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Battle heats up as same-sex marriage bill printed

Posted March 13, 2009, at 10:32 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The battle over marriage revved up Friday as a bill that would make Maine the third state in the nation to allow same-sex couples to wed rolled off the printing press and a date for a public hearing on LD 1020 was announced.

Sen. Dennis S. Damon, D-Trenton, said Thursday in a press release that he had garnered more than 60 co-sponsors for An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom. The hearing on the bill is set for April 24 at Cony High School in Augusta before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

LD 1020, according to Damon, would:

• Codify civil marriage as the legally recognized union of two people.

• Eliminate discrimination to allow any two eligible people, regardless of sex, to be issued an application for a marriage license.

• Recognize lawful marriages from other states.

• Repeal the Maine Defense of Marriage Act, which is currently on the books and defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman.

• Affirm religious freedom so that religious institutions continue to have control over their own religious doctrines and teaching regarding who may marry within each faith as set forth in the Maine and U.S. Constitutions.

Same-sex marriage opponents on Friday criticized Damon’s press release and its emphasis on the number of legislators who had signed onto the bill.

“This isn’t a demonstration of massive support for the bill,” said Marc Mutty, director of public affairs for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. “It is political theater — an attempt by legislative leadership to create the impression of support for a bill most Mainers absolutely do not want.”

After being read a list of the co-sponsors’ names, Mutty noted that there are no Republicans among the co-sponsors of the bill.

Recent polling conducted on behalf of the Maine Marriage Initiative, a consortium of religious and secular groups opposed to changing the definition of marriage, revealed that a significant majority of Maine residents oppose same-sex marriage, he said.

Mutty accused proponents of the bill as having “aggressively promoted” it as legislation that makes a distinction between civil and religious marriage. But Mutty said that wasn’t relevant to the issue.

“Marriage isn’t simply a religious institution,” he said. “It has deep societal implications as well. What’s really at stake here is the future ordering of our country and society.”

Michael Heath, executive director of the Maine Family Policy Council, formerly the Christian Civic League of Maine, called the press release “a joke.”

“The close is especially telling: ‘The public is invited to give testimony,’” Heath said Friday in an e-mail response to a request for comment. “Just as the people of Maine are the last to be mentioned in this deceitful press release, the public is the last group these politicians care about. If they cared about children, they’d be upholding marriage and family instead of trying to destroy them.”

The head of EqualityMaine, the 25-year-old organization that is part of a coalition supporting the bill, praised efforts by Damon, residents and other groups for their efforts in gathering support for same-sex marriage.

“The work that has been done so successfully to get 64 co-sponsors for the bill has been done in two realms,” the group’s executive director, Betsy Smith, said Friday. “[One is] being in the Legislature and making marriage a very visible issue through press conferences and [lobbying efforts]. So in one realm we’ve been creating a buzz in the State House where the decision-makers are.

“The other equally important piece is in the field,” she continued, “where we have 10 full-time field organizers working in specific geographic regions building teams of volunteers who are talking about marriage with people, asking them to contact their legislators to ask them to co-sponsor the bill. The fact that we have 64 co-sponsors means it is going exactly how we planned things to go.”

Opponents of the bill also have been reaching out to their constituencies. The Maine Marriage Initiative last week sent out 30,000 postcards, according to Mutty, to households that receive Harvest magazine, the bimonthly publication of Maine’s Catholic diocese sent to families registered in a parish. Since then, there has been a spike in the number of hits on Maine Marriage Initiative’s Web site, he said.

Both sides said they would be able to persuade legislators and the public to support their stance on the issue.

A competing bill sponsored by Rep. Leslie Fossel, R-Alna, would extend to couples on Maine’s Domestic Partner Registry the same legal rights and benefits as married couples. That bill has not been printed and a hearing date has not been set, but it is expected to be assigned to the Judiciary Committee.

Efforts to reach Fossel were unsuccessful Friday.

Click here to see LD 1020 or visit http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/bills_124th/billtexts/.

jharrison@bangordailynews.net

990-8207

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