By Nancy PerryAUGUSTA - Homosexual marriages in Maine will be outlawed on June 26, although Gov. Angus King refused to sign the ban into law Monday, and said the measure sows ''hate and division'' among state residents.
©Copyright 1997 Guy Gannett Communications
In lopsided votes last week, legislators took the unusual step of passing a citizen-initiated bill to ban same-sex marriages.
Those votes left King with the choice of vetoing the bill, which would have triggered a statewide vote on the issue; signing it into law; or letting the bill become law without his signature. King chose the third option.
He said Monday that a referendum would have been ''bitter and divisive.'' Signing the bill, the governor said, would have unduly legitimized it.
So, he decided to let it become law, sending a message of support for gay rights as legislators prepare to debate a separate bill prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians in the areas of housing, credit and employment.
But the governor went further Monday. He rebuked anti-homosexual activists for their role in forcing a vote on the issue.
''I believe this bill has very little to do with marriage and nothing to do with love,'' King said, in a written statement. ''Instead, the real purpose of its leading proponents is to keep some aspect of this issue in the public eye, to stir fears and ancient prejudices, and to sow hate and division at a time we should be searching for common ground.''
Gay rights supporters praised King for his stand. Opponents condemned him for ignoring the wishes of 62,000 voters who signed petitions supporting the ban on same-sex marriages.
''He needs to be governor of all the people of Maine, not just a narrow special-interest group,'' said Carolyn Cosby of Concerned Maine Families, which initiated the referendum.
The group, which earlier launched an unsuccessful referendum to overturn Portland's gay rights law and prohibit other communities from following suit, is trying ''to protect monogamous marriage'' as the standard and foundation of a family raising children, Cosby said.
''Why does he feel he has to slap the 62,000 people who signed those petitions? I don't think it helps for him to call them haters. It's not responsible. I'm real disappointed in the governor,'' said Michael Heath of the Christian Civic League.
The league had urged lawmakers to pass the bill and King to sign it, as Heath said 19 other states have done.
''This is a major, national issue. How can he say, in such strong language, it isn't an issue?'' Heath asked.
But Karen Geraghty of the Maine Lesbian and Gay Political Alliance said King had chosen the best possible route, given Cosby's determination to force a vote on the issue. Geraghty said a referendum would be divisive and signing the bill would send the wrong message as legislators prepare to debate an anti-discrimination bill.
King's refusal to sign the bill ''allows him not to jump on the bandwagon of hate,'' she said.
''His unwillingness to attach his name to something so patently anti-gay sends a good message. What he's saying is 'Let's talk about what's important . . . let's fix what's broken,' '' Geraghty said.
In his statement, King said that while he has a deep respect for the institution of marriage, which he views as a sacrament, ''I have no sense that traditional marriage is under assault in Maine or that there is any danger that this will be the case in the foreseeable future.''
Same-sex marriages are not legal in Maine now, King said. The issue surfaced when three gay couples in Hawaii sued after being denied a marriage license. The courts ruled that the state had shown no compelling reason for denying the license. That decision is currently under appeal.
Congress, fearful that if homosexual marriages were legalized in Hawaii other states would be forced to recognize those unions, enacted a law last year giving states the right to recognize or refuse to recognize same-sex marriages. Congress also said that homosexual marriages would not be recognized under federal law. President Clinton signed that bill.
Those decisions prompted Cosby to initiate a referendum banning same-sex marriages here. Because the ban was initiated by the public, legislators had to adopt it or allow a public vote. The House voted 106-39 and the Senate voted 24-10 to approve the ban.
That limited King's choices. Geraghty said gay activists worked with the governor's staff to convince them King should let the bill become law without his signature.
King said the new law is ''most likely unconstitutional'' and probably will land in the courts. ''It will eventually fall of its own discriminatory weight,'' King predicted.
''This bill will briefly become law in Maine but it will not have my name on it,'' King said.
Geraghty said gay couples could trigger a lawsuit by requesting a license here or, if they are able to marry in another state, asking that their marriage be recognized. No such actions are planned at this time.
''We never fought for this,'' she said.
Gay activists are more focused on passing the anti-discrimination bill, which will be given a public hearing before the Judiciary Committee at the North Wing of the Augusta Civic Center at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8.
The Portland Newspapers Home
The Maine GayNet Archive