Speakers clash over gay-marriage issue -- The Maine Archive on the Queer Resources Directory

Thursday, March 13, 1997

Speakers clash over gay-marriage issue

The Rev. Marvin Ellison of the Bangor Theological Seminary argues in favor of same-sex marriage.

Bradford's Rosalie Grant, left, and June Rush display their opposition at a Legislative hearing at the Augusta Civic Center.

Lovell's David Fisher, right, and his partner, Paul Alpert, speak in favor of same-sex marriage.
Staff photos by Jack Jack Milton.

AUGUSTA - If the state passes a law to prevent homosexuals from marrying, it will either protect the family or undercut it.

Those conflicting views came from dozens of witnesses who testified Wednesday at a hearing - which drew more than 300 people to the Augusta Civic Center - on a citizen-initiated bill that would prohibit gays from marrying in Maine.

The bill also would prevent Maine officials from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries.

Some of the people who testified said banning same-sex marriages would save the family, by honoring the traditional, heterosexual definition of marriage.

Others said a ban would threaten the family, if the concept of ''marriage'' fails to evolve as times change.

The lengthy hearing held by the Legislature's Judiciary Committee was part pep rally. Most of the people in attendance wore stickers and carried signs urging lawmakers to ''ban same-sex marriages'' and to ''vote yes'' on the proposed ban.

The afternoon-long hearing was orderly despite the size of the crowd and the emotionalism of the issue. Supporters of the ban periodically shouted ''amen!'' and ''that's right!'' when testimony supported their views.

Witnesses on both sides of the issue agreed the bill would have a deep and lasting effect on Maine families, but they disagreed on whether that impact would be positive or negative.

Both sides tried to use the Bible and Judeo-Christian values to make their case. Supporters of the ban cited biblical condemnations of homosexuality.

Opponents cited biblical references to polygamy to support their claim that the Bible recognizes different types of marriage.

''The destabilization of traditional monogamous marriages is the goal of same-sex marriages,'' said Carolyn Cosby of Concerned Maine Families, the group pushing for a ban. ''We urge you to vote yes to protect our marriages, our families and our children.''

''In an increasingly diverse society, some families are formed by same-gender couples,'' countered the Rev. Marvin Ellison, a professor at Bangor Theological Seminary. ''Providing these couples the same protections and the same benefits that mixed-gender couples already enjoy will strengthen American families.''

Most who testified offered abstract arguments for and against the ban, but some spoke from personal experience.

The Rev. Tom Bruce and his wife, Rhonda Bruce, both of Dover-Foxcroft, said they are former homosexuals who have abandoned what Rhonda Bruce described as a ''lifestyle (that) is a lie from the pit of hell.

''This is a family,'' she said, holding up a photo of the three young children she and her husband have had since they were married seven years ago.

''It is unnatural for men to lie with men and women to lie with women,'' Tom Bruce said. ''The homosexual can change his or her behavior. I am proof of that.''

The ban came under attack from Margaret Fournier of Portland, an associate professor of nursing who has lived with her partner, Cheryl Ciechomski, for 25 years. The two women have a daughter, Emily.

Fournier, who is Emily's birth mother, described Ciechomski as Emily's ''other mom.''

''Our relationship is as strong and spiritual and loving as any heterosexual marriage,'' Fournier said. ''We absolutely live as a married couple, but we are disallowed the rights and responsibilities of marriage.''

No state recognizes same-sex marriages now, but a legal wrangle in Hawaii could lead to the legalization of such marriages there. If that happens, Fournier said, she and Ciechomski will get married in Hawaii, and they will expect Maine to recognize their marriage.

Some who opposed the ban seemed confused about the Legislature's options. They urged lawmakers to vote against the ban in the apparent belief that doing so would kill it.

In fact, the Legislature cannot kill the proposal under Maine law, because the bill was initiated by collecting voters' signatures. The Legislature can either enact the ban or send it to voters in the form of a referendum.

Concerned Maine Families also sponsored a 1995 referendum to prevent cities and towns from passing gay-rights ordinances protecting homosexuals from discrimination in housing, employment, credit and public accommodations. Voters defeated that referendum.

The Legislature passed a statewide gay-rights law in 1993, but then Gov. John McKernan vetoed it and the Legislature failed to override the veto. A similar bill has been introduced during the current legislative session, but a hearing has not yet been held.

Passing a gay-rights law safeguarding housing, jobs and credit is more important to most homosexual groups and activists than the fate of the proposed same-sex marriage ban. No one has filed a bill in Maine to legalize same-sex marriages.

Gov. Angus King has said he would sign a gay-rights bill into law. He also has said he is leaning toward signing a same-sex marriage ban into law, if the Legislature enacts such a ban.

The Judiciary Committee delayed action on the same-sex marriage ban until March 20. A recent poll of the committee showed that seven lawmakers wanted to enact the ban, five favored a referendum and one was undecided.

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