March 12, 2010

Video cuts to core of marriage issue

— Got 10 minutes?

Before the battle starts over Maine's proposed same-sex marriage law, before the demonstrations on the State House steps lead the evening news, before the scorched-earth ads hit the airwaves, before the entire state works itself into a lather over the meaning of ''family,'' find a quiet place with your computer and click onto: http://tinyurl.com/22fqop

There, you'll find a 10-minute, 32-second YouTube video entitled ''The Way Life Should Be: Marriage in Maine.''

It's about three couples: Sara Jane Elliot and Rita Clifford, Steve Ryan and Jim Bishop, Angela Blier and Melissa Rheaume. Each begins the video with a brief introduction followed by the same statement: ''I want to get married.''

It sounds so simple, which of course it isn't.

This week's announcement by the Maine Freedom to Marry Coalition that it will bring its campaign for same-sex marriage to the current Legislature already has the bloggers firing their verbal salvos back and forth across the Great Moral Divide.

At the same time, the Maine Marriage Alliance is rolling out an amendment to the state Constitution that defines marriage as the '' legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife.''

In short, hold on tight. Three years after Maine's equal rights law survived its last people's veto, another battle over sexual orientation looms on the electoral horizon.

Which brings us back to the video.

It's striking in its simplicity as it portrays how comfortably the three couples already fit into Maine's cultural landscape.

A threat to society? Hardly. Just take a look:

Rita and Sara Jane, who between them have seven children and eight grandchildren, have been together for more than 25 years.

Angela and Melissa, who have a little boy named Ethan, go back more than 11 years.

Steve and Jim (who, lo and behold, are my neighbors in Bar Mills) co-own and manage 51 units of low-income housing. They've been a couple for more than 30 years.

''We were happy to do (the video),'' Steve said Wednesday. ''We had no trepidation at all.''

Steve said he's sensed ''a greater openness'' in the community toward him and Jim in the past five or six years. Where once they were ''those two guys who live together,'' he said, they're now accepted by more people as two men who truly love each other.

''To me,'' Steve said, ''the people are far ahead of the politicians on this one.''

Time will tell.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland is already on record opposing the same-sex marriage bill unveiled Tuesday by Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Trenton.

Michael Heath, executive director of the Maine Family Policy Council, accurately predicts that whatever the Legislature does, this thing is headed for the voting booth.

And even Gov. John Baldacci hedged this week, saying he's ''not prepared to say I support gay marriage today,'' but will ''consider what I hear'' as Damon's bill winds its way through the State House.

Here's hoping the governor -- and every other Mainer -- also checks out that video.

At least then we'll all know whom we're talking about.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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