Tuesday, June 18, 2013
By SUSAN M. COVER Kennebec Journal
AUGUSTA - Thomas Reynolds and Ira Bittues considered not going to the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina this year following that state's 61 percent support for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
However, the men, who live in Lewiston and have been together for seven years, will be in Charlotte this week with other gays and lesbians who will push for acceptance of gay marriage.
"Our resolve was to go to North Carolina as proud gays and lesbians and really send a message acknowledging that the majority of people in this country support equal rights," Reynolds said.
Reynolds, 47, and Bittues, 44, are two of 35 delegates from Maine attending the convention this week. On Tuesday, they'll vote on a platform that, for the first time, includes a plank supportive of gay marriage.
"To have it officially be a plank on the platform is huge," said Reynolds, chairman of the Androscoggin County Democratic Committee.
The issue of gay marriage clearly splits along party lines, at least when you compare the Republican platform to the Democratic platform.
The official Republican platform, adopted last week at the Republican National Convention, expressed support for a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. It also affirms the rights of states and the federal government not to recognize same-sex marriage, according to The Associated Press.
The proposed Democratic platform calls for supporting same-sex marriage.
Gay-marriage opponent Carroll Conley, of Protect Marriage Maine, said in a written statement that "there is a clear and stark contrast" between the two platforms.
"The proponents of redefining marriage are willing to risk further weakening the building block of civilization in order to equate all committed relationships," he wrote. "Instead, we should be promoting and strengthening marriage for the good of all society."
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama said in a television interview that his position on gay marriage has evolved to the point where he now supports it. He mentioned his daughters, Malia and Sasha, and their friends' parents, as part of the reason he now supports same-sex marriage.
"You know, Malia and Sasha, they've got friends whose parents are same-sex couples," he said, according to a transcript of the interview posted on the ABC News website. "And I, you know, there have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table. And we've been talking and -- about their friends and their parents. And Malia and Sasha would -- it wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently. It doesn't make sense to them. And -- and frankly, that's the kind of thing that prompts a change of perspective. You know, not wanting to somehow explain to your child why somebody should be treated differently, when it comes to the eyes of the law."
The Maine Democratic Party has included a call for same-sex marriage in its platform since 2006, but this is the first time support for same-sex marriage has been part of the national platform.
"I think it's fabulous," said Rita Moran, of Winthrop, chairwoman of the Kennebec County Democratic Committee, and a delegate to the convention. "Making it a priority is important."
In 2009, the Democratic-led Maine Legislature passed a gay-marriage bill, and it was signed into law by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci; but a successful people's veto in November of that year repealed the legislation on a 53 percent-to-47 percent vote.
The issue is back on the ballot this year, and Maine is one of four states voting on gay marriage. Advocates collected the signatures necessary to call for a citizen vote in Maine, while the Minnesota Legislature is asking voters whether they support a constitutional ban. In Maryland and Washington state, the legislatures passed gay-marriage bills that were signed by Democratic governors, and opponents gathered the signatures necessary to call for a popular vote.
Across the country, 31 states have constitutional bans on gay marriage. North Carolina became one of those states in May when it voted in support of a constitutional ban. Gay marriage is legal in six states -- Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Iowa -- and in the District of Columbia.
Betty Johnson, a 72-year-old delegate from Maine who lives in Lincolnville, said she's looking forward to the convention because it will energize the party. The state party treasurer and Waldo County commissioner said she's supportive of the gay-marriage plank in the national platform and that she hopes voters extend the right of marriage to gay and lesbian couples in Maine.
"I'm hoping it will pass," she said.
The Democratic National Convention runs Tuesday through Thursday, with the first two days of events at the Time Warner Cable Arena. On Thursday, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are scheduled to accept the party nomination at Bank of America Stadium.
Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Susan Cover can be reached at 621-5653 or: