Language and careful word choice are important in this discussion. Here is the full official legislative summary of the bill that would legalize same-sex marriage and key excerpts (with explanations) from its legal language. Read the full text of the bill here.
The legislative summary
This bill repeals the provision that limits marriage to one man and one woman and replaces it with the authorization for marriage between any 2 persons that meet the other requirements of Maine law. It also specifies that a marriage between 2 people of the same sex in another state that is valid in that state is valid and must be recognized in this State.
This bill also clarifies that the authorization of marriage between 2 people of the same sex does not compel any religious institution to alter its doctrine, policy or teaching regarding marriage or to solemnize any marriage in conflict with that doctrine, policy or teaching. It also specifies that 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.
The legal language, explained
Be it enacted by the People of the State of Maine as follows:
• Sec. 1. 19-A MRSA §650, as enacted by PL 1997, c. 65, §2, is repealed.
Repeals the "Maine Defense of Marriage Act," which specifies that the legal definition of "marriage" is "the union of one man and one woman."
• Sec. 2. 19-A MRSA §650-A is enacted to read: § 650-A. Codification of marriage: Marriage is the legally recognized union of 2 people. Gender-specific terms relating to the marital relationship or familial relationships, including, but not limited to, "spouse," "family," "marriage," "immediate family," "dependent," "next of kin," "bride," "groom," "husband," "wife," "widow" and "widower," must be construed to be gender-neutral for all purposes throughout the law, whether in the context of statute, administrative or court rule, policy, common law or any other source of civil law.
Replaces the previous definition with a new legal definition of marriage as "the legally recognized union of 2 people."
•Sec. 3. 19-A MRSA §650-B is enacted to read: § 650-B. Recognition of marriage licensed and certified in another jurisdiction: A marriage of a same-sex couple that is validly licensed and certified in another jurisdiction is recognized for all purposes under the laws of this State.
All marriages from other states and countries, whether same-sex or heterosexual, are automatically recognized in Maine.
• Sec. 4. 19-A MRSA §651, sub-§2, as amended by PL 1997, c. 537, §12 and affected by §62, is further amended to include the sentence: The application may be issued to any 2 persons otherwise qualified under this chapter regardless of the sex of each person.
Specifically states that the gender of the two people seeking a marriage application is not a criterion for their eligibility.
• Sec. 5. 19-A MRSA §655, sub-§3 is enacted to read: 3. Affirmation of religious freedom. This Part does not authorize any court or other state or local governmental body, entity, agency or commission to compel, prevent or interfere in any way with any religious institution's religious doctrine, policy, teaching or solemnization of marriage within that particular religious faith's tradition as guaranteed by the Maine Constitution, Article 1, Section 3 or the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. 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.
Clarifies that this act does not affect the rights of any church or other religious group to define "marriage" in its own terms for religious purposes; clearly separates "civil marriage" from "religious marriage," and specifies that this bill is only addressing the legal implications of "civil marriage."
• Sec. 6. 19-A MRSA §701, as amended by PL 2007, c. 695, Pt. C, §4, is further amended to remove the specific statutory bar to same-sex marriage contained in paragraph 5, which now reads: 5. Same sex marriage prohibited. Persons of the same sex may not contract marriage.
Deletes the line in Maine law that bans same-sex marriage.
• Other parts of the bill involve: 1) gender-neutral rewording of marriage-related language (example: changing the language prohibiting marrying close relatives from words barring a man from marrying his mother, grandmother, and so on, to language barring all people from marrying their parents, grandparents, etc.); 2) deleting the specific denial of marriage rights to Maine residents who got same-sex marriages elsewhere; 3) language that is not being changed by the bill, or is only being changed in minor clerical ways (such as to correctly count the number of paragraphs or sections in the bill).