Sunday, November 18th, 2018

Gay marriage bill debated in Augusta

Posted on April 27, 2009 in News
By Abigail Cuffey

More than 3,000 people attended last week's open hearing in Augusta last week.
Abigail Cuffey
More than 3,000 people attended last week's open hearing in Augusta last week.
More than 3,000 people attended last week's open hearing in Augusta last week.
Abigail Cuffey
More than 3,000 people attended last week's open hearing in Augusta last week.

On Wednesday April 22, over 3,000 people packed in to the Augusta Civic Center for a public hearing on two new bills on gay marriage in Maine. The event, which originally was to be held at Cony High School, was moved to the larger venue to accommodate the expected crowd.

The most talked about bill, LD 1020, an “Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom,” proposed by Senator Dennis Damon of Hancock, would legally recognize the gender-neutral union of two people in the state of Maine.

The bill , which is backed by more than 60 sponsors, also states that religious institutions do not have to recognize or perform same-sex marriages in Maine.

The second bill, LD 1118 proposed by Representative Leslie Fossel, of Alna, would extend more rights to gay couples without legally labeling it marriage.

Maine isn’t the only state discussing same sex marriage, only a week prior New Hampshire conducted a similar public hearing. As recent as this month, Iowa and Vermont legally recognized gay marriage, following the lead of Massachusetts and Connecticut.

If passed in Maine, the bill would redefine a law enacted in 1997 in Maine that defined marriage as being between a man and woman.

Before the Senator Bliss, of the 124th Maine Legislature, informed the speakers that each person only had three minutes to speak, and that each side would be heard in 30 minute intervals. “This testimony may be emotional, please be respectful and treat each other with dignity.”

He also asked speakers to wait a moment after speaking, as committee members might have questions afterwards. “Remember, all of your microphones are on,” he half-jokingly told the committee members.

Chris O’Connor, Assistant Dean of Student Life at USM was in attendance. Before the hearing, O’Connor suggested that the opposition’s faith based groups were busing people from out-of-state to attend the hearing, a situation that he disagreed with. “We want to keep this a Maine issue,” O’Connor said.

According to O’Connor, those who opposed the bill are well-funded, allowing them to rent buses and buy T.V. ads. O’Connor says he tried to organize buses to drive supporters of the bill to the public hearing, but USM wouldn’t use university funds to support lobbying.

In the weeks leading up to the hearing, Facebook, support web sites like mainefreedomtomarry.org, and word of mouth encouraged supporters of the bill to wear red.

Equality Maine, a group which started in 1984 to obtain security for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-gender community in Maine was also in attendance. Their web site encourages supporters to contact their state representatives and senators to extend the protections of same sex couples.

In opposition to gay marriage is Maine Marriage Initiative, a coalition of Maine citizens who are committed to preserving tradition marriage. According to their web site, they disagree with same sex marriage because, “parents will lose the ability to control what their kids learn in school about marriage and sexual orientation.

The group says that “business owners can face legal action for refusing to provide services to a gay couple. For example, if you are a photographer and refuse to shoot a gay wedding you can be sued.”

By 8 a.m. traffic was backed up getting off exit 112A to the Civic Center. By 9 a.m. the parking lot was full. Signs were not allowed inside the Center to deter from rallying, but that didn’t stop people on both sides from setting up outside with signs, handing out buttons, stickers, pamphlets.

Judging by the massive amount of red colored shirts, supporters of the bill seemed to outweigh the opposition, an observation that Darrell Mitchell of Waldeboro thought was because conservatives were at work. Otherwise more people opposing, like himself, would be in attendance.

Mitchell was there to voice his opposition for the bill. “I am for traditional marriage,” he said. He went on to say that society is “all about values these days.”

“There’s no value in fixing things in place and time. How low do we take these things?” Mitchell says that the U.S. education system has switched from teaching about literacy to diversity, which he sees as harmful to society’s values.

Mitchell also said that gays do have civil rights, but he is against changing the law. “People have lost their discipline,” he says.

Echoing similar feelings, a group of Baptists argued that gay marriage is an abomination of God, citing Leviticus and Romans as biblical references to the one man one woman argument.

Among those in favor of gay marriage were Sandy and Jaeger Ole from Georgetown, Maine. The couple, who has been married for 49 years came to support the bill. “We believe in marriage for all,” said Sandy.

According to the couple, marriage would create stability for children, allowing all members to feel part of the family. It would be especially helpful in times of medical need.

This has not been the first time Maine has discussed legalizing gay marriage. “We see a change in the attitude of people, a sense of fairness,” said Sandy. “As people come out, homosexuality has a face to it.”

Some people in support of gay marriage wore shirts with the number of years they had been together with their partner. “There are so many red shirts here, we’re totally outnumbering people. I love it!” said one supporter in the crowd.

Courtney, a resident of Bath and a previous USM student said the issue of gay marriage meant more to her after she got married last year.

She hopes the bill will pass in Maine, especially given the momentum in states like Iowa and Vermont. “Worlds aren’t falling apart,” Courtney said, in response to other states who have already adopted similar bills.

Once the public hearing got on its way, Senator Damon was called forward to introduce LD 1020. Before he even spoke a word, he received a standing ovation from those supporters.

Damon started off by saying that he thought this sponsored legislation would benefit Mainers for generations to come. He called it his “responsibility of doing people’s business.”

He continued by saying that religious institutions do not have to marry same sex couples if they chose to. “This bill allows people to live and let live,” said Damon.

The hearing kicked off with testimony from legislators. Among those in favor of gay marriage, Emily Ann Cain from District 19 spoke up about her reasons for running for legislature.

“Equality was one of the main reasons why I ran for legislature. Marriage is not about gender and sexuality,” Kane said, “it’s about keeping Maine families together.”

One of the first legislators to speak up against the gay marriage bill was Bill Curtis, who said he had three reasons for his opposition. “Reason number one, parenting will no longer exist.”

He also believes that gay marriage will have a negative impact on education and curriculum, “as we have known it for years.” “Classrooms will become gender neutral and children will be taught that moms and dads no longer exist,” said Curtis.

His third reason is that we will become a society governed by man rather than a “righteous God.”

Paul Davis of District 26 said he doesn’t oppose the bill because of the Bible, and isn’t a bigot. “The basis of society is family. Children must have a blending love of mother and father.”

“I don’t believe Maine needs this fight,” said Davis.

“This isn’t about special rights, it’s about equal rights for our family,” said Hopkins.

Hitting closer to the USM community, Rodney Mondor, Associate Director of Advising at USM spoke up alongside his partner Ray Dumont, Coordinator of Student Government at USM, Mondor’s mother, and adopted son Ethan.

Mondor discussed the difficulty same sex couples have with adoption, since legally only one partner could adopt. This posed problems in regards to medical and school appointments. “Ray was not allowed to help,” said Mondor.

When Maine’s laws changed recently, both were able to adopt Ethan. But the struggle didn’t stop there. “We are constantly evaluating insurance and health plans.”

Church officials were both in support and against the marriage bill at the public hearing. Reverend Deborah Johnson, in support of the bill simply said that people have the authority to interpret scripture. “Jesus teaches equality, even if we don’t understand one another,” said Johnson.

Another pastor of a Baptist church in a small town in Maine said his opposition isn’t motivated by hate or homophobia, but “It’s my down east sense,” he said.

“Who are we as men and women to redefine this scared assembly?”

Richard Malone, Bishop of Roman Catholic Diocese in Portland said he supports civil rights for all, but is concerned about what a gay marriage bill would have on divorce, and single parents. The subject of family consequences was a high note among the opposition.

The hearing continued until 8 p.m. Wednesday night. The next step the two bills is a work session of the judiciary committee on April 28th.

The future of the bill is indeed uncertain. Once the judiciary committee convenes again, the Legislature can either pass or reject the bill, or give it to the voters for a referendum. With enough signatures, the question could be on our ballot as soon as November. It’s no question that Mainers have strong opinions on gay marriage, and the effects of it’s legalization on the state, both positive and negative.

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