December 27, 2010

A change of heart on gay marriage

Baldacci, once an opponent, kept his position on Maine’s historic bill to himself right until signing it.

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

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Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Trenton, left, hands Gov. John Baldacci the bill that the Maine Senate passed earlier that day in May 2009 to affirm the right for same-sex couples to marry. Baldacci signed the bill into law that day.

2009 Press Herald file photo

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He invited reporters into his office to announce his decision only after he had signed it -- explaining that, while he once opposed gay marriage, he had "come to believe that this is a question of fairness."

At the time of the signing, Maine was only the fifth state in the country to allow gay marriage, but the first to pass a bill through the Legislature and have it signed by the governor without a court directive, Smith said.

Immediately after Baldacci signed the bill, Emrich and others in his coalition, which included strong support and leadership from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, gathered the signatures necessary to put the law on the ballot.

After an emotional and expensive campaign in which both sides spent a combined $9.6 million, voters repealed the law, with 53 percent of the vote.

In Smith's mind, the gay-marriage issue should be considered among Baldacci's most significant accomplishments.

At the Democratic State Convention in Lewiston earlier this year, Democrats invited three people to speak at the podium to honor Baldacci: a paper mill union representative; a wind energy proponent; and Smith, who spoke on behalf of gay and lesbian Mainers.

"I believe he does believe that this was one of his legacies -- and good for him," Smith said. "Someday, marriage will be the law and John Baldacci will be the first governor in Maine to have signed the law."

During a recent interview in his office, Baldacci described the evolution of his position from opposition to support, saying he was swayed by research that showed there were "400 citations in the state statutes dealing with state jurisdiction over marriage."

"At our very foundation as a country, each individual has a bill of rights," he said. "Each individual has rights. The majority may rule, but a minority has rights. We're all people, we're all Americans and we're all guided by the Bill of Rights."

Baldacci said he's confident the issue will come forward again and that more Mainers will change their positions, just as he did.

"It was a turnaround, but it's one in which I feel -- after listening to the people of Maine, and recognizing that they weren't ready for us having this as a statewide policy -- it turned a lot of hearts and minds and it represents where we are going to be headed," he said.

"You change laws, yes. But you also have to turn hearts and minds."

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan M. Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

scover@mainetoday.com

 

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