A couple hours ago, the Maine legislature passed their same-sex marriage bill along to Gov. Baldacci.
And he immediately signed it.
His whole (brief) statement is worth reading (follow the link), but here's an excerpt:
I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.
This new law does not force any religion to recognize a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs. It does not require the church to perform any ceremony with which it disagrees. Instead, it reaffirms the separation of Church and State.
It guarantees that Maine citizens will be treated equally under Maine's civil marriage laws, and that is the responsibility of government.
Last month, Vermont was the first state to have its legislature sign same-sex marriage into law, but it had to override a gubernatorial veto to do so. Today, Maine becomes the first state to have its legislature and governor together sign same-sex marriage into law.
A month ago, two US states had same-sex marriage. Today, it's five. Five.
Sadly, this is not the end of the struggle in Maine. A group is putting together a petition for a "people's veto," a standard part of the Maine political process. Here's how it works, as I understand it:
The bill has not yet gone into effect. The legislature will be adjourning sometime around June 17. The antis then have 90 days to submit petitions containing at least 55,087 signatures. (Which is 10% of the total number of votes cast for Governor in the last election.)
If they fail to do that, then the bill goes into effect.
But if they file their petitions before the 90-day deadline, which seems to me likely to happen, then the bill does not yet go into effect. Instead, the Maine secretary of state's office has 30 days to count and check signatures, to see whether the issue should go on the ballot.
If the secretary of state determines that there aren't enough valid signatures, then the bill goes into immediate effect. I'm guessing this is unlikely.
If there are enough signatures, then there are two sub-cases:
- If the signatures are turned in by September 3 or 4 (60 days before the November election), then the issue will appear on the ballot in November.
- If the signatures are turned in after September 3 or 4, but before the 90-day deadline a couple weeks later, then the issue will appear on the ballot in June of 2010.
The most useful info about this process I've found is a Kennebec Journal article that's the source of most of my info above. For more detail about the People's Veto but less-clear language, see the Maine constitution, Article IV, Part Third, Section 17.
I'm guessing that the signature drive will succeed in placing the issue on the ballot--I'm hoping it won't, but it seems likely that they can get 10% of the voters to sign the petition.
A recent poll showed Mainers in a statistical dead heat over the same-sex marriage issue. If it goes to a popular vote, it could be very close.
Even if the people say yes to same-sex marriage, that apparently won't go into effect until 30 days after the election (if I'm reading the state Constitution right).
So depending on how things go, the first same-sex marriages in Maine could happen as soon as mid-September or as late as next July. Or, possibly, not at all, if the people's veto succeeds.
But I don't mean this entry to be a downer. Now is the time to celebrate.
And then to work hard to make sure that the people's veto fails.