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May 8, 2009

Maine becomes the fifth state with full marriage

Augusta, Maine--Despite earlier silence on whether he would approve the measure, Gov. John Baldacci on May 6 signed a bill granting full same-sex marriage in the state.

The new law makes Maine the fifth state with full marriage and the second, after Vermont, to achieve it through the legislature, rather than a court order.

The legislation was first approved by the Senate on a 24-14 vote before the House made minor changes and gave it an 89-57 nod on May 5. The amendments required that it go back to the Senate for final approval of the changed version, which came early on Wednesday with a 21-13 vote.

As the legislation made its way through the Maine legislature, Baldacci, a Democrat, kept mum on whether he would sign it or not. He has expressed support of civil unions, but also the belief that marriage should be an opposite-sex institution.

�I have followed closely the debate on this issue,� Baldacci said in a statement released on his website after he signed the bill. �I have listened to both sides, as they have presented their arguments during the public hearing and on the floor of the Maine Senate and the House of Representatives. I have read many of the notes and letters sent to my office, and I have weighed my decision carefully.�

�I did not come to this decision lightly or in haste,� he continued.

�In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions,� Baldacci noted. �I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.�

�Article 1 in the Maine Constitution states that �no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of that person�s civil rights or be discriminated against,� � he stated.

�This new law does not force any religion to recognize a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs. It does not require the church to perform any ceremony with which it disagrees. Instead, it reaffirms the separation of church and state,� the governor�s statement continued. �It guarantees that Maine citizens will be treated equally under Maine�s civil marriage laws, and that is the responsibility of government.�

The enactment of the law leaves Rhode Island and New Hampshire as the only two New England states without full same-sex marriage.

Vermont introduced civil unions in 2000 after a state high court decision, and lawmakers earlier this year overrode a gubernatorial veto to change that to full marriage.

Connecticut and Massachusetts both allow marriage due to court rulings, while New Hampshire is close to passing a similar law. Rhode Island saw a bill introduced, but it has not moved.

The Iowa Supreme Court earlier this year ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, and is now the only state in the Midwest to have embraced marriage equality.

California�s Supreme Court opened the state�s marriage laws to same-sex couples last year, but the weddings were halted five months later when voters passed an amendment to the state constitution restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples. The high court is now reviewing that amendment, with a ruling due by early June.

Maine may face the same fate. Anti-gay groups have already started efforts to force a �people�s veto,� a referendum to repeal the new law.






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