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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Marriage Victory in Maine!

It's official: the Maine Senate passed the marriage equality bill this morning, and in a surprise move, previously uncommited Governor John Baldacci has signed it, less than an hour later.

Is he the coolest governor ever, or what? Thanks, John.

More details as I get them.

From Maine Government News:

AUGUSTA – Governor John E. Baldacci today signed into law LD 1020, An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom.

“I have followed closely the debate on this issue. I have listened to both sides, as they have presented their arguments during the public hearing and on the floor of the Maine Senate and the House of Representatives. I have read many of the notes and letters sent to my office, and I have weighed my decision carefully,” Governor Baldacci said. “I did not come to this decision lightly or in haste.”

“I appreciate the tone brought to this debate by both sides of the issue,” Governor Baldacci said. “This is an emotional issue that touches deeply many of our most important ideals and traditions. There are good, earnest and honest people on both sides of the question.”

“In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions,” Governor Baldacci said. “I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.” [emphasis mine - Russ.]

“Article I in the Maine Constitution states that ‘no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of that person’s civil rights or be discriminated against.’”

“This new law does not force any religion to recognize a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs. It does not require the church to perform any ceremony with which it disagrees. Instead, it reaffirms the separation of Church and State,” Governor Baldacci said.

“It guarantees that Maine citizens will be treated equally under Maine’s civil marriage laws, and that is the responsibility of government.”

“Even as I sign this important legislation into law, I recognize that this may not be the final word,” Governor Baldacci said. “Just as the Maine Constitution demands that all people are treated equally under the law, it also guarantees that the ultimate political power in the State belongs to the people.”

“While the good and just people of Maine may determine this issue, my responsibility is to uphold the Constitution and do, as best as possible, what is right. I believe that signing this legislation is the right thing to do,” Governor Baldacci said.

From the Brunswick Times-Record:
This bill has moved quickly through the legislative process. The House of Representatives approved the measure Tuesday after hours of back-and-forth debate, with a final vote of 89-57 in favor of enactment. While the vote was mostly along party lines, there were 12 Democrats who voted against the measure and five Republicans who voted in favor.

The House's decision followed a 21-14 Senate vote in favor of the bill last Thursday. The Senate enacted the bill today by a vote of 21-13. . . .

The House echoed the Senate's desire to keep the decision in the State House by voting 85-62 against sending the question to a statewide referendum.

Opponents of same-sex marriage have vowed to overturn the bill with a citizen's veto, which requires the gathering of 55,087 signatures of Maine voters. The question would then be put to voters in a statewide referendum.
From Reuters:
Gay marriage has made big inroads in the United States this year. In a single week last month, Iowa and Vermont joined Massachusetts and Connecticut in allowing gay couples to legally wed. Legislation is also advancing in New Hampshire. . . . The law in the rugged state of 1.3 million people takes effect 90 days from when the legislative session ends, likely in June.

But if the bill's opponents gather 55,000 signatures, they can delay it pending a referendum, which would likely be held in the next election in November, said the governor's spokesman, David Farmer.

Text of the bill (which may not be the precise final draft signed today) from Equality Maine can be found here. A summary:
This bill repeals the provision that limits marriage to one man and one woman and replaces it with the authorization for marriage between any 2 persons that meet the other requirements of Maine law. It also specifies that a marriage between 2 people of the same sex in another state that is valid in that state is valid and must be recognized in this State.

This bill also clarifies that the authorization of marriage between 2 people of the same sex does not compel any religious institution to alter its doctrine, policy or teaching regarding marriage or to solemnize any marriage in conflict with that doctrine, policy or teaching. It also specifies that a person authorized to join persons in marriage and who fails or refuses to join persons in marriage is not subject to any fine or other penalty for such failure or refusal.

We're on a roll, guys. Now ten percent of the fifty states offer equal marriage.

Hmm. I just might live to see this nationwide after all. Even in dear old Texas.

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