In 76 days we will know how Mainers feel about same-sex marriage. There have been rumors that if LD 1020 falls to the People’s Veto, LD 1118 may be resurrected. Representative Leslie Fossel proposed LD 1118, An Act to Expand Rights for Maine Families, as an alternative to the same-sex marriage proposal put forth in LD 1020. Rep. Fossel’s bill would have created registered domestic partnerships, rather than extend marriage to all couples. Rep. Fossel hoped his bill would avoid a “culture war” over same-sex marriage that would derail any unions for gay couples. However anything but absolute legal marriage equality for same-sex couples is not good enough anymore.
Most of the opposition to LD 1020 that I have heard has been religious in nature. I would not try to convince someone to change their religious beliefs. Protecting the rights of religious institutions is fundamental to the American Republic. They are private organizations and should not be forced to marry anyone if it does not mesh with their religious views. Nor should they have to allow anyone to use their facilities if they have objections. It should not be the government’s business to tell religious institutions what they can and cannot believe. I respect the differences I have with those who religiously oppose same-sex marriage and so does Maine’s current legislation. LD 1020 addresses of the points I just raised.
I have also heard some worries that LD 1020 would open religious organizations to losing their tax exempt status if they did not allow gay couples to use their facilities. Maine’s same-sex marriage law explicitly affirms a religion’s right to preach any “doctrine, policy, teaching or solemnization of marriage within that particular religious faith’s tradition as guaranteed by the Maine Constitution.” The bill goes on to say “A person authorized to join persons in marriage and who fails or refuses to join persons in marriage is not subject to any fine or other penalty for such failure or refusal.”
A religious institution who refuses use of it’s facilities, in my eyes, is an absolutely separate matter from same-sex marriage. Maine already has anti-discrimination laws on the books which would be sited in a case similar to that in Iowa long before LD 1020.
I would expect, and I may be way off base here, that someone will propose something that further protects religious institutions from law suits. After reading LD 1020 and LD 1196( the anti-discrimination law) it doesn’t seem like there is much wiggle room for a case against a religious institution. Again, if someone feels like there is a problem then a bill should be proposed.
With all of that said, I do not believe that domestic partnerships are equal to actual marriage. I know some believe that domestic partnerships are good enough, but I am not one of those people. From a civil rights stand point, and a personal one, separate rules for separate groups of adults does not constitute equality. I don’t care how you slice it. Domestic partnerships instead of marriage says to gay couples that they are not worthy of the rights afforded to heterosexual couples. The word marriage has been put on a pedestal and given a power that I’m not sure it should have. Ultimately the word marriage defines a legal contract between two consenting adults. This battle over whether gay people should be able to marry has strayed from the legal definition.
Marriage is a legal contract not a religious one. Our republic was founded on a distinct separation of church and state. Yet it is acceptable for mostly religious institutions to spar on a vote that would over turn a governments ruling that certain people can have the right to marry. Same-sex marriage is purely a legal issue. When two people who love each other are not allowed to have the security of marriage to protect them, only because of religious ideals, it is unjust. No matter what you believe, unless you choose to associate with gay people and families the chance of you being affected by their legal marriage is negligible.
When I first thought about writing this piece I thought about my two children. When they are older and looking back on these events they will see all of these passionate people, gay and straight, religious and not, who stood up for what they believe. “What did you do?”, they may ask. How could I look at them and say, “Well I did nothing. I just stood by as it all happened around me.”? I can’t do that. I can’t let this vote come in November and not have said that it was time all Mainers were equal. I can’t let this People’s Veto pass and not have said that separate is not equal. Not have shouted: separate is not equal. Separate is NOT equal.