Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Picture state Rep. Stacey Fitts of Pittsfield as he caucused with his fellow Republican lawmakers back in May 2009.
Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield
It was eminently clear to everyone in the State House that Maine's same-sex marriage bill, heavily favored by the majority Democrats, had all the support it needed to pass.
And while a handful of his Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives planned to cross the aisle and back the measure, Fitts had been around long enough to know, as he recalled last week, "you don't take on a controversial issue if you don't have to."
So even as his conscience tugged at him, even as he wondered if he might be on the wrong side of history, Fitts voted no.
Then he sat back and watched as Gov. John Baldacci signed the bill into law. He grimaced as the inevitable people's veto campaign -- led by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine and California anti-same-sex marriage guru Frank Schubert -- split the state in two.
And through it all, something inside Fitts changed.
"In my mind, through that summer, watching how the campaign played out and how hateful it became, it certainly iced it for me that this wasn't just about people being concerned about marriage," he said. "This had everything to do with what a person who is gay deals with on a daily basis."
That fall, Fitts went to the polls and quietly switched sides, voting to keep the law he'd once opposed. Once again, he found himself on the losing side -- although this time, at least, he walked away confident he'd done the right thing.
"I basically didn't want to be in a place ever again where I didn't stand up against something that hurt people," Fitts said. "And I wasn't going to be part of campaigns that were hateful."
You've probably seen Fitts by now, front and center in a new television ad urging his fellow Mainers to vote yes on Question 1 next month and lay this issue to rest once and for all.
"Deciding who you marry is the most important decision you will ever make. I don't believe the government should tell anybody who they can love or who they can marry," he says in the 30-second spot. "Voting yes protects religious freedom and it protects individual freedom. To me, that's what our country's all about."
It's also a sign of these rapidly changing times.
Republicans United for Marriage, of which Fitts is one, will hold news conferences in Portland and Bangor this week to highlight a pivotal difference between this year's same-sex marriage campaign and the one that lost by just over 33,000 votes three years ago:
This time around, there's growing support among conservatives for making a state marriage license available to any gay or lesbian couple that wants one.
Dan Demeritt, a former communications director for Gov. Paul LePage and now a columnist for this newspaper, spoke movingly at the group's rollout in July about how important his wife has been to him through good times and bad.
"Through it all, every day, I came home to my wife, who I knew would be there for me to listen to my troubles and celebrate the successes. To share in the joy and the pain. And, when things were toughest, to bring me comfort," Demeritt said. "I support the freedom to marry because I want every person to have a chance at that kind of relationship, to be able to share the joys and obligations, and to help shoulder the troubles of life that we all face."
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