Maine joins lawsuits to overturn laws banning same-sex marriage

Posted Feb. 28, 2013, at 4:36 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 28, 2013, at 7:13 p.m.
Janet Mills
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Janet Mills

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine will sign on to two Supreme Court briefs that seek to overturn laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, the state’s attorney general announced Thursday.

On Thursday, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills signed on to an amicus brief asking the high court to rule that California’s Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. The law bans marriages of same-sex couples.

The state also will sign on to a brief to be filed Friday asking the court to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

“Equal protection under the law is the bedrock on which America’s legal foundation is built,” Mills said in a press release Thursday. “I was proud that Maine voters were the first to approve marriage equality at the ballot box last November and I am proud to join this effort to ensure that more people in America can have the freedom to marry whomever they choose. I hope the Supreme Court will grant all married couples the benefits of federal tax retirement, Social Security and other benefits.”

Maine joins 12 other states and the District of Columbia in an amicus brief filed Thursday arguing that California’s Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution by referendum in 2008 to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Obama administration also confirmed Thursday that it would file a brief urging the high court to invalidate Proposition 8.

The court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, on March 26.

Maine also will sign on to a brief to be filed Friday by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, along with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, in a case urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. The act, signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman for the purposes of all federal laws. That case has been scheduled for oral arguments before the Supreme Court on March 27.

“DOMA is an unwarranted intrusion into states’ rights and denies equal protection under the law,” Mills, a Democrat, said. “The state of Maine has declared that same-sex couples have a right to civil marriage under the law and the federal government should not subject these people to discriminatory treatment.”

At least 15 other states will join that effort, according to a release from Mills’ office. In February, Bangor joined a long list of cities and businesses calling on the court to strike down the act.

Ian Grady, spokesman for Equality Maine, which led the successful campaign in 2012 to legalize same-sex marriage in Maine, said Bangor was the only Maine community the group was aware of that signed on with the amicus brief. Other groups that signed on include the cities of Boston, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle, and large employers such as Google, Zynga, Starbucks and Microsoft.

“Equality Maine is incredibly grateful and excited to have the attorney general’s support on these important constitutional issues,” Grady said in a phone interview Thursday. “The people of Maine showed in November that they support marriage for all loving couples. We hope that the Supreme Court will respect that.”

Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, which opposes same-sex marriage, acknowledged that attorneys general often sign amicus briefs for national cases — and that his group asked Mills’ predecessor, Republican William Schneider, to sign amicus briefs in support of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“Our issue is not with the practice, but we certainly are disappointed and disagree with Attorney General Mills on this issue,” Conley said. “What’s particularly disappointing is that she is asking the Supreme Court to ignore the sovereign vote of the citizens of California and is asking the court to ignore the fact that 44 states in the United States presently do not recognize same-sex marriage.”

In addition to Maine, same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Maryland, Iowa and Washington.

House Speaker Mark Eves praised Mills’ action.

“The speaker is pleased to see the attorney general standing up for equality and marriage for same-sex couples,” Jodi Quintero, a spokeswoman for Eves, said Thursday.

The state’s top Republican leaders, including Gov. Paul LePage, who in May criticized the state teachers union for endorsing last year’s same-sex ballot question, were not immediately available to comment on Mills’ action.

The Proposition 8 and DOMA invalidation efforts are two of the most closely watched cases before the Supreme Court this year. On Thursday, actor Clint Eastwood joined approximately 100 other Republicans in urging the court to overturn Proposition 8. Earlier in February, 10 U.S. senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged the court to uphold the act.

Before returning to her position as attorney general in January after a two-year hiatus when Schneider served as the state’s top legal official, Mills shared her belief that Supreme Court rulings to uphold Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act would not affect Maine’s state law that allows same-sex couples to marry.

Bangor Daily News reporter Nick McCrea contributed to this report.

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