June 21, 2018
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One year after gay marriage is legalized, Maine advocates warn of ‘harmful’ proposed law

By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Gay rights advocates gathered in Portland on Wednesday to point out that there is “nothing falling from the sky” in the year since Mainers legalized same-sex marriage, and to rally opposition to a proposed state law they say could undermine years of anti-discrimination work.

The legislation, LD 1428, was proposed last session by state Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, and will be reconsidered by lawmakers in the coming months, Ian Grady of EqualityMaine said Wednesday.

The bill, titled An Act to Protect Religious Freedom, would in its current form allow an individual to sue the government if that person perceives that standing laws contradict his or her “sincerely held religious tenet or belief.”

Ali Vander Zanden, interim executive director EqualityMaine, said the U.S. Constitution already provides First Amendment protections to free expression of their religious beliefs, and LD 1428 would go beyond that to allow individuals protection to freely discriminate — or even physically harm — others under the auspice that their religion allows it.

“It’s a harmful solution to a nonexistent problem,” Vander Zanden said.

The proposed law “would make a person’s individual religious belief supersede any justice or rights,” added the Rev. Don Rudalevige, one of the speakers at the Wednesday event, held at the historic First Parish Church on Congress Street in Portland.

Burns did not immediately return calls seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.

The EqualityMaine event took place one year after a successful statewide ballot initiative to legalize same-sex marriage in Maine. The gay rights advocates said the most significant thing to recognize about the past year is that, for most Mainers, nothing much has changed.

“There’s a lot that hasn’t happened since marriage for same-sex couples became legal in Maine,” Vander Zanden said. “None of the dire consequences that our opponents promised during the campaign in their misleading TV ads — none of those consequences have materialized. No lawsuits, no curriculum changes, nothing falling from the sky.”

While same-sex couples who spoke Wednesday said their new legal status helps them cement custody rights to their children, maintain shared health insurance policies and have peace of mind, it hasn’t changed their day-to-day lives in a way that affects strangers or opponents of gay marriage. More than 2,000 same-sex Maine couples have married in the state since it became legal, Grady said.

“The only difference is because of the coverage in the news media, we get recognized in the grocery store, or really anywhere else we go,” said Steven Bridges, who wed longtime partner Michael Snell on Dec. 29, 2012, to become the state’s first legally married gay couple, a status that has brought the men notoriety.

“We marked the occasion [of the legalization of gay marriage], in this digital era, by changing our Facebook statuses to ‘engaged,’” said Sarah Dowling, who later married longtime partner Linda Wolfe.

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