Lawmakers Thursday heard impassioned pleas to preserve marriage by limiting it to one man and one woman. They heard emotional stories of final days spent worrying about legal documents instead of life and love. But the most persuasive testimony came from a black man from Bangor. Robert Talbot told the Judiciary Committee of the laws that forbade him and his white wife from honeymooning in the South, where the couple had hoped to briefly escape the Maine winter after their February 1966 wedding.
Those laws were based on the notion that God intended different races to forever remain separate and that people of different races having sex was the same as bestiality, he recalled.
“It was wrong 40 years ago; it’s wrong now,” he said in support of LD 1020, which would expand the definition of marriage to include couples of the same gender.
It is wrong because America is built on the notion that every citizen has the same rights and legal protections.
In the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, the justices unanimously ruled that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The ruling, that racial segregation violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, led to the desegregation of schools and was instrumental in the civil rights movement.
The same logic, that separate is not equal, applies to marriage as well. Creating a separate type of legally recognized relationship for gay couples, which another bill that has gotten far less attention, LD 1118, would do is a positive step forward. But, it is not the same as allowing them to marry. Such a scheme, therefore, falls short of constitutionally mandated equality.
During this week’s public hearing on LD 1020 and LD 1118, which drew thousands of people to the Augusta Civic Center, the committee also heard about the importance of marriage and the need to protect it.
Bishop Richard Malone, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, opposed extending marriage to gays and lesbians “because we are deeply concerned about the institution of marriage itself in this state and this nation.”
“We are equally concerned about the high rate of divorce among heterosexual couples, the cheapening of sexual relationships portrayed in the media and the growing occurrence of single parenthood and the challenges faced by single parents,” the bishop told lawmakers.
It is reassuring to hear the Catholic Church’s concerns about strengthening marriage and its work to reduce divorce rates, single parenthood and sexual promiscuity are welcomed.
However, it is hard to see how allowing more people to marry will weaken marriage. Instead, it seems the strong desire of gay and lesbian couples to be married, rather than declared domestic partners, shows the value and importance of marriage.
Maine has a long history of supporting marriage, while extending its reach.
Mr. Talbot praised the Maine Legislature for having “the integrity to allow inter-racial marriages starting back in the 1870s,” nearly a century before they were legalized nationwide.
Now, the Legislature must show that integrity again by allowing same-sex marriages.