Understanding why same-sex couples hope to one day be able to marry in Maine is pretty straightforward. It doesn’t require strange metaphors, odd similes or attacks.
Same-sex couples want to get married for the same reasons that other loving, committed couples do. They want to stand in front of their friends, family and community, take their vows and join a stabilizing institution that is at the heart of society.
They want to say “I do” when asked whether they will love, honor and respect their partner. And they want to say “I will” when asked about standing together in sickness and in health.
Most of all, they want to be married so they can tell the world that they are ready to accept the responsibility and commitment that goes along with marriage.
Beginning last summer, thousands of volunteers collected more than 105,000 signatures in more than 450 Maine towns to put a citizens’ initiative on November’s ballot to allow same-sex couples to receive a marriage license.
The initiative also includes important protections for religious liberty. It guarantees that no church and no member of the clergy ever has to perform or recognize a marriage that falls outside of the religious teachings of their faith.
While opponents of same-sex marriage will likely try to confound the debate with side issues meant to raise fear and uncertainty, supporters will stick with a simple message: Two people in a loving, committed relationship deserve the dignity, support and recognition that only marriage can provide.
And our campaign, Mainers United for Marriage, will continue to deliver that message, one person at time, from now until November.
Since 2009, when voters narrowly repealed a law that allowed same-sex couples to marry, a coalition of dedicated organizations and volunteers has been working tirelessly to connect with Maine voters. So far, they have knocked on more than 110,000 doors, made more than 90,000 telephone calls and had more than 50,000 conversations.
I say “conversations” because that’s really what they are. We recognize that Mainers are still getting used to the idea of marriage for same-sex couples, and many of them have questions and concerns that are rooted in their tradition and, in some cases, their faith. By sharing our stories one-on-one, we’ve been able to listen as well as talk, and what we’re hearing is encouraging.
In every conversation, we ask Mainers what marriage means to them and why, if they are married or think they might be married someday, they would want to marry the person they love. Almost every person we ask that question talks about standing in front of their friends and family or making a commitment to spend the rest of their lives with one person.
When asked why same-sex couples might want to join in marriage, they almost always recognize that those reasons are no different from their own. Now, thanks in large part to those thousands of conversations, support for same-sex marriage has never been higher.
In the two most recent surveys, 54 percent of likely Maine voters say they support the freedom to marry. That growing majority of support is in line with the rise in momentum we’ve seen throughout New England and across the country over the last few years.
In March, Republican and Democratic lawmakers — in a sign of bipartisanship — worked together to stop an attempt to repeal same-sex marriage in New Hampshire. More than 100 Republicans in the New Hampshire House of Representatives joined with Democrats to block the repeal.
New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to get married. And Washington state and Maryland have approved marriage, though challenges are pending.
It is our hope that Maine will join those ranks this fall.
Allowing marriage licenses for the thousands of loving, committed couples living in Maine does not change the meaning of marriage. It simply allows same-sex couples to marry the person they love, to establish and protect a family and to make a lifetime commitment to one another.
While support for allowing same-sex couples to obtain a marriage license is growing both nationally and here in Maine, we also understand that the campaign this fall will be difficult and we are taking nothing for granted.
Our volunteers are enthusiastic, our supporters are tireless, and we feel confident that if we continue to share our personal stories with Mainers whose positions are still evolving on this issue, they will vote yes to affirm marriage this November.
Matt McTighe is the campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, the organization leading the campaign to allow marriage licenses for same-sex couples. To learn more, visit www.MainersUnited.org.