The Legislature has not yet acted on an initiative to ban same-sex marriages in Maine. But it is unlikely to draft a competing measure of its own as it did with the forestry referendum last year, top legislators say.
''There's only two choices: enact the bill exactly as worded or send it out to the voters in November,'' said Rep. Richard H. Thompson, D-Naples. Thompson is co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which is reviewing the proposed same-sex marriage ban.
The Legislature was compelled to consider the measure after Concerned Maine Families gathered sufficient signatures on a petition calling for such a ban. Concerned Maine Families was the initiator of Maine's 1995 anti-gay rights referendum, which was defeated.
Thompson and Sen. Susan W. Longley, D-Liberty, who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, both said they couldn't predict whether legislators would adopt the ban or send it to voters in November.
The committee will hold a public hearing on the ban on March 12. After gathering public comment, the committee will review the issue in a work session and send the measure on to the full House and Senate.
One option for the Legislature is to put the referendum on the November ballot, and to add a differently worded question of its own on the same topic.
Last year, voters had three choices in the forestry referendum: the original citizen initiative to ban clearcutting; a competing measure supported by Gov. Angus King, industry and major environmental groups; and a ''none of the above'' choice to keep the present forest-practices law. Thompson and Longley both said it is unlikely the Legislature will offer a forestry referendum measure to compete with the one already destined for a vote this year.
Longley predicted the March 12 hearing will see some speakers arguing in support of commitments between loving couples of the same sex. She said some speakers will probably question why marriage by gays is the predominant theme of the proposed ban.
Karen Geraghty, a spokeswoman for the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance, said she expected testimony against the ban from religious leaders, lawyers, gay couples in long-term relationships and businesspeople whose firms have offered domestic partnership benefits to gay and lesbian employees.
Compared to the movement to adopt a gay-rights statute, the issue of marriage among gays and lesbians is a low priority for the public, Longley said.
''For the most part, the issue presented to us by this referendum is not a burning issue for gays, straights or anybody,'' she said.
Thompson said colleagues in the House are of two minds. ''Some people take the position they'd just as soon send out to referendum any measure initiated by the people. Others say it's going to get enacted (if sent to voters), so just enact it,'' he said.
Within his own district, Thompson said, the majority of people are against same-sex marriages, ''and it's for a whole lot of different reasons. The average person is against it just because it just doesn't feel right.''
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