February 24, 2012

Maine same-sex marriage law heads for ballot

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

AUGUSTA — Advocates of same-sex marriage turned in more than enough signatures to move ahead with a citizens initiative that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry in Maine, the Secretary of State's Office ruled Thursday.

More than 85,000 voter signatures were declared valid. The advocacy groups needed at least 57,277 valid signatures for their bill to get to the Legislature.

Lawmakers now will be presented with a citizens initiative proposing the legalization of gay marriage in Maine. Currently, seven states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriages.

Lawmakers have the option of passing the bill as proposed, but they likely will send it to voters in November. Advocates of same-sex marriage, who lost in 2009 at the ballot box in a 53-47 percent vote, say enough Mainers have changed their minds that the measure will pass this time.

"The story of the 2012 campaign is not going to be gay folk coming out and supporting this, it's going to be heterosexuals like myself coming out in support of gay marriage," said Michael Gray, pastor of the Old Orchard Beach United Methodist Church. "We're now realizing how important it is for us to speak up."

Brian Souchet, director of the Office for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said he fully expected that the advocates would get enough signatures.

But, he said, they will have a harder time convincing the public that it's time to allow same-sex marriage in Maine.

"This is a group that's attempting to redefine marriage," he said. "We don't see how a majority of Maine voters are going to go for that."

The coalition that's working to pass a gay-marriage law comprises EqualityMaine, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, the Maine Women's Lobby, The Religious Coalition Against Discrimination and 15 other groups.

Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, said she hopes that the Legislature will listen to the more than 100,000 people who signed the petition in support of a citizens initiative.

"Our hope is that they will abide by the wishes of the people, which is to vote in November," she said.

Bob Emrich, who is organizing a coalition of opponents that will include the Christian Civic League of Maine, Concerned Women for America and the National Organization for Marriage, said he's cautiously optimistic that voters haven't changed their minds on the issue since 2009.

"We're much better prepared than we were before," he said. "I don't know anyone other than EqualityMaine folks who think things have changed."

In a statement released Thursday night by the Catholic diocese, Bishop Richard Malone said, "The church will remain firm in her constant teaching that marriage is exclusively the union of one woman and one man -- a nearly universally accepted truth until very recently. ... The church advises people to read the proposed legislation very closely before they vote on it." 

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

scover@mainetoday.com

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