Maine Senate Passes Gay Marriage Bill

by Steve Weinstein

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday April 30, 2009

This morning, April 30, the Maine Senate voted 20-15 in favor of LD 1020, a marriage equality bill. It now moves to the House of Representatives. The Senate defeated an amendment to the bill that proposed putting the question of marriage equality for same-sex couples before voters.

According to most polls, the Maine electorate is about evenly divided on the issue.

Maine currently provides same-sex couples with access to limited rights and benefits through a domestic partner registry. But, as did Vermont's Legislature, which pioneered civil unions, this was considered a half-measure, which didn't provide all of the rights and responsibilities of full marriage equality. Similarly, New Jersey, which has civil unions, is considering full marriage equality, which will probably come up sometimes this year. And neighboring Connecticut, faced with the same situation, became the third state (after Massachusetts and Iowa) to grant full marriage equality.

The Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, a Boston-based group that helped make Massachusetts the first state in the Union to give full marriage equality, has expanded its mission to the six New England states. The region is proving itself to be in forefront of the marriage-equality movement.

When and if Maine grants marriage equality, the only two remaining states will be New Hampshire, where marriage equality made a giant step yesterday with passage in its legislature; and Rhode Island, where marriage equality is expected to be taken up by legislature sometime this year.

"Just as spring is coming to New England, so is marriage equality and it is just as welcome and just as sweet," GLAD Executive Director Lee Swislow said in a statement. "We are so proud of Maine and of every New England state where we have played a vital role in bringing marriage equality. With progress in New Hampshire and a win in Vermont, winning in Maine could put us only one state away from our goal of "6x'12" - equality in all six New England states by 2012."

"It seems like every day another state legislative body is voting in favor of marriage equality," added Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese in a statement. HRC and the Task Force both had workers on the ground traveling to cities and towns of the Pine Tree State.

"Today's victory in Maine will resonate throughout the country as other states continue to consider extending the freedom to marry," said National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey. "We congratulate our state partner, EqualityMaine, for its great work to achieve this hard-fought victory."

So, the next quesion is, will Gov. James Baldacci sign it? Interestingly, the governor apparently made an unsolicited phone call to a well-known blogger.

Pam, of Pam's House Blend, relates a dizzying conversation with the Democratic governor.

"I was extremely impressed by the arguments for both sides, but especially by the proponents," the governor reportedly said. "I was opposed to this for a long time, but people evolve, people change as time goes by."

Pam relates the conversation as "very friendly."

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).