March 11, 2010

State should be proud of same-sex marriage law

— The governor of Maine could not have been more clear or resolute on Wednesday as he signed same-sex marriage into law, though everyone knows his approval will not be the last word.

Still, though far from resolved, it's important that Maine people take a moment to reflect on the history that was made in Augusta this year. Eighty-nine state representatives, 21 state senators and one governor put themselves on record as supporting fairness and equality. They did their state proud, and no matter what happens in November, history will remember them for standing up for what is right amid an emotional debate.

Those who oppose same-sex unions have known for weeks that the Legislature would pass the measure, and they suspected Gov. Baldacci would sign it. They will now mobilize quickly to secure the signatures necessary to put the question of marriage rights for gay and lesbian people on the ballot in November.

Though it is not always fair to put civil rights to the test of popular support, it's also true that such rights are never really secure until they are embraced by a majority. The upcoming debate will no doubt be emotional and even painful for some. But it is a necessary step toward securing lasting support for equality for same-sex couples in Maine.

And if Mainers are going to have this debate, they should do so fairly. There should be no room for ugly stereotypes about gay and lesbian citizens or people with conservative religious views.

Last month, about 2,000 people packed the Augusta Civic Center for a legislative hearing on the bill Baldacci has now signed into law. It was emotional, as expected, but it was also an orderly and largely respectful exchange. If Maine people are lucky, that same tone will carry over to the debate leading up to an expected vote in November.

And if fairness is to prevail, that vote will affirm what the Legislature has done. It is clear that only by granting full marriage rights to gay and lesbian Mainers can they be guaranteed equal treatment under the law. While opponents may see same-sex marriage as an infringement on their beliefs, the far greater injustice would be to deny so many Maine citizens the right to marry the people they love.

History was made in Augusta this week, but real change requires the support of Maine citizens. They should vote ''no'' if asked whether the Legislature's good work should be undone.

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