In January, more than 105,000 signatures from 450 Maine towns were delivered to the Maine Secretary of State’s office from Mainers who want to see the issue of marriage equality for same-sex couples on this November's ballot. MPA is a proud member of the coalition of groups supporting same-sex marriage in 2012. Together, these organizations have embarked on the first effort in our nation’s history to pro-actively put the freedom to marry to a statewide vote.
In 2009, Maine was the first state to pass marriage through the legislature and have it signed by the governor. Following that historic win, opponents halted the law and began a People’s Veto campaign. On Election Day 2009, just 16,500 voters blocked the institution of equal marriage for all Maine families.
Since then, advocates for marriage equality, led by EqualityMaine, have had tens of thousands of conversations with Maine voters about why marriage matters for gay and lesbian couples. When presented with the facts, the majority of Mainers are supportive of allowing same-sex couples to marry and many people who have previously opposed equal rights are changing their minds. The latest polling results show support for marriage equality in Maine at 54%.
MPA members have long held to the principle that all loving, committed couples deserve the dignity and respect that marriage brings – as well as all the legal rights and obligations that marriage entails. While some states have taken the step of passing civil union legislation for same-sex couples, civil unions do not achieve equality because of the special status that marriage holds in our society. Indeed, the history of American democracy affirms that it is not right to create separate institutions for different groups of citizens. Currently, there are more than 200 laws in Maine that provide legal protections and responsibilities for married couples. Without those protections, same-sex couples and their families cannot file taxes together; cannot take time off work to care for a sick partner or mourn a loved one; are excluded from important decisions when one partner is sick or dies, and have to knit together expensive legal webs just to ensure their children are technically part of their families.
Furthermore, children of same-sex couples are harmed when their parents do not receive all the protections of marriage. Same-sex couples with children are less likely to have access to family health insurance and those who have it pay more for it than their married coworkers. Children are less protected financially and legally when a parent dies and when couples are banned from marrying, it hurts children by making them feel that their families are inferior. Many committed same-sex couples tell stories about their children asking, “If you love each other, why aren’t you married?”
The title of the proposed Citizens Initiative is “An Act to Allow Marriage Licenses for Same-Sex Couples and Protect Religious Freedom.” The proposed ballot question wording submitted to the Secretary of State in June of last year reads as follows: “Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, and that protects religious freedom by ensuring that no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?” As in 2009, there are already a number of faith leaders standing up in favor of marriage equality. At the press event where signatures were delivered to the Secretary of State’s office last month, Pastor Michael Gray of Old Orchard Beach United Methodist Church said, “I grew up in Maine and always considered myself a conservative guy, but I have taken a journey toward supporting marriage for gays and lesbians...through study, prayer, and patience.”
The Secretary of State's Office has 30 days to confirm that there are at least 57,277 valid signatures of registered voters (10 percent of the turnout in the last gubernatorial election); the issue then moves through the legislature where lawmakers can either adopt the proposal or send it to referendum. Since legislative passage seems very unlikely, MPA is making plans to educate thousands of Maine voters about the issue and to ensure that supporters of same-sex marriage make it to the polls.
Discrimination, against anyone, runs counter to the Maine way of life and against the values this country was founded upon. In November, Maine voters will have the chance to do the right thing and extend the rights and responsibilities of marriage to our gay and lesbian friends and neighbors. To find out how you can help, please visit: www.whymarriagemattersmaine.com.