In the year since Maine voters approved the citizens initiative that allowed same-sex couples to marry, life has changed little for Michael Snell and Steven Bridges of Portland.
Sure, they made history as the first same-sex couple to get married in Maine, in the first few minutes of Dec. 29, 2012, the day the law took effect. But they had been civil partners since 2006 and called each other “husband” for years.
Bridges said all that’s really different now is that they’re recognized around town because of all the publicity of their wedding at City Hall.
“But it’s a comfort to wake up every morning knowing what we have is legal,” he said.
They are far from alone.
According to the state Office of Vital Records, 1,216 same-sex couples have gotten married in Maine since Dec. 29, 2012, out of a total of 7,405 marriages in that period.
The number of same-sex marriages doesn’t include non-residents or same-sex couples who got married in other states and automatically became married in Maine on Dec. 29.
Maine’s passage of the law on Nov. 6, 2012, has helped sustain momentum for advocates of same-sex marriage nationally. In the past year, four other states have legalized gay marriage, including Illinois on Tuesday night. Others are poised to follow.
The Rev. Don Rudalevige, a retired United Methodist pastor, said Maine was a symbolic tipping point for same-sex marriage across the country because it was the first state where voters, not lawmakers, approved it.
Still, he said, there will always be efforts to stop that momentum.
“We must remain vigilant against attempts to undermine justice,” Rudalevige said Wednesday at an event in Portland organized by EqualityMaine to mark the anniversary of the law’s passage.
The most immediate result of the law is a lot of weddings, said Ali Vander Zanden, interim executive director of EqualityMaine.
“There is also a lot that hasn’t happened,” Vander Zanden said. “None of the dire consequences that our opponents promised during the campaign, in their misleading TV ads. No lawsuits, no curriculum changes, nothing falling from the sky.”
The main opponents of last year’s initiative were the Christian Civic League of Maine and some social conservatives. Carroll Conley, the civic league’s executive director, said he believes the law is still too new to provide a true sense of its impact, but he has not heard of any legal challenges or complaints related to same-sex marriage.
Nationally in the past year, advocates of gay marriage have gained momentum.
On Tuesday, Illinois became the 15th state to approve same-sex marriage. More than half of those states approved their laws within the past two years. Maine is now one of three states that have approved same-sex marriage by popular vote.
Lawmakers in Hawaii are considering legislation, and Oregon and Nevada are likely to do the same next year.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act – a federal law passed in 1996 to define marriage as between one man and one woman – unconstitutional.
Since then, couples have filed 23 lawsuits seeking to end bans on same-sex marriage in 21 of the 35 states that still forbid it, according to a USA Today story this week.
While there has been a shift in opinion, people are still divided on the issue, even in Maine.
A survey in August by Public Policy Polling showed that 53 percent of Mainers support same-sex marriage, 38 percent oppose it and 9 percent are unsure how they feel.
The same poll asked Mainers whether the legalization of same-sex marriage has had a positive or negative effect. Twenty percent said the law has had a negative impact, 18 percent said the impact has been positive and 62 percent said there has been no impact.
The Rev. Stephen Lane, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, said he has presided over hundreds of weddings in his 34 years, and the two same-sex weddings he has officiated in the past year have been “the most joyful.”
Sarah Dowling and Linda Wolfe of Freeport got married on July 27, the date of their civil commitment ceremony many years ago. They picked that date to get married so they wouldn’t have two separate anniversaries.
Dowling and Wolfe said their lives haven’t changed in the past year, other than the fact that their wedding is now legal in the eyes of everyone, not just them.
Dowling said that when she left the church after she and Wolfe got married, she “exhaled a breath I’ve been holding in for 20 years.”
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: