Gay marriage issue officially on Maine ballot

Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2012 in News

Gay marriage issue officially on Maine ballot

by Gina Hamilton

AUGUSTA -- A citizen initiative to legalize gay marriage is officially on the November ballot as of Tuesday morning.

The Maine House of Representatives, which could have stymied the bill by choosing to look at it for passage this session (a virtual impossibility), instead voted Tuesday morning to indefinitely postpone the bill.  This will send it directly to the voters.  House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, recognized Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, to make the motion. 

Cain is a long-time supporter of gay marriage.

“We just think it should be decided by the voters,” said Cain’s spokeswoman Jodi Quintero.  “We’d like to see the citizen initiative succeed.”

The action by the House avoids a public hearing and a recorded vote by lawmakers.  The last time gay marriage was considered by the Legislature was in 2009.  The Democratic majority held a day-long public hearing at the Augusta Civic Center, where hundreds of people testified on both sides of the issue.  Ultimately, the Legislature passed the bill along a party-line vote, and Gov. John Baldacci signed it into law.  It was repealed the following summer by voters.

This year, gay marriage supporters are more optimistic.  They worked with the Republican majority to have the bill go directly to the voters. 

Maine is not the only state where gay marriage will be will be on the ballot this year.  Four other states – Minnesota, North Carolina, Washington state and Maryland – are considering gay marriage in some form.

Nationwide, approval of gay marriage has risen dramatically since the last time voters faced the issue on the ballot in Maine.  A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that those who favor gay marriage outnumber those who oppose it, 49 percent to 40 percent, with eight percent undecided.  In Maine, a Public Policy poll, released last week, shows that 54 percent of Mainers think gay marriage should be legal, compared to only 41 percent who think it should be illegal.

In both Minnesota and North Carolina, same-sex marriage has never been legal.  Opponents of the idea have arranged referenda to put in place constitutional bans on gay marriage so that it will be harder for the courts to strike down any ban on gay marriage that might arise from actions in different states that are part of the same circuit court.  North Carolina votes on the issue on May 8, during its primary, and Minnesota will vote on it in the November election.  No matter how the vote comes out, these bills will not legalize gay marriage in the two states.

In Maryland and Washington, however, same-sex marriage has recently been legalized by the legislatures, and signed into law by the governors.  Opponents are currently engaged in petition drives to put the issues on the ballot in November, in hopes of striking down the new laws.  Whether the petitions will succeed is in some doubt. 

However, polls show that in both states, the referenda would fail if the votes were held today.  In Maryland, the referendum would fail 52 percent to 44 percent, and in Washington, it would fail 50 percent to 46 percent, preserving the new gay marriage laws. 

In Minnesota, the issue is deeply divisive.  The latest Public Policy poll, taken in late February, shows that if held today, the vote would be 48 percent in favor of a constitutional ban, while 44 percent would oppose it. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise is in North Carolina, where 54 percent of North Carolinians are opposed to such an amendment, while only 38 percent said they support it.

Taken together with court actions in the First District (on a suit by a Massachusetts couple) which will look at a gay married couple’s right to federal recognition, and a review of the Ninth District’s uphold of its own ruling against a constitutional ban against gay marriage in California, both possibly to be examined by the Supreme Court, there will be a great deal of talk in this election year about gay marriage.

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