Equal Opportunity Wedding Bells
With the announcement of the equal marriage legislation last week came a flood of questions about the timing of the bill. Some of them were posed by opponents of the measure who wouldn't be happy with the proposal being put forward at any time, but others were legitimate concerns about the strategic details of bringing forward a bill this session. In my opinion, both the timing and the strategy are sound.
Support for gay marriage has been steadily increasing in Maine and across the country, and in the last few months it has become a topic of everyday discussion. Its legalization in Canada several years ago, and then in Connecticut, Massachusetts and California and the recent controversy over Proposition 8 which subsequently removed the right for Californians, have given the issue a new kind of public familiarity and acceptance. The Prop. 8 fight, in particular, has also galvanized a civil rights constituency that now recognizes they'll have to work hard to gain equality.
On the legislative front, progressives in Maine have just had a banner election cycle and Democratic majorities in both the State House and Senate augur well for equal rights. Term limits have also led to a younger and fresher legislature and hopefully one that's open to new ideas. It's telling that in any poll on gay marriage, the younger demographics always shows the most support.
This new awareness and support doesn't guarantee passage here in Maine, but it does signal that now is the right time to begin the discussion. Gains in civil rights come slowly, and, as we saw with the anti-discrimination referendums in Maine, often take a strong determination and many attempts before they are come to fruition. Even if you're convinced that equal marriage can't possibly pass this year, it's hard to argue that now isn't a good time to start the debate.
The biggest thing going for equal marriage in Maine is familiarity. The more people understand the actual consequences of this civil right, the less they fear it, and Maine is in the unique position of being almost completely surrounded by areas where gays have the right to marry or are close to gaining that right. In northern Maine, TV stations from Canada have been broadcasting news of gay politicians, musicians and even RCMP officers getting hitched for years. In southern and central Maine, the state's people and economy are deeply connected to our neighbors in Connecticut and Massachusetts where marriage is legal, and New Hampshire and Vermont, which have legal unions that provide all the same state rights.
Lastly, as a political junkie, I look forward to the legislative debate and likely veto referendum if the measure were to pass. I, for one, believe the legislature can both walk and chew gum (or should be able to) and the discussion of this complex and emotional issue will provide a welcome counterpoint to the long, slow slog of the budget debate.