January 20, 2019
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First couples prepare for same-sex wedding ceremonies in Portland

PORTLAND, Maine — When Chris Kast and Byron Bartlett of Portland tie the knot very early Saturday morning at Portland City Hall — making them one of the first same-sex couples to do so in the state — it will be with a minimum of fanfare.

“For us, it really is a matter of fact. It’s a fact that should have been fact for many years,” Kast, 52, a brand strategist, said Friday afternoon. “We’re not making a political statement. We’re not making a protest statement. We’re just putting a period on the end of our statement.”

He and Bartlett, 42, a vice president of TD Bank, have four daughters who will be able to watch as the two marry as soon as the city clerk’s office opens at midnight to provide marriage licenses and a notary public. They already celebrated their commitment to each other in 2010 with a big, festive ceremony in Portland which “felt like a wedding,” Kast said.

Their marriage ceremony will be much smaller — and, he said, hopefully a harbinger of more change to come.

“It just feels right. When you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you just know,” he said. “As goes Maine, so goes the rest of the country. We’re hoping it’s a groundswell.”

They’ll be among an unknown number of people who come to city hall to celebrate Maine’s new law legalizing same-sex marriage, to seek licenses and to get married.

“It’s very exciting,” David Farmer, spokesman for the Mainers United for Marriage Coalition, said Friday. “It makes it real, because people are finally going to get married. And overall, the idea that Maine voters could change their minds about same-sex marriage — it offers encouragement and hope to other voters in other states. Voters can change their minds.”

Maine voters have made an about-face since 2009, when a people’s veto repealed the Maine Legislature’s law making same-sex marriage legal in the state. On Election Day in November, voters favored legalizing same-sex marriage with nearly 53 percent of the vote.

“Thousands and thousands of people worked countless hours,” Farmer said of the mostly-volunteer effort to legalize same-sex marriage. “They knocked on doors. They talked to neighbors. They opened their hearts and opened their checkbooks. It really is an effort that could not have happened without an overwhelming grassroots campaign.”

Farmer said that he’s expecting a “pretty good crowd” in Portland early Saturday morning, which will feature a big, organized event by same-sex marriage supporters. The Bangor Daily News will take photos of couples who wish to share them on the newspaper’s website, and offer prints for sale. The BDN will also provide free refreshments. Farmer believes that when the clerk’s office opens Saturday morning in Bangor, there will be people and well-wishers there. Many other communities in the state will not open their city halls until regular business hours on Monday.

Maine law requires that a couple gets a marriage license in the town or city where one of them lives.

One couple that plans to obtain their marriage license early Saturday morning is Suzanne Blackburn and Joanie Kunian of Portland. While they intend to marry later, Blackburn said that they might get swept away in the moment and take the plunge right then and there.

“I am excited,” the 62-year-old massage therapist and kayak guide said. “I think we’ve just gotten over the ‘pinch me, this can’t be real’ stage. This is quite an amazing thing. It’s wonderful, and it’s going to be historical.”

She and Kunian, 51, a physical therapist, have been together about eight years.

“Joanie and I have a house together. We have all those things that go with marriage,” Blackburn said.

Soon, they’ll have a marriage, too.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

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