Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?
Mainers have heard a lot in recent weeks about the consequences of allowing same-sex couples to marry, some of it accurate, some of it not. While such debate is healthy, this question boils down to a simple point: Everyone must be treated equally under the state and U.S. Constitution. Denying civil marriage rights to same-sex couples violates that tenet.
Further, extending the right of marriage to a small segment of the population that has been excluded furthers the state’s interest in promoting stable families and communities. The Maine legislation also took important steps, mirroring the state’s Human Rights Law, to respect religious freedom and traditions. No church will be compelled to perform or recognize marriages that run counter to its faith. This strikes the difficult balance of respecting religious freedom while ensuring equality.
Maine was unusual in passing a law to allow same-sex marriage rather than being required to do so by a court order. Since then, Vermont and New Hampshire have followed suit.
Lawmakers, including Gov. John Baldacci — the first governor to sign such legislation into law — moved Maine toward tolerance and fairness. Repealing this law would move the state backward while denying guaranteed rights to a small minority.
The repeal effort has been led by the Roman Catholic Diocese. Bishop Richard Malone called same-sex marriage “a dangerous sociological experiment.” The fact that gay couples have existed for generations — many of them raising children — counters this argument. Worse, however, is the church’s attempt to force its views on all Maine’s residents, whether they are Catholic or not.
“It’s important to have your own faith and connection to God,” Gov. Baldacci, a Catholic, told The Associated Press recently. “At the same time, it isn’t just that faith that you’re the governor of. … You’re governor of all the people.”
Taking the next step, the governor explained why civil unions — a popular alternative to same-sex marriage — are inadequate. “I was creating second-class marriage for certain people, which wasn’t right. I wasn’t doing my duty to the constitution I swore to uphold.”
It is only natural that changing the definition of something as fundamental as marriage makes some uncomfortable. However, marriage has changed over time — interracial marriages were once banned, and men were allowed to have many wives — without harming heterosexual marriages. In a country where the divorce rate is too high and too many children grow up in dysfunctional and abusive families, encouraging more adults to commit to long-term, loving relationships is a positive, not a negative.
Opponents of same-sex marriage warn of the consequences — all negative in their view — of such a definition change. When pressed to list those consequences, they cite lawsuits and a requirement to teach same-sex marriage in schools.
There are likely to be lawsuits, as that is how the boundaries of laws are tested and set. At the same time, gays and lesbians are already protected under the state’s human rights laws — a protection Maine voters refused to rescind in 2005 — so discrimination against them is already illegal and there has been no flood of lawsuits.
As for education, children are already being raised by gay couples. Those children attend our schools, and have for decades. If Sally’s two dads come to an elementary school awards night, or if Billy’s two moms come to the school concert, the relationships may become a topic of discussion at school the next day. Whether Sally’s or Billy’s same-sex parents are married or living together does not change the discussion the teacher might facilitate.
Along the same lines, those seeking to repeal the law have used the book “Who’s in a Family?” as evidence of homosexual education. The book shows families made up of a mother and father, single parents, grandparents, stepparents, husband and wife with no children — and gay and lesbian parents. “Who’s in a family?” it asks. “The people who love you most.”
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.
Voting no on Question 1 will reiterate Maine’s commitment to equality and acceptance of families of all types while respecting religious traditions and beliefs.