Baldacci has ‘open mind’ on gay issue

Posted April 08, 2009, at 10:17 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A day after the Vermont Legislature passed a gay marriage bill over the governor’s veto, Maine Gov. John Baldacci said Wednesday he was “keeping an open mind” on the issue he has opposed in the past and the State House will consider this month.

“We certainly watch and listen to what’s happening around us, but I think we have a process here in Maine where Mainers have an opportunity at the public hearing to comment on this and give their opinions,” Baldacci told The Associated Press a day after the Vermont House followed the Senate in voting to override Gov. Jim Douglas’ veto.

“So yes, we do listen to what’s taking place in our neighboring states, learn as part of that process, but at the same time we have our own Maine independent process in evaluating this,” Baldacci said.

Vermont became the fourth state — after Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa — to allow same-sex marriage. Besides Maine, the states of New Hampshire, New York and New Jersey are considering gay marriage bills. The Maine Legislature’s Judiciary Committee has scheduled a daylong public hearing on a gay marriage proposal, co-sponsored by more than 60 lawmakers, for April 24.

The Maine bill seeks to repeal a state law that limits marriage to a man and a woman and replace it with authorization of marriage between any two persons. It also would recognize same-sex marriage in other states where it is legal.

Asked if he would support a referendum on gay marriage, Baldacci said it was too early in the discussion to say.

“I had been opposed to [gay marriage] earlier and, as we all evolve and grow, we learn and listen,” he said. “But I think at this particular point, I’ll sort of take a wait-and-see attitude and watch and see how the debate takes place. And like the rest of the Mainers, learn in the process and ask questions, and then be able to make sure that we’re making the right statement for the state and for the future.”

Mail to Baldacci’s office as of Tuesday was running nearly 10-1 against the legislative measure. Some of the more than 220 letters and e-mails expressing opposition to the bill were similarly worded and bore the letterhead of Maine Marriage Initiative, whose Web site includes a form letter that can be sent to elected officials. Many opponents wrote that the bill, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Trenton, represents a threat to traditional marriage.

Some of the two dozen e-mails and letters supporting the bill had a similar theme, saying Maine’s present policy was discriminatory. They also appeared to be from a form letter, although no person or group was identified.

Maine currently has a domestic registry that is open to gays and gives partners legal status with regard to probate, guardianships and other matters. A civil-union bill under consideration in Maine would give domestic partners the same rights and protections as spouses receive under Maine law.

Also on Wednesday, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor announced that its congregation unanimously endorsed equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.

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