March 4, 2010

Experts: Same-sex marriage not dead

By DENNIS HOEY Staff Writer

— By DENNIS HOEY

Staff Writer

A panel of legal experts, including a former Maine attorney general, predicts that it will be only a matter of time before Maine legalizes same-sex marriage.

Though Tuesday's vote repealed the same-sex marriage law that was approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor in May, the Columbia Law School panelists said Maine is on the path toward adoption.

One of the panelists in the forum held in New York City on Wednesday night was James E. Tierney, who was Maine's attorney general from 1980 through 1990.

Tierney, who lives in Lisbon Falls, is a law lecturer and director of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School.

''Maine may have its share of homophobes, but people are beginning to change their minds,'' Tierney said during an Internet broadcast from New York. ''Today was probably a bad day in our schools and for gay and lesbian people (in Maine), but down the road, I think it's going to get better.''

Nathaniel Persily, who moderated the discussion, noted that as the nation's population ages, the staunchest opponents of same-sex marriage -- older people -- will be replaced by a younger generation of voters, who do support same-sex couples.

''This was a setback,'' even though the supporters of same-sex marriage received legislative approval, said Persily, a law and political science professor.

Tierney agreed in part with the point about the aging population, saying that although there were no exit polls, ''it's clear to me that older men voted against this measure in large numbers.''

Suzanne Goldberg, a law professor, said gay and lesbian couples were probably feeling ''incredible frustration, misery and outrage'' over the vote.

''Life in Maine for gay people today is different than it was yesterday,'' Goldberg said. ''They've been told they don't have the same rights as the rest of us do.''

But Goldberg urged supporters of same-sex marriage to take the long view.

She said the same-sex marriage referendum ''changed the conversation.''

She said the debate leading up to the vote made people who voted for repeal more aware of gay and lesbian couples' concerns, which will likely be reflected in future votes on the issue.

''When I see that 48 percent of voters voted for marriage equality, I look at that and say that is incredibly promising,'' Goldberg said.

Tierney predicted the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage will be revived in the next two to three years. He said the margin of victory for those who voted to repeal the law was clearly not a mandate.

''The fact that it was close, same-sex marriage supporters have a lot to be pleased about,'' Tierney said. ''Time is clearly on the side of those who support same-sex marriage.''

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

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