Down East 2013 ©
The equal marriage supporters are both passionate and very well organized.
I had planned to arrive early for the marriage hearing. The organization I work for is a member of the equal marriage coalition and I was happy to volunteer. Even when I got there at 7am, however, there was already a crush of people out to the sidewalk waiting for a hearing that didn't start until nine. Almost all of them wearing red, the color supporters of the bill had chosen to identify themselves.
The groups that did much of the organizing for the hearing, including Equality Maine and the Maine Civil Liberties Union, got more people out than opposing groups. (Media estimates cited a four-to-one advantage in attendance, I'd say it was even higher than that for most of the day). They also made sure that the right people had a chance at the microphone. Every argument for equal marriage was presented and presented well. One of my favorite moments was when, after an out-of-state religious leader testified against the bill and claimed that “thousands of studies” had shown that same-sex parents were detrimental to the development of he children they raise, the head of the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the President of the Maine Psychological Association stood one after another at the other podium to refute his claims and endorse the bill.
The two sides are talking about very different things
While the two sides did both discuss and disagree about the effect of gay unions on children, interpretations of biblical passages, and points of law, there were definite differences in the themes they both chose to emphasize. When proponents of the equal marriage bill testified, they often focused on love, rights and equality. Those opposing the bill talked about tradition and religion.
I found this interesting, partly because in these areas there seems to be some points of agreement. I imagine most opponents of the bill would accept that the same-sex couples who wish to marry in Maine do love each other. Proponents obviously understand that some religious groups oppose gay marriage on theological grounds. The division on these points comes not from these facts themselves, but from the value each side places in them. Opponents say that love alone is not enough to form a matrimonial bond. Supporters believe that the religious beliefs of a large segment of the population should not be the deciding factor when writing state laws.
Neither side wants a referendum
Another point both sides agree on is that the legislature should vote the issue up or down and not send it to an statewide referendum. I was surprised that the bill's opponents were louder than the proponents on this point, and used some harsh language to describe this potential maneuver. “Legislative cowardice” was the kindest example.
Some Maine History
Neil Rolde, a Maine author and historian (and former House Majority Leader) used his time at the microphone to give a 3-minute history lesson on the evolution of marriage law in Maine. He started in 1652 when only Congregationalists were allowed to marry, and cited the arrest of a Bishop for trying to perform a Catholic marriage in the late 18h century. He also discussed the first marriage law passed after statehood and its prohibition of white people marrying blacks, Native Americans, or those of mixed ancestry. In 1883, he explained, an amendment was passed cementing the right of Quakers to marry but denying the right to “paupers.”
That was about the time when the committee chairman cut him off for exceeding his time, but his point was clear: the definition of marriage in Maine has changed many times, always trending towards granting more rights and greater equality.
People love stickers
They do. Both sides.
In other Maine political news this week...
Maine's senators are fighting to keep the black liquor tax credit , which has nothing to do with Allen's coffee brandy.
Governor Baldacci has a tenuous connection  to a lobbyist under federal investigation.