A fight over the right of gay and
lesbian couples to marry is taking shape in Maine. Proponents of gay
marriage announced they would introduce a bill in the Maine
Legislature to allow the practice, while opponents announced their
own anti-gay measure, setting the stage for a rancorous debate over
the definition of marriage.
At a Tuesday press conference, Senator
Dennis S. Damon (Democrat) announced that he will introduce a gay
Several prominent gay and lesbian
groups were present at the media event including members of the Maine
Freedom to Marry Coalition made up of the Equality Maine, the Maine
Civil Liberties Union, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders and
the Maine Women's Lobby.
Gay and lesbian couples wishing to
marry surrounded Damon as he made the announcement.
Maine lawmakers passed a bill in 2004
to extend domestic partnerships to both gay and straight couples,
putting the state in the category of states that offer some legal
protections to gay and lesbian couples.
The state's registry grants few
guaranteed protections beyond estate planning, but gives gay couples
a legal footing when asking for benefits from the private sector.
A 2005 report by the Williams Institute
of the UCLA School of Law concluded gay couples lived in every county
in Maine and represent about .7% of all households in the state.
Damon, who lives in Trenton with his
wife Bonnie, said the new bill would extend the responsibilities and
benefits of marriage to gay and lesbian couples and would affirm a
religious institution's right to decide who to marry. The law would
also recognize legal gay marriages performed in other states.
“Today I have submitted an act to end
discrimination in civil marriage and to affirm religious freedom,”
he said at the Augusta, Maine press conference.
Mary Bonauto, the Civil Rights Project
Director of GLAD, the gay rights organization largely responsible for
winning the right of gay couples to marry in Massachusetts and
Connecticut, spoke at the press conference: “Loving, committed same
sex couples in my home state deserve all the rights and
responsibilities of marriage. Every day I meet couples who are
raising children or planning retirement without the legal protections
of marriage. It's time to right this wrong and make Maine a better,
fairer, stronger state.”
GLAD leaders are pushing a six state
strategy to win gay marriage for the entire New England region. Of
those states, Massachusetts began offering gay marriage in 2005 and
Connecticut last November. Two states offer civil unions: Vermont
and New Hampshire. Legislation to provide for gay marriage is being
introduced this year in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode
But the fight in Maine promises to face
Rep. Josh Tardy, the House Republican
leader in Maine, has announced he will introduce legislation this
session that would restrict marriage to a heterosexual union by
making it a constitutional amendment.
In New Hampshire, openly gay Democrat
Jim Splaine, the sponsor of the New Hampshire civil unions bill that
passed in 2007, is also facing difficult opposition to his gay
Soon after Splaine announced he would
sponsor the bill altering civil unions to marriage, gay marriage foes
announced their owns plans to limit the influence of legal gay
marriages performed in states such as nearby Massachusetts and
GLAD hopes to bring gay marriage to the
entire New England region by 2012.