Today our colleagues at EqualityMaine and the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) announced plans to make Maine the first state in the nation to approve marriage equality via a ballot measure. The earliest this could happen is November 2012, and that's where sights are set. Following today's announcement in Lewiston, the first formal step in reaching this goal is to submit a written application to the Secretary of State for something that's called a "citizen's initiative." This application, which is being delivered later this afternoon, contains language that would put the following question to Maine voters in November 2012:
"Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?"
Before voters are given the opportunity to answer this question for themselves, EqualityMaine and their coalition partners must gather 80,000 signatures (and verify at least 57,277 of them) in order to qualify for the November 2012 ballot. Two separate polls, conducted in January and May of this year, indicate that 53% of Maine voters support marriage equality, but still, the signatures must be obtained. One place they'll come is from one-on-one conversations with voters throughout the state. Since March, EqualityMaine has spoken with 20,000 Mainers. To get marriage on the ballot in 2012, the organization says they'll need to change the hearts and minds of at least 15,000 additional voters.
Two web sites have also been created to help build public support about why marriage matters to gay and lesbian couples in Maine: Why Marriage Matters Maine (http://www.whymarriagemattersmaine.org) and Maine the Way Life Should Be (http://www.mainethewaylifeshouldbe.org). On either site, you'll meet Maine residents whose hearts and minds have changed on the subject of marriage equality - people like Jeanette and Paul Redicker of Fort Fairfield, a straight couple, married 42 years, who went to speak with their Catholic priest soon after finding out their daughter is a lesbian. "I will never forget the answer that he [the priest] told me," said Jeanette.
"She is the same person that you loved yesterday," said the priest.
"My daughter - my oldest daughter, my gay daughter - grew up in Maine," said Paul. "That's where she should be able to be married."
"To see my daughter, Michelle, marry the partner that she loves will be fantastic," said Jeanette. "And all of our family feels the same way. We'll be there."
Jeanette and Paul are joined by an increasing number of Mainers who have come to support marriage equality since 2009.
"We changed hearts and minds during No on 1, and since then, many more Mainers have changed their hearts and continue to change their minds," said Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine.
Joining EqualityMaine and GLAD for today's announcement were Lewiston Mayor Laurent F. Gilbert, Sr. and Pastor Michael Gray of Old Orchard Beach United Methodist Church. Pastor Gray is but one of a growing number of United Methodist Church clergy who are speaking out in support of marriage for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples.
"As a pastor whose faith has been the guiding force throughout my adult life, I had a very traditional view of what marriage meant. But over time, as I met more gay and lesbian couples, including some who are active in my parish, I came to learn that gay people are no different from me," said Pastor Gray. "I now realize that the love and commitment in their relationships is as strong as the love and commitment my wife and I share, and I support their right to marry if they are lucky enough to find someone they love."
GLAAD looks forward to working with EqualityMaine and GLAD in the weeks and months to come. We also look forward to the day when all couples in Maine are able to marry, and thus take care of and be responsible for the people they love most. In the meantime, we urge the media in Maine to shine a spotlight on the stories of loving and committed gay and lesbian couples, their family members and their friends, and why marriage matters to them.