This August, my wife and I will begin our seventh year of marriage.

Our wedding took place in a garden, in a ceremony that was officiated by family members, while we were surrounded by family and friends. There were no members of clergy present, neither the Bible nor any other religious scripture was mentioned.

Each year in this country, there are thousands of non-religious ceremonies, the end result of which is a marriage. Religion, whether organized or otherwise, does not have a monopoly on this institution.

Maine law defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Proposed legislation would change the definition of marriage to be a legally recognized union between two people; it would allow any two people, regardless of sex, to apply for a marriage license.

Church and religion should be able to keep their traditions and practices. Legislation making the rounds in Augusta neither seeks to take them away nor demean the role they play in the lives of those who believe in a particular faith.

Yet failure to pass this legislation is akin to state-sanctioned discrimination. For the state of Maine to deny gays the same rights as heterosexual couples will, in the eyes of many, guarantee that gays will be considered second-class citizens. Those on the religious right (and even some who tend be more centrist) use gay marriage as a vice, a way to keep gay or transgendered individuals from being accepted as equals in all aspects of culture.

Some who oppose same-sex marriages do so because they see marriage as a religious sacrament. While true, for centuries marriage has also been a matter of law. The conflict comes into play when, as a society, we continue to fail in separating church from state.

To some the idea of gay marriage is akin to trampling on a sacred institution. For many gay men and women, marriage is about equal protection and recognition under law.

Organizations such as the Maine Marriage Alliance and the Maine Family Policy Council, talk about “special rights” and use falsehoods as a rallying cry.

The Web site of the Maine Marriage Alliance makes the following claim, “that even the most committed homosexual couples – particularly male homosexual couples – view monogamy as unnecessary.” The same Web site also says that same sex marriages undermine non-same sex marriages because, “Legal recognition for openly non-monogamous gay unions would effectively destroy the taboo on adultery. The result is a continual downfall of families and society.”

On their website the Concerned Women for America of Maine quotes their State President Charla Bansley, “Why do I care if homosexuals marry? Because same-sex ‘marriage’ hurts children.”

No matter what claims the anti-same-sex marriage crowd conjure up, marriage remains a matter of law. Same-sex couples are asking simply for legal recognition of their commitment to one another, for equal benefits (not “special” benefits) to that of male/female couples.

Men and women who aren’t married in a church (like my wife and I) are afforded the same legal benefits of couples who are married in a church. Why? Because marriage is a civil/legal contract between two people, regardless of faith.

The decision facing legislators (and perhaps voters if this were to go to referendum) should not be a daunting one. Going back to the 1700s, early legislative and legal efforts to abolish slavery were unpopular. Many scholars feel that the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation would not have survived a referendum vote. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote, signed in August of 1920, was first proposed in 1875.

Abolishing slavery should have happened 150 years before it did. Women should have been casting votes decades earlier. The Maine Legislature, governor and voters must not repeat the historic civil rights mistakes of the past.

Today we must support legislation legalizing same-sex marriage.

Will Fessenden is a past chair of the Androscoggin County Democratic Committee, considers himself a “community/grassroots organizer” and serves on several nonprofit boards and committees. He works in Auburn and lives in Sabattus with his wife Jennifer and their two boys. E-mail: [email protected]

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