Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Maine voters will be faced with that kind of change on Nov. 3, when they are asked in Question 1 to reject a law that would extend civil marriage status to same-sex couples.
While this change in the law could seem abrupt to some Maine voters, it reflects the way people are really living now in cities and towns all over our state. That's why we urge people to vote ''no,'' to allow this reasonable law to go into effect.
Leaders of the people's veto campaign argue that extending the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage to families headed by same-sex couples would have broad effects throughout society. We have listened to their arguments, but we just don't buy them.
While it's technically true that the law would change the wording of the definition of marriage in state statute, it would not change the institution as it exists in Maine for thousands of traditional couples. Those vows would not be any weaker if same-sex couples were allowed to take them. Marriage would remain the key foundation for creating families, with the rights and responsibilities that come with it spelled out in the law, whether those families are headed by same- or opposite-sex couples.
Limiting marriage to a man and a woman would not make families led by same-sex couples go away. It would just keep them in a legally inferior position that is inconsistent with Maine's tradition of equal protection under the law.
Gay men and women already live together, own property and have children, both biological and adopted. They hold responsible jobs, they volunteer in churches and schools -- they are full members of our communities. The only thing they cannot do is form the legal partnership that gives them the advantages and duties that other couples have when they start families. The same-sex couples are not the only losers. This also puts their children at a disadvantage.
ARGUMENTS DON'T STAND UP
Treating same-sex couples fairly would have an important impact on their families, such as when one partner gets sick or dies. But it would not affect traditional couples at all.
The ''Stand for Marriage: Yes on 1'' campaign has struggled to come up with ways in which allowing this law to take effect would hurt traditional families. To often they have resorted to inventing scenarios to scare voters.
The most prominent has been the charge that children would be forced to learn about same-sex marriage in school. All it takes is a quick reading of the law to see, however, that there is no mention of education in it. Curriculum in Maine is approved by local school boards, and those elected officials would be under no obligation to add lessons on marriage law to their areas of study.
But that's not to say that children would be kept in the dark. They are smart, and they should be expected to notice that some of their classmates have two moms or two dads instead of one of each. This is not a function of the law, however, it is a reflection of reality. A ''yes'' vote won't make those couples go away. It would only make their lives more difficult.
At some point, all children recognize that everyone's home is not like their own, that different people have different values and that all families are not the same. Parents should not be afraid that what children see in school will eclipse the values that are taught at home.
Arguments that same-sex marriage would inhibit religious freedom or cause a flood of lawsuits also fall flat. The same claims were made in campaigns against Maine's anti-discrimination laws and neither of them came true. Maine has strong exemptions for religious organizations in its employment and housing laws, and the marriage law would not require anyone to preside over a ceremony in violation of his or her religious beliefs.
NO FLOOD OF SUITS
Last year, only 32 out of 1,394 civil rights complaints to the Maine Human Rights commission were based on sexual orientation, and few, if any of them, are ever likely to end up in court. The marriage statute would not provide any new grounds for lawsuits.
Although the ''Yes on One'' campaign says that its opposition is not based on religious objections to homosexual behavior, that's all that's left when the other arguments are disposed of. People are entitled to their beliefs, but religious teaching alone shouldn't be the basis of our law.
The vote ''no'' campaign makes solid arguments that hold up to scrutiny.
While the courts have become increasingly ready to extend family-law protections to same-sex partners in adoption and child custody cases, parents at the head of these families remain legal strangers to each other, causing problems that range from inconvenient to inhumane.
Maine statutes use the word ''spouse'' 400 times. They use the word ''marital'' 600 times. There is virtually no way to surgically carve out and tie together all the rights and responsibilities of marriage in a legal relationship that does what marriage does without calling it marriage.
There is also no way to provide the universally understood family status that comes with a marriage contract. Husbands and wives don't need to produce durable powers of attorney or advance directives when they pick up their children from school, visit a hospital room or make decisions at a funeral home.
Only same-sex couples are required to produce documents and jump through these legal hoops, and that is not what the equal protection clause in the state constitution promises.
Families led by same-sex partners are here now. They are part of our communities and they need and deserve the legal protections -- as well as the dignity -- that comes with civil marriage status.
Maine voters should recognize that even if their personal beliefs about marriage haven't changed, reality has. They should accept reality and vote ''no'' on Question 1.