Thursday, May 14, 2009

After the battle: Where will same-sex marriage be in 2010?

Published in the Portland Phoenix

In a fast-moving and historic couple of days in Augusta (pity they don't move so fast on other important issues), the Maine Legislature last week approved same-sex marriage, and Governor John Baldacci ended weeks of speculation about what he would do by signing it that very day.

The bill is now slated to take effect 90 days after the close of this legislative session, or September 14. But opponents are widely expected to collect the 55,087 signatures required to bring the question to the ballot in either November or June 2010, setting the stage for what may be a pretty intense fight. That's the short term. But it's much less clear what will same-sex marriage will be like in Maine after the post-battle dust settles, say, in late 2010.

We asked few folks involved in the debate what they think. And a large number of them — whether they are for or against same-sex marriage — predict that most people won't really give it a second thought, even a scant 18 months from now. Among the remainder, the chief sentiment is that the degree to which same-sex marriage is controversial will shift with time, possibly resulting in a repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (which limits federal marriage benefits to one-man-one-woman couples), subtle shifts in clerical practice, or both.

An expanding movement

"Gay and lesbian couples will be getting married," predicts Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, one of the organizations that led the drive for marriage equality in Maine. But, like a true activist, she doesn't see it ending there. "Some of those couples may start to look to the federal level to rectify the discrimination that's occurring federally," she says, adding that "Maine's success will inspire citizens of other states to advocate for equality." And on a personal note, "In 2050, I think that I'll be telling my grandkids about the most historic moment of my legislative advocacy, and they'll be bored. They won't be able to imagine a time when we discriminated against gays and lesbians," similar to how many young people today struggle to imagine discriminating against African Americans.

End of controversy

Like Bellows, Dennis Damon, the Democratic senator from Hancock County who was the lead sponsor of Maine's same-sex marriage law, expects the controversy will largely blow over, though there will remain pockets of people who don't accept it, "just like there are those probably in this nation who have never accepted desegregation."

Damon, a notary public who is allowed to conduct civil marriages under Maine law, says he has been pleasantly surprised to find that people have asked him to officiate at their same-sex marriage ceremonies. He says the law allows him to agree to conduct some, and not others, as he has previously decided individually whether or not he will conduct heterosexual marriages, and "I'm not worried about being sued" over those decisions, as some same-sex marriage opponents have suggested might happen.

Stronger traditional marriages

Damon finds what may be unlikely agreement from Bob Emrich, director of the Maine Jeremiah Project, which has opposed same-sex marriage, and which is leading the people's-veto effort. By late 2010, same-sex marriage will be overturned and not mourned, but rather considered "a fad that's passed by," Emrich says.

But some, he hopes, might say to themselves that they "really haven't taken marriage as seriously as we ought to," and will undertake both personal efforts to shore up their relationships and begin to demand that state government act to "stabilize families."

Clearer church-state divide

Reverend Deborah Davis-Johnson, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Portland and a member of Maine's Religious Coalition for Freedom to Marry, thinks the boundary between church and state will continue to become clearer. "Likely people will have separated the religious ceremony of marriage from the legal ceremony," she says. Some of that may come, she suggests, from clergy who, in efforts to treat all couples equally, regardless of sexuality, will eventually decline to sign state-issued marriage licenses, choosing rather to conduct religious marriage ceremonies and send couples to state or local government representatives for the legal certification process.

End to 'marriage control'

Mark Henkel, founder of, an Old Orchard Beach-based group promoting "Christian polygamy," says conservatives will continue to object to same-sex marriage, and predicts they will ultimately come around to his perspective: that governmental "marriage control" of any kind should end. "Both sides are redefining marriage," he says, either as one-man-one-woman, or any-two-adults; both, he says, discriminate against polygamists. He hopes government will eventually get entirely out of determining what is or is not a marriage, so long as it is between "unrelated consenting adults."

Increasing acceptance

Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, a leader in the push for same-sex marriage, is mostly thinking about the referendum fight, which to her is an effort to protect "fairness and equality for all Maine families."

She sees hope as young people, who "don't understand what the big deal is" and quite strongly, as a demographic group, support same-sex marriage, grow into political power that will continue that protection. (She also predicts "a big boost" for Maine's economy in wedding tourism.)

No destruction

"I don't think it'll be anything anybody's interested in anymore," says Reverend Stephen Carnahan, pastor of the Open House Church in Portland and a member of the Religious Coalition for Freedom to Marry. "Everyone will have found that it doesn't actually cause Armageddon."

While opponents fear "the end of marriage in Maine," he suggests that what they will find is that "even if they still disagree with it, they'll realize that it's not going to destroy things."

'Ongoing cultural divide'

Marc Mutty, the public affairs director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, expects success for the people's veto effort he is helping to lead, but says it won't be the end of the road, saying gay-rights activists will continue to push for same-sex marriage, in Maine, in other states, and at the federal level. "I expect this to be an ongoing cultural divide for years to come," he says, though he hopes that the people's veto will end most of the political debate, at least for a while. And, for his part, Mutty hints that if the veto fails, there won't be a next step.

Mercurial influence

Predictions from Portland's Best Comic and Psychic

Brian Brinegar, voted Portland's Best Comedian by Portland Phoenix readers earlier this year, went non-comic (and succinct), citing philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

Robin Ivy, voted Portland's Best Psychic by Portland Phoenix readers, checked with the skies and has this to add: "The gay-marriage decision was made on the eve of Mercury retrograde, so it's a pretty sure thing it will be revisited sooner rather than later. Mercury retrograde is all about retracing steps and rethinking decisions made. At the same time, though, Pluto in Capricorn is working for long-term restructuring and confronting structures that have been in place like governments and, yes, the tradition of marriage. I predict in 10 or 12 years there will still be opponents of gay marriage, but for the most part all different kinds of families will live side-by-side with bigger concerns and a need for community, and move beyond this as an issue. We may be dealing with alien life forms, environmental changes, and technology to preserve life in general. Okay, that may be extreme, but you get the idea. We will have other work to do by then."