At left: Carolyn Cosby, chairwoman of Concerned Maine Families
File photo by Gordon Chibroski
By STEVEN G. VEGHA group pushing for a state law to ban same-sex marriages has more than enough petition signatures to put the issue before the Legislature this year, Maine's secretary of state announced Friday.
©Copyright 1997 Guy Gannett Communications
Concerned Maine Families collected 62,032 valid signatures, far more than the 51,131 it needed for a citizens initiative, said Secretary of State Dan A. Gwadosky.
The group's proposal would ban marriages between people of the same sex in Maine, and direct the state to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The Legislature has the choice of approving the measure or putting it on the ballot for November's general election. It must decide before the end of the current legislative session.
In the past, the Legislature has routinely sent citizens initiatives to the voters.
But Larry Lockman, vice chairman of Concerned Maine Families, said his group hopes that legislators will approve the new measure, rather than put it on November's ballot.
''It's a pretty mainstream issue. It does have bipartisan support,'' Lockman said. He noted that a federal act banning same-sex marriages was signed by President Clinton in September, and that Maine's U.S. senators both backed the act.
Concerned Maine Families says its initiative only states explicitly what marriage laws already state implicitly: that marriage in Maine is recognized to be between one man and one woman.
The group says it also sees the initiative as encouraging ''the traditional monogamous family unit as the basic building block of our society, the foundation of harmonious and enriching family life.''
Concerned Maine Families initiated an anti-gay rights referendum in 1995 that would have barred any new categories, including sexual orientation, from being added to the classifications of people protected from discrimination by state law.
The referendum was defeated after an intense, high-profile campaign by an opposition coalition, Maine Won't Discriminate.
Patricia Peard, a leader of Maine Won't Discriminate, said there is no similar coalition now to fight a ban on same-sex marriages. She predicted an opposition group will form if the marriage ban is put on November's ballot.
But she said such a group would probably be smaller than Maine Won't Discriminate because it would have only a few months to organize. Maine Won't Discriminate had nearly 1 years to work.
Peard condemned the marriage-ban proposal. ''I think same-gender marriage is an issue of a basic human right,'' she said. ''CMF wishes to attack gay peple instead of going after real issues that impact families in Maine.''
Same-sex marriage is an important issue for some gay men and lesbians, but not all, said Kathleen DeBold. She is deputy director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based group that promotes gay rights nationwide.
''With the number of issues that gays and lesbians and their friends and families have to face - health care, punishing hate crimes, ending workplace discrimination - I think that marriage is a little lower on the priority scale for a lot of people,'' DeBold said.
DeBold said many gay-rights advocates are putting their energy into other issues because they expect the legality of same-sex marriage ultimately will be determined by a court, and not legislatures.
She said that, excluding Maine, at least 21 state legislatures this year are considering legislation that would ban same-sex marriages.
Maine's Legislature this year also will consider a gay-rights bill that would add sexual orientation to the criteria for protection from discrimination under the Maine Human Rights Act.
Gay-rights supporters are optimistic that legislators will pass the gay-rights bill, which has been debated in almost every session in the last 20 years.
Lockman said he is less sure the measure will be approved. He also suggested that some legislators might compromise by backing gay rights and supporting the ban on same-sex marriages.
Peard said she is convinced that legislators will back the gay-rights bill because of its inherent merit, and not because of any compromise.
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