The Year of Same-Sex Marriage!

It was not necessarily supposed to be this way.

After California joined the agonizingly long list of states that barred same-sex marriage following a referendum vote last year, supporters of LGBT rights were frustrated and angry.

And it seemed as if America might not be ready for the future -- and
for the demand that this country's promise of equality under the law be
made real for all our citizens.

Then came the Iowa Supreme Court ruling striking down barriers to marriage equality in that state.

Shortly afterward, the Vermont state legislature legalized same sex
marriage there -- overriding the veto of a Republican governor.

Then the District of Columbia voted to recognize same-sex marriages
performed in Massachusetts, Connecticut and the growing list of states
that allow them.

Around the same time, the New Hampshire legislator voted to allow
gay and lesbian couples to marry in that state and officials in New
York and New Jersey signaled that their states would in all likelihood
be following suit.

Now comes Maine.

Maine's lower house approved a same-sex marriage bill by 89 votes to 57, and the state senate voted 21-13 in favor of it.

The measure went to the desk of Governor John Baldacci, a Democrat who had previously been opposed same-sex marriage marriage.

Baldacci signed the bill Wednesday, saying that "the notes and letters sent to my office" swayed him.

Once again, a concerted campaign by marriage equality activists, in this case the sensitive and smart advocacy organized by EqualityMaine, paid off.

EqualityMaine, a 25-year-old LGBT rights group, ran a terrific
campaign on behalf of this legislation, facing down harsh attacks in a
state with a well-organized religious-right presence.

EqualityMaine put an emphasis on making heard the voices of native Mainers who said: "I want to get married."

That's what influenced Baldacci, who broke new ground by not just
signing the legislation but explaining in a remarkably thoughtful
statement why he knew it was "the right thing to do."

Here's what the governor said:

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. 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. 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. 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.

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.

It guarantees that Maine citizens will be treated equally under
Maine's civil marriage laws, and that is the responsibility of

Even as I sign this important legislation into law, I recognize that
this may not be the final word. 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.

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