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Maine Rejects Gay Marriage – Washington State Approves Domestic Partnerships

by Professor Will Huhn on November 4, 2009

in Civil Rights,Wilson Huhn

     Voters in Maine and Washington State voted yesterday in referenda on whether to approve or disapprove laws that had been adopted by their state legislatures relating to the recognition of same-sex unions.  In Maine, the voters decided to reject a law that would have recognized same-sex marriage.  In Washington State the voters ratified a domestic partnership law that grants same-sex couples the same legal rights as married couples.

     According to an article by Kevin Miller and Judy Harrison of the Bangor Daily News, by a margin of 53-47 % voters in Maine have chosen to reject the state's same-sex marriage law.   There was popular support for same-sex marriage in cities such as Portland and Bangor, but this was overcome by votes from rural areas of the state and Roman Catholic / Franco-American regions. 

     The legislature had adopted this law and Governor had signed it in May of this year, but opponents placed the measure on the ballot to prevent the law from going into effect.  The Maine law, LD 1020, contained the following definition 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.

     The Maine law would have recognized same-sex marriages that had been performed in other states:

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.

     And the Maine law contained a provision preserving the religious freedom of religious institutions that chose not to participate in same-sex marriages:

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.

     Isn't it interesting that the foregoing "conscience provision" would have applied not only to members of the clergy but to "any person authorized to join persons in marriage."  I suppose that would include judges and ship captains – and what a contrast to the situation in Louisiana where a justice of the peace who refused to officiate at interracial marriages was recently driven from office.

     In Washington State, by an even narrower margin, voters chose to approve the state's new domestic partnership law that essentially grants gay and lesbian couples all of the same rights that married couples have.  The Secretary of State's office indicates that the ballot measure ratifying domestic partnerships passed with 51% of the vote.  According to an article by Lornett Turnbull, Janet I. Tu, and Susan Kelleher of the Seattle Times, the measure passed by wide margins in King County and the Puget Sound area and was "soundly rejected" in eastern Washington – the same urban-rural pattern that obtained in Maine.

     Like the Maine law, the Washington Law, S. 5688, was adopted in May of this year, and was challenged by voters seeking to overturn the law by way of referendum.  Here is a link to a page of the Washington State Legislature website from which you can access text of the bill and other documents relating to its legislative history.

     One interesting feature of the Washington Domestic Partnerships law is that it applies not only to same-sex couples but also to unions where one of the persons is 62 years of age or older.  I assume that this is for the purpose of preserving people's rights to survivorship benefits under Social Security or other laws or pension plans, but I would have to research this to be sure.  According to Ballot Pedia, here is the official summary of the law:

Same-sex couples, or any couple that includes one person age sixty-two or older, may register as a domestic partnership with the state. Registered domestic partnerships are not marriages, and marriage is prohibited except between one man and one woman. This bill would expand the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of registered domestic partners and their families to include all rights, responsibilities, and obligations granted by or imposed by state law on married couples and their families.

     Here are links to websites from Approve Ref 71 and Protect Marriage Washington, organizations that supported and opposed this measure.

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