sign the voting results early, and that the law would take effect Jan. 5, 6 or 7.
After Election Day, the secretary of state had 20 days to certify the voting results, then the governor had 10 days to sign off on them.
“The question is, are people going to line up for marriage licenses for Saturday on Dec. 29 or Monday on Dec. 31? I don’t know,” Smith said.
Sarah Dowling and Linda Wolfe of Freeport have been together for 18 years and were at the forefront of the fight to legalize gay marriage in Maine for many of those years.
They had what Dowling called a “non-legal wedding” 16 years ago, followed by a civil union in Vermont on their fifth anniversary. They have talked about getting legally married either at Freeport Town Hall or at their church on July 27, the earliest date they could schedule a wedding there.
“I don’t know that I want to wait one second,” Dowling said Monday.
She said she and Wolfe would like to be the first gay couple in the state to get married, and will check with Freeport Town Hall and discuss it with Wolfe.
No matter their decision, she said, the news made Monday “an exciting day.”
“I’m happy for us, I’m happy for our children and I’m happy for our grandchildren and the world they are going to grow up in,” Dowling said. “And I’m happy for wedding cake, too.”
Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine and a leading opponent of the ballot initiative that legalized same-sex marriage, said he has been unable to get the state to answer the many questions he still has about how gay marriage will be implemented.
“We’re dealing with notaries and clerks and religious organizations,” Conley said. Many of them don’t approve of gay marriage on religious grounds and object to taking a role.
He said cities and towns should consider voting to appoint deputy clerks to issue same-sex marriage licenses in places where clerks are “conscientious objectors.”
“The other issue we’re dealing with is religious institutions that rent their properties out for weddings,” Conley said.
He said churches that don’t want to open their doors to same-sex couples don’t know what their rights will be if they refuse to allow same-sex ceremonies.
“We do have some legal advice that it’s a different circumstance when a church is renting to just its members as opposed to the general public,” Conley said. “Before we advise churches, we want to make sure that we are giving them sound advice.”
The law says, in part, that it does not require “any church, religious denomination or other religious institution to host any marriage in violation of” its religious beliefs. “The refusal to perform or host a marriage … cannot be the basis for a lawsuit or liability.”
South Portland City Hall won’t be open on Dec. 29, but will be open on Dec. 31 during its normal business hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with marriage licenses available until 4 p.m., said Assistant City Clerk Karen Morrill.
Morrill said she hasn’t heard questions from many people about when same-sex couples can come in to get married, but that may be because the clerk’s office posted a sign saying it wouldn’t be an option before Dec. 26.
Marriage ceremonies at South Portland City Hall must be scheduled. People can get marriage licenses on a walk-in basis, she said.
“I’m hoping we’ll be bombarded,” Morrill said.
Morrill, who supports the new law, said that as a notary public she could legally refuse to conduct a marriage ceremony, but her office wouldn’t do that.
“We would never refuse anyone,” she said.
Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: