Maine Senate Backs Same-Sex Marriage

Maine could be the next New England state to embrace same-sex marriage after the State Senate voted Thursday to legalize the practice.

The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 21 to 14 for a bill that would allow gay couples to marry starting later this year. The measure appears to have even broader support in the House of Representatives, which will take it up on Tuesday.

Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, used to oppose same-sex marriage. But since the bill was introduced in January, he has said he is keeping an open mind.

“He said at the beginning of this process that he was going to listen to debate on the question,” said David Farmer, Mr. Baldacci’s spokesman, “and make his final decision once the bill reaches his desk.”

The vote was the latest victory for gay rights groups in New England, which are campaigning to get same-sex marriage approved in all six of the region’s states by 2012. Massachusetts and Connecticut already allow same-sex marriage, and the Vermont Legislature approved it last month.

The New Hampshire legislature is likely to send a same-sex marriage bill to Gov. John Lynch in the coming weeks, though Mr. Lynch, a Democrat and an opponent, might veto it. A bill has been introduced in the Rhode Island legislature but is unlikely to be acted on this year.

If the Maine Legislature approves same-sex marriage, opponents will try to collect enough signatures to suspend the law until a public referendum can be held — probably in June 2010 — asking voters if they want to overturn it. But Mary Bonauto, the lawyer who argued the case that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, said gay rights groups would wage an exhaustive campaign against a so-called people’s veto.

“I think we have better than a fighting chance on that,” Ms. Bonauto said.


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