As many as 4,000 people attended a
Judiciary Committee hearing on gay marriage in Augusta, Maine
Wednesday. The daylong hearing began at about 9:30AM at the Augusta
Civic Center and lasted well into the night.
Maine lawmakers are considering a gay
marriage bill introduced by Senator Dennis S. Damon in February and
another proposed by Representative Leslie Fossel that expands the
state's domestic partner registry to grant gay and lesbian couples
most of the rights of marriage. Fossel says he sponsored the bill to
spare Maine a divisive debate on gay marriage.
Damon's opening remarks were greeted
with a loud cheer and a standing ovation from gay marriage supporters
who appeared to outnumber opponents.
“This bill is fair. This bill's time
has come,” Damon, a Democrat from Trenton, told the crowd. “It
recognizes the worth and dignity of every man and every woman among
Supporters appeared resolved in
projecting a strong show of force. Earlier in the week, Betsy Smith,
executive director of Equality Maine, a rights group that lobbies for
gay marriage in Maine, urged proponents to attend the hearing. And
then again, yesterday evening, she emailed a quick note that said,
“Please come to the Augusta Civic Center now. ... We need you here
That's for sure. While gay marriage
has been on a roll in recent weeks – Vermont and Iowa just legalized
it, New York is pressing for it and Washington D.C. will now
recognize out-of-state marriages – it now appears to be losing
steam. None of the three remaining New England states considering
gay marriage bills this session – New Hampshire, Rhode Island and
Maine – appear likely to pass them.
But if there's any hope, it's in Maine
where Governor John Baldacci has switched his previously stated gay
marriage opposition to neutrality, and polling indicates strong support
for gay marriage, especially in the southern edge of the state.
The bill's largest opponent, the Roman
Catholic Diocese of Portland, sent Bishop Richard Malone to testify
against the bill.
“We speak in opposition to same-sex
marriage because we are deeply concerned about the institution of
marriage itself – in this state, and in this nation,” he said.
Catholic leaders have already begun
their anti-gay marriage campaign airing two television ads that
depict the institution of marriage as being under assault and
launching a website (MaineMarriageInitiave.com)
devoted to opposing it. The diocese appears determined to block gay
marriage, either at the Legislature or, if necessary, by organizing a
According to Equality Maine and the
state's legislative website, as many as 8 of the 13 voting Judiciary
Committee members are co-sponsors to the bill, making committee
passage nearly certain. (Some Equality Maine listed co-sponsors
could not be verified at the time of this writing.) The committee
may send the bill to the Senate for a full vote as early as April 28.