MCLU honors gay marriage supporters

Posted Dec. 15, 2009, at 9:55 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Maine Civil Liberties Union honored five leaders in the failed effort to let same-sex couples marry and discussed the future of the issue Tuesday at its annual meeting at the Bangor Public Library.

The organization presented its annual Roger Baldwin Award to state Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Trenton, who sponsored the bill in the Legislature, along with two longtime couples who appeared in a video about why Maine needed the law and commercials opposing its repeal.

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What the next step in the fight to allow same-sex couples to marry will be has not been decided, Shenna Bellows, executive director of the MCLU, told the 30 or so people who attended the meeting. A new same-sex marriage bill will not be introduced in the Legislature when it reconvenes next month, she said, but education efforts about the issue will continue.

Bellows also said that a court challenge to the law defining marriage as only between a man and woman in Maine was highly unlikely.

“Equality Maine will focus on the next election [in November 2010],” Bellows said, “to make sure people who support marriage equality get elected to the Legislature or re-elected. In the fall, we will evaluate whether the next step is putting in a bill for civil unions or marriage or whether we want to try to gather signatures to put a referendum question about marriage equality on the ballot.”

The MCLU, which does not endorse or work for candidates, is part of a coalition of 36 groups, including Equality Maine, which organized efforts to pass the same-sex marriage bill in the Legislature this spring and unsuccessfully fought to keep it from being repealed by Maine voters on Nov. 4. The law was repealed by about 30,000 votes with 53 percent of voters supporting repeal and 47 percent against.

Bellows said Tuesday that education efforts would be focused on areas where the repeal effort passed by a large margin including communities in Aroostook, Washington and Penobscot counties.

“We’ve really built a structure for the future,” she said. “We just need 60,000 more votes.”

Equality Maine on Tuesday sent out an e-mail seeking donations from supporters in an effort to raise $10,000 before the end of the year to help identify those voters. How the organization plans to do that was not detailed in the e-mail.

In addition to Damon, the MCLU honored Rita Clifford and Sara Jane Elliot of South Portland and Jim Bishop and Steve Ryan of Bar Mills. Both couples appeared in a 2006 video, “The Way Life Should Be: Marriage in Maine,” that the MCLU helped fund. Both couples continued to work for marriage equality efforts by testifying at the public hearing, lobbying in Augusta, volunteering on the referendum campaign, and starring in the No on 1 campaign’s television commercials, Bellows said.

“Our Baldwin Award honorees helped change hearts and minds,” she said. “They gave a public voice to what so many of us continue to hope for — true equality for all Maine families.”

The MCLU’s legislative priorities this year will include a bill to limit the use of solitary confinement in prisons and jails and one that would regulate the use by law enforcement of a device that can be used to scan license plates and plot an individual’s movements over a certain time period.

The MCLU award is named for Roger Baldwin, an activist for social justice who helped found the American Civil Liberties Union, and served as its director until 1950. During his term as director, the ACLU took on many of its most famous cases, including the Scopes Monkey trial in Tennessee where school officials had challenged the teaching of evolution, and the case of Sacco and Vanzetti.

Baldwin remained active in the cause of civil rights and civil liberties until his death in 1981 at the age of 97.


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