From Magic City Morning Star|
AUGUSTA -- The drive to end marriage discrimination against same-sex couples shifted into high gear Tuesday as leaders from Maine's civil rights community joined with several Maine families to outline plans for legislation to be introduced in this session of the Legislature.
The bill, to be sponsored by State Sen. Dennis Damon (D-Hancock), would end the prohibition on qualified gay and lesbian couples from marrying in Maine. The bill codifies civil marriage in Maine law as the legally recognized union of two people. The bill affirms that religious institutions continue to have control over their own religious doctrine and teachings regarding who may marry within each faith. Finally, the bill recognizes the validity of marriages validly licensed and certified in other states, removing a barrier akin to those enacted to prohibit mixed-race marriages a generation ago.
"It is time to fully end discrimination here in Maine. With our traditions of tolerance and fairness, Mainers want to make sure that all couples are treated equally in the area of marriage," said Senator Damon, speaking at a press conference in the Hall of Flags. "It is especially important to us that the children of same sex couples, several of whom are with us here today, can be secure in the knowledge that their parents are married, just like anybody else."
Several families headed by same sex couples attended the press conference, including Carla Hopkins and Victoria Eleftheriou, and their son, Eli. Additional Maine couples who want to get married are profiled in a video available at Youtube.
"Victoria and I want to get married because we're committed to spending the rest of our lives together and we want our son to have the legal security of having married parents," said Carla Hopkins. "Every day, we worry that if something happens to one of us, the other person would have a tough time providing for our son."
Mary L. Bonauto, Civil Rights Project Director for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders outlined some of the many legal protections that married couples enjoy under Maine law, including recognition and support of the couple as an economic entity for taxes, financial transactions in life and death and government benefits. Many health insurance policies provide automatic coverage for spouses, and that additional coverage is not considered taxable income, a benefit not available to same sex couples. She also described the strong safety net that exists for married couples that protects a surviving partner and children when a spouse dies, in everything from automatic rights to make funeral arrangements to systems of worker's compensation and disability benefits.
"The protections of marriage are embedded in many areas of Maine and federal law," said Bonauto, who worked on the legal cases that brought marriage equality to Massachusetts and Connecticut. "There is no way to replicate them privately. And we need to make sure these protections are available to gay and lesbian families who are willing to take on the responsibilities of marriage."
"Excluding same-sex couples from marriage harms thousands of same-sex families living throughout Maine. It's bad for parents, and it's bad for children," said Elinor Goldberg, Executive Director of Maine Children's Alliance. "We know the importance of the security that comes to the children whose parents have the financial and health insurance benefits of marriage."
Backers of the marriage bill, including leaders of many of the civil rights organizations that have formed a Freedom to Marry Coalition, stood together on the steps of the Hall of Flags showing broad support for marriage equality. The Freedom to Marry Coalition consists of a steering committee comprised of Patricia A. Peard, Esq., as well as the Executive Directors of EqualityMaine, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the Maine Civil Liberties Union, and the Maine Women's Lobby.
In addition to the steering committee, eighteen other advocacy groups including the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence, the Maine People's Alliance, and the NAACP – Portland Chapter have signed on to the coalition. A complete list is available at www.mainefreedomtomarry.org. The Freedom to Marry Coalition is partnering with the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, which represents one hundred and forty clergy from fourteen religious denominations.
"The breadth of support for this bill demonstrates that Mainers value fairness," said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. "All loving, committed couples deserve the dignity and respect, as well as the legal rights and obligations, that civil marriage brings."
Betsy Smith, Executive Director of Equality Maine, the state's major GLBT rights advocacy organization, said the organization has gathered tens of thousands of statements of support for marriage equality from voters in all corners of the state.
"Many thousands of people from across the state want us to work for full marriage equality," said Smith. "We don't think we can wait for two years or four years to bring this crucial issue to the attention of our legislators."
The civil marriage equality bill will be submitted to the Legislature by January 16. It is expected to be referred to the Judiciary Committee.
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