The following appeared this week in Augusta's daily newspaper, the"Kennebec Journal".

The author, Gerald E. Talbot of Portland, is a civil rights leader and co-founder of the African American Collection of Maine at the University of Southern Maine. He was the first African American elected to the Maine State Legislature and served as a Democrat there from 1972-78.

Civil marriage about equal protection of all under the law by Gerald E. Talbot

04/03/2009

Thirty-two years ago, on March 31, 1977, I introduced the first legislation to address how we treat gays and lesbians in Maine.

The bill, co-sponsored by my dear late friend, Democratic Rep. Larry Connolly, sought to end discrimination in credit, education, employment and housing against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

Just 10 years before that, I had fought as a citizen for my own rights as an African American. Sadly enough, the fight for equal rights continues to this day.

I spoke out very publicly in favor of such rights in 1977 because, as I shared in my floor statement then, I felt fighting discrimination was the most important thing I could do as an elected official. I said then, and I believe now, that any doctrine of superiority is “scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous.”

Suggesting gay people cannot marry is asserting the false superiority of straight couples over gay couples. Gay and lesbian couples deserve the dignity and respect that comes with marriage.

I am proud to stand with my fellow NAACP presidents, past and present, from both the Portland and Bangor branches in supporting LD 1020, “An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Trenton, would legalize same-sex marriage in Maine and honor the marriages currently legal in Massachusetts and Connecticut. That would allow gay and lesbian couples to benefit from the hundreds of legal rights and protections conferred by a Maine government marriage certificate.

Some will disagree with our position, citing personal religious and moral objections to homosexuality, just as they did 30 years ago. But in this debate we have to be mindful that religious marriage is entirely different from civil marriage.

Civil marriage isn’t about moral views but rather equal protection under the law, guaranteed by the Maine and U.S. Constitutions. The government has no reason to deny the more than 400 state legal rights and benefits and the more than 1,000 federal legal rights and benefits to anyone. Being gay or lesbian shouldn’t be a barrier to visiting a loved one in the hospital or sharing a partner’s health insurance or making end-of-life decisions together.

Others argue that such rights can be achieved through civil unions or expansion of our state’s domestic partnership law.

They can’t.

Something different can never provide the same protections. History demonstrates that separate institutions for minority groups have never been and can never be equal. To write civil unions into Maine law would be to further enshrine discrimination against gay and lesbian couples in statute.

I also have heard some say that Damon’s bill should be automatically sent to the people of Maine for a referendum vote.

As someone who has experienced discrimination and as both a former president of the NAACP and state legislator, I urge legislators not to attach a referendum amendment to this legislation. We elect public officials to uphold and defend the Constitution. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law to all people. It was designed to safeguard minorities against tyranny of the majority. The Legislature has a duty to end discrimination where it sees it, and that means voting yes to LD 1020 as drafted.

I applaud Damon and Rep. Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, for taking on the challenge of advancing civil rights. I know Larry Connolly would be proud of them, just as I am. Now is the time to end legal discrimination once and for all. A vote for marriage equality is a vote on the right side of history.

More Maine residents thoughts and comments here:

The bill seeks to give homosexuals the right to marry legally in Maine. Indicative of either side in the debate in Maine are two women, one from South Berwick and one from Berwick, who are encouraging people to contact local legislators.

Molly Coleman of South Berwick has undertaken a significant e-mail campaign in support of the bill.

“I am married to a person of the opposite sex, and I see the difference in the rights that I have and the rights of gays and lesbians,” she said. “I’m 54 and I’ve seen it all. When they were younger, they couldn’t be openly gay, and now they’re discriminated against.”

The issue, she said, “appeals to my whole sense of what is just and right and people being equal. Treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s the way I’ve always lived my life.”

She wonders why there would be such a significant backlash from some members of the Christian community on this issue, when she believes the bill does not directly affect anyone’s lives except those who are homosexual.

“How is this going to hurt anyone?” she asked. “It’s not going to change my rights one bit.”

Equally concerned that the bill does not pass is Rebecca Gleske of Berwick, a member of the Eliot Baptist Church.

“I’d like to say the Bible says this is wrong, but I don’t come at it from that direction,” she said. “I know people who are gay, and I care very much for them. I’ve done a lot of studying and researching, and I personally think homosexuality is a symptom of a deeper hurt than actual orientation.”

She said she had no problem with gays having all the civil rights as others, but drew the line at marriage.

For one, she said, she believed most homosexual relationships are short-lived, not a lifetime commitment.

For another, she said, “they want to be raising children, but the vast number of pedophile situations are homosexual. I believe a child needs a mother and father.”

She quotes a philosophy not dissimilar to Coleman’s. “Love your neighbor as yourself. That sums it up. I don’t want to hurt them, I just don’t agree with them on this issue.”

Meanwhile, local legislators said they have received a number of calls and e-mails, both for and against.

“Did I hear from anybody? I guess I did,” said Kittery state Rep. Walter Wheeler, who told the Herald several weeks ago that he was still making up his mind. “I got more e-mails and telephone calls than you can imagine. I’ve even had people come up to the house to talk with me.”

Wheeler said he decided to support the bill.

State Sen. Peter Bowman, D-Kittery, a sponsor of the bill, and state Rep. Windol Weaver, R-York, also said they’ve received a great number of e-mails both pro and con.

 

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