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Mainers get another chance on marriage equality

Posted June 29, 2011, at 6:23 p.m.

With momentum growing from last week’s victory in New York, supporters of marriage equality think that the time has come for another try in Maine.

Today, EqualityMaine will launch a campaign to gather signatures to place marriage equality on the ballot in November 2012.

They will face much work and a long campaign to legalize same-sex marriage here.

As the new effort is launched, I remember clearly May 6, 2009, one of my proudest days in the governor’s office.

Relegated now to a historical footnote based on the outcome of an election later that year, May 6, 2009, was the day that Gov. John Baldacci signed LD 1020, An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom.

Marriage equality, for a moment in time, had come to Maine.

I was among a small group of advisers who was there when the governor signed the legislation, and I was with him for the next seven months as he worked tirelessly to help defend marriage equality against a people’s veto.

Over the weekend, as New York took the incredible step of allowing same-sex marriage and images of Gov. Andrew Cuomo signing the bill were broadcast around the world, I was taken back to 2009.

Marriage equality was one of the most important and controversial issues we faced during my four years in the governor’s office.

It rolled into one issue everything your mother warned you not to talk about during dinner with friends: religion, politics, sex and money.

After careful consideration and after talking to countless people, Gov. Baldacci had changed his mind about marriage equality. The governor had once been a supporter of civil unions, but he could not reconcile that position with his reading of the Maine Constitution.

It boiled down to a question of state-sponsored discrimination and civil rights.

“I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage,” Gov. Baldacci said after he signed the legislation.

He was absolutely right, and he acted on his convictions even though it put him at the center of a political firestorm. Throughout the campaign, he remained a staunch, compassionate defender of equal rights.

Despite thousands of dedicated volunteers and a strong organization, the campaign for marriage equality came up a short and same-sex marriage was repealed.

The bill did not force any religion to change its definition of marriage or to recognize the marriage of gays and lesbians. Instead, it addressed the fact that state law treats Maine residents differently based solely on their sexual orientation while also affirming the separation of church and state.

The Constitution is clear.

Article I says that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of that person’s civil rights or be discriminated against.”

Maine law provides special — and significant — recognition of marriage. But it currently discriminates against gays and lesbians, and that shouldn’t be allowed.

As a new campaign begins, we can expect to see a well-funded and committed opposition, determined to repeat their success of the past.

And we can expect to hear the same sort of lies and distortions about same-sex marriage that were peddled before.

But I am hopeful that this time, Mainers will make a different choice and that they will hear the stories of their neighbors and realize that discrimination is wrong no matter how it is rationalized.

Lead by EqualityMaine, thousands of Mainers have been working since 2009 to talk to their friends and neighbors about marriage equality. The conversations have happened one at a time and in every community in our state.

The goal has been to encourage people to share their personal stories and explain why marriage equality matters and what our current discriminatory practices mean to families.

As the campaign begins, the first step will be signature collection.

Eventually, the question will be on the ballot again — whether as a result of this campaign or some other — and Mainer voters will have a chance to reconsider the decision they made two years ago.

This time, I hope we do the right thing.

David Farmer is a political and media consultant. He was formerly deputy chief of staff and communications director for Gov. John Baldacci and a longtime journalist. He has made financial contributions to EqualityMaine and to the No on 1 campaign. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @dfarmer14.

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