Nearly five months of public debate crescendoed this week during a remarkable public hearing at the Augusta Civic Center. Thousands crammed the arena to hear and provide testimony on allowing same-sex marriage in Maine, a contentious issue that crosses religious, moral and political sensibilities.
The arguments for equality in marriage are strong; so are those for retaining the status quo, as whichever way the Legislature decides this issue, the intrinsic beliefs of a large portion of Maine residents will be wronged. There is no middle ground here. Not the way this debate has been framed.
This sentiment is accurately reflected by polling. A recent poll by the Pan Atlantic Group found Mainers’ attitudes on same-sex marriage are split. A full third of Mainers, however, are still apparently undecided, which in this state is a sizable minority to be exempt from the discussion.
We’re on the side of the status quo, and would prefer to leave marriage to its traditional definition of between man and woman, while seeing significant legal protections and equality provisions for domestic partners of the same sex, or different sexes, written into Maine statute without delay.
That is our preference, which grows not from the seeds of discrimination, but rather from the soil of particular cultural upbringing that has shaped our view about marriage. We think marriage is right the way it currently is defined. Yet we realize, and certainly appreciate, that there are differing viewpoints.
This is the point of the same-sex marriage question. There are no wrong views on it, per se, as individual perceptions of marriage are shaped by conditions unique to every person, experienced throughout their lives. For this reason, it is difficult to see how one voice could speak for many.
And for this reason, the Legislature should put same-sex marriage before the voters. If issues of deep political, moral and religious implications, that engage almost every constituency and draw thousands to an almost day-long hearing on its merits, is not the stuff of a referendum, then what is?
It seems strange that Mainers will vote this year on taxes (a political issue), schools (a social and political issue) and drugs (a social issue), but not same-sex marriage (a social, political and cultural issue). When civic engagement on an issue is high, as it is on marriage, it is improper to allow it to be decided by proxy.
There are some issues that should be decided by the body politic, and not a political body. We believe this is one of them. (And not because we and many others think a referendum is its destiny, through an inevitable People’s Veto campaign.)
During Wednesday’s hearing, Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Trenton, the sponsor of the legislation, said, “This bill’s time has come. It relieves the burden which has oppressed us for too long.” While we respect this sentiment, we recognize it is only his opinion. Whether the time has come for same-sex marriage in Maine is not his, or ours, or any one entity’s decision to make for us all.
It would, however, be decided by a vote of the people, our cherished and time-honored democratic practice whose status in our culture and politics is inviolable. We urge our Legislature to let the people of Maine vote on this intensely important and personal issue, to ensure all our voices are heard.
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