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Court rules for Maine trans student’s bathroom access

Kelly, Nicole, Jonas, Wayne Maines, GLAD Attorneys, Jennifer Levi, Ben Klein, gay news, Washington Blade

Kelly, Nicole, Jonas and Wayne Maines next to GLAD Attorneys Jennifer Levi and Ben Klein outside the court after oral argument. (Photo courtesy of GLAD)

Maine’s highest state court ruled on Thursday that schools within the state must permit transgender students to use communal bathrooms in accordance with their gender identity.

In a 5-1 decision, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in the case of Doe v. Clenchy that Regional School Unit 26 violated the Maine’s Human Rights Act by denying Nicole Maines, a transgender girl, access to the girl’s restroom.

It’s the first time a state court has ruled that trans students must be allowed to use a bathroom consistent with their gender identity.

Writing for the majority, Justice Warren Silver writes Nicole, named Susan Doe in the lawsuit, was “was treated differently from other students solely because of her status as a transgender girl.”

“RSU 26’s later decision to ban Susan from the girls’ bathroom, based not on a determination that there had been some change in Susan’s status but on others’ complaints about the school’s well-considered decision, constituted discrimination based on Susan’s sexual orientation,” Silver writes.

The lawsuit came about after officials at an Orono elementary school denied the fifth-grade trans student use of the girls’ restroom.

Although school previously allowed her access to girls’ facility, that changed when a male student began following her inside on two separate occasions, claiming he was also able to use the restroom. The student was acting under instructions from his guardian and grandfather, who was opposed to allowing Nicole access to the girl’s room.

According to the court decision, significant media attention resulted from the controversy. The school, over the Maines family’s objections, terminated Susan’s use of the girls’ communal bathroom and required her instead to use the single-stall, unisex staff bathroom.

Nicole was the only student that had to use the staff bathroom. As a result of the school’s decision, the Maines family decided to move to another part of the state after Nicole finished sixth grade.

The decision reached by the court applies not only to Nicole but to all transgender students who attend school within the state.

“Where, as here, it has been clearly established that a student’s psychological well-being and educational success depend upon being permitted to use the communal bathroom consistent with her gender identity, denying access to the appropriate bathroom constitutes sexual orientation discrimination in violation of the MHRA,” Silver writes.

The case was filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and Jodi L. Nofsinger of Berman & Simmons in May 2011. Although the Maine trial court judge reviewing the case  in November 2012 ruled in favor of the school’s decision to block Nicole, the decision from the high court vacates that ruling.

Jennifer Levi, GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project director and the attorney who argued the case before the court, called the decision “a huge breakthrough for transgender young people.”

“Schools have a responsibility to create a learning environment that meets and balances the needs of all kids and allows every student to succeed,” Levi said. “For transgender students this includes access to all school facilities, programs, and extracurricular activities in a way that is consistent with their gender identity.”

Maine’s Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, which is defined in the law to include gender identity.

The school argued it was allowed to bar Nicole from the girls’ room under a separate law, Section 6501, requiring schools to provide “clean toilets” that are separated by sex. But the court ruled the point of that law wasn’t to modify the Human Rights Act and schools cannot “dictate the use of the bathrooms in a way that discriminates against students in violation of the MHRA.”

Justice Andrew Mead was the sole dissenting justice in the case and ruled that it’s up to the legislature whether it wants to require policy for schools on transgender student’s access to bathroom facilities.

“I depart from the Court’s casual dismissal of the fact that the plain language of a specific statute explicitly requires segregating school bathrooms by sex,” Mead writes. “The plain language of the provisions of section 6501 and the MHRA are in conflict, and I believe that principles of comity require us to defer to the representative branch of government to resolve the issue.”

But the majority decision in the case was hailed by the family of the student who inspired the lawsuit.

Wayne Maines, Nicole’s father, expressed gratitude that transgender students like his daughter won’t be “singled out for different treatment” thanks to the court decision.

“As parents all we’ve ever wanted is for Nicole and her brother Jonas to get a good education and to be treated just like their classmates, and that didn’t happen for Nicole,” Maine said. “We are very happy knowing that because of this ruling, no other transgender child in Maine will have to endure what Nicole experienced.”


Michaud’s disappointing voting record

Mike Michaud, Maine, United States House of Representatives, Democratic Party, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

Mike Michaud’s record on reproductive freedom should be of concern to LGBT voters. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)



As a former D.C. resident now living in Maine, I read The Washington Blade with interest. But I have to say that Chris Johnson’s Feb. 26 piece on the governor’s race here missed the mark. Yes, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) recently came out and is running for governor, but his record of support for LGBT rights is mixed at best.

Serving in the state legislature from 1981 to 1997, he voted 19 times against efforts to prohibit discrimination of LGBT people in Maine. While his record of support in the U.S. Congress has been much stronger, he was conspicuously quiet during the 2009 and 2012 fights for marriage equality. The other U.S. Representative, Chellie Pingree (D), attended public events, spoke up on the House floor, and used her position to underscore support for marriage equality. But not Mike Michaud.

Johnson wrote that Michaud’s independent opponent, Eliot Cutler, was a “perennial candidate.” But Eliot ran only once before — in 2010 — losing to his Republican opponent by fewer than 11,000 votes.

Full disclosure: I back Cutler in this year’s governor’s race. He and his wife, Melanie, were invaluable supporters during the battles for marriage equality. They hosted the state’s largest reception for the campaign at their home in 2012. Cutler has also been a steadfast supporter of LGBT rights beyond marriage, endorsing efforts to ensure safe schools, for culturally competent health care and for inclusive communities.

Significantly, unlike his opponent, Cutler is also a vocal advocate of a woman’s right to choose; Michaud has voted repeatedly against women’s reproductive rights.

One more insight about Cutler’s support for gay people and equality: When my partner and I decided to marry last year, we asked Eliot if he would officiate. He never hesitated, never cited concerns about the campaign or his public image, never asked us to keep the ceremony quiet. He said only two words: “Yes” and “When?” We were married on the front porch of his house in August with his wife and two other friends serving as witnesses.

It’s important and long past due that we have openly gay candidates running for office in Maine and throughout the land. But sexual orientation isn’t reason enough to endorse anyone. Records matter. And Rep. Michaud’s is deeply disappointing.  

James Schwartz is a former D.C. resident now living in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.


Recommitting to the Victory Fund mission

Chuck Wolfe, Victory Fund Champagne Brunch, gay news, Washington Blade

Victory Fund President Chuck Wolfe told Sunday’s crowd about his recent heart attack and thanked supporters for their work during his absence. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Last Sunday was the annual Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch and by all accounts it was a success. There were fewer people than last year but that could be attributed to the steep price increase for tickets.

Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund, began the program and spoke of his recent heart attack and thanked the staff and board for all their hard work during his illness. It was good to see him back. He is often seen as the heart and soul of the Victory Fund and deserves much of the credit for its success in recent years. He introduced Steve Elmendorf, board chair, along with Kim Hoover, board treasurer and event co-chair.

The brunch is often a moving event in which LGBT leaders from across the nation gather to celebrate how far we have come and remind each other how far we still have to go for full equality. Each year there is a featured speaker and this year it was Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) who is running for governor and recently came out as gay. If elected, he would be the first openly gay person to be elected as a governor. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced him and remarked that it is becoming increasingly difficult to be the first of anything in the LGBT community because of the successes we have had in recent years.

We had a New Jersey governor who came out in office and a gay governor who never came out in another state, but this would still be a first. Polis talked about how hard it must have been for Barney Frank when he was the only out person in Congress while today when Michaud came out there were others there to throw him a coming out party. They served pink cupcakes and the musical selections included “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

When Michaud spoke he said, “never before, and most likely never again will I eat pink cupcakes.” He also commented on the beautiful people in the room and reminded everyone that he is still single and was going to be in Washington all weekend. The line formed to the right.

Among the other candidates who spoke to the welcoming crowd were Maura Healey, who’s running for attorney general in Massachusetts, and Mary Gonzalez, a candidate for the House of Representatives in Texas. David Catania, D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate, also spoke and talked about his record in D.C. and how the Victory Fund has been instrumental in his past races. He commented on how far behind he is in the polls at this point but said he could make that up. The applause for him was definitely on the lighter side as many in the room are from D.C. and supporting the Democratic nominee.

It is my understanding that the Victory Fund will be going through a strategic planning process in the coming months. All good organizations do this and it is time for the Victory Fund to reaffirm its mission and to look at what they are doing well and what they need to work on. There were people I spoke to who didn’t come to this year’s brunch for reasons other than the cost. Some stayed home because of the Victory Fund’s endorsement of Republican Richard Tisei in his bid for Congress from Massachusetts. Others didn’t come because of the early endorsement of Catania, which occurred before he even announced. These and other issues surely will be part of the discussion during the strategic planning process.

The Victory Fund should find a way to let their huge mailing list and those visiting their website know about LGBT candidates they aren’t endorsing. There are many such candidates around the nation running for posts from county commission to school board to town council. They are running for the first time and may not meet the criteria for an endorsement. But these candidates deserve to have people know they are stepping up to the plate. Others, like longtime activist Dana Beyer, who is running for State Senate in Maryland against an LGBT incumbent endorsed by Victory Fund, at least deserves recognition on the website to let people know she is running even if she isn’t endorsed.

These candidates are part of the future and they make up, as they say in baseball, our bench.


U.S. Rep. from Maine comes out

Mike Michaud, Democratic Party, Maine, gay news, Washington Blade

Mike Michaud (Photo public domain)

U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine), who’s running for governor in the 2014 election, surprised his state’s political establishment on Monday by announcing he’s gay in an op-ed column released to three news outlets.

Michaud, 58, who’s serving his sixth term in Congress, is considered the favorite to win the Democratic nomination for governor next spring. He’s also considered to have a good chance of winning the general election against incumbent Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who opposes same-sex marriage.

In the op-ed column he submitted to the Associated Press, the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald, Michaud said he decided to come out in response to questions raised about his personal life through “whisper campaigns, insinuations and push-polls” orchestrated by people opposed to his candidacy.

“They want people to question whether I’m gay,” he wrote in his column.

“Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer: ‘Yes, I am. But why should it matter?’” he said in the column.

“That may seem like a big announcement to some people,” he continued. “For me, it’s just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation millworker or a lifelong Mainer. One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine.”

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national advocacy group that helps elect openly LGBT candidates for public office, said Michaud is the first sitting member of Congress to come out as gay in 17 years. The group said he now becomes the eighth openly LGBT member of Congress.

“We applaud Congressman Michaud and look forward to working with him in the future,” said Chuck Wolfe, Victory Fund’s executive director. “As the eighth authentic LGBT voice in Congress, his example will promote understanding and show the importance of being open and honest about who you are.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, called Michaud a “tireless fighter for Maine” over a period of decades.

“He has a tremendous story to tell,” Sainz said. “What he made clear today is that being gay is just one part of it. It’s a measure of our success that his sexual orientation going forward will be a non-issue.”

Ali Vander Zanden, interim executive director of the statewide LGBT rights group Equality Maine, said Michaud has been a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage, during his career as a congressman and a member of the Maine legislature.

“The reaction that I’ve seen from LGBT people in Maine has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive,” said Vander Zanden.

“People are delighted that we now have an openly gay congressman,” she said. “I think any openly gay elected official or candidate is good for Maine and good for the LGBT community.”

She said Michaud would be a strong contender for Equality Maine’s endorsement when the group begins its candidate endorsement process later this year and early next year.

So far, no other candidate has emerged to oppose Michaud in the Democratic primary for governor scheduled for next June. Political observers say the popular congressman would be the odds-on favorite to win his party’s primary.

The AP reported that a poll released in October showed that Michaud and LePage were running about even in the general election in November 2014. But observers note that LePage won his race for governor in 2010 after running against a Democrat and an independent candidate, Eliot Cutler, who’s running again this time. Some observers say LePage could win the race if two or more candidates divide the opposition vote.

Vander Zanden said Cutler has expressed strong support for LGBT rights, including support for marriage equality in a state whose voters approved a ballot measure last year legalizing same-sex marriage.

She said LePage, while expressing opposition to same-sex marriage, has not voiced an opinion on other LGBT issues in recent years.

“Growing up in a large Franco-American Catholic family, it’s never been in my nature to talk about myself,” Michaud [pronounced ‘me-show’] said in his op-ed column.

“I write this now merely to let my opponents and the outside interests who fund them know that I am not ashamed of who I am,” he said. “And if seeing someone from my background, in my position, openly acknowledge the fact that he’s gay makes it a little bit easier for future generations to live their lives openly and without fear, all the better.”

Michaud added, “I don’t plan to make my personal life or my opponents’ personal lives an issue in this campaign. We’ve had enough negativity in our politics and too many personal attacks over the last few years. We owe it to the people of Maine to focus on how we get our state back on track.”


Chair of Ill. GOP urges lawmakers to support same-sex marriage bill

Illinois State Capitol, Springfield, gay news, Washington Blade

Illinois State Capitol (Photo by Meagan Davis via wikimedia commons)

The chair of the Illinois Republican Party on Wednesday urged state lawmakers to support a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry.

“More and more Americans understand that if two people want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, government should not stand in their way,” Pat Brady told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to get married honors the best conservative principles. It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value — that the law should treat all citizens equally.”

Gay former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman, who lobbied lawmakers in Maryland and New York to support same-sex marriage measures in their respective states, also urged Illinois lawmakers to vote for the bill.

“Republicans should support the freedom to marry in Illinois, consistent with our core conservative belief in freedom and liberty for all,” Mehlman said in a statement that Illinois Unites for Marriage, a coalition of groups that supports the same-sex marriage law, released. “Allowing civil marriage for same-sex couples will cultivate community stability, encourage fidelity and commitment and foster strong family values.”

Brady, who stressed he was expressing his own views and not those of the state GOP, announced his support for the same-sex marriage bill on the same day the 15-member Illinois Senate Executive Committee was expected to consider the measure. (The Windy City Times reported late on Wednesday members are expected to vote on the bill state Sen. Heather Steans introduced on Thursday.)

Lawmakers have until the end of the current legislative session on Jan. 8 to vote on the same-sex marriage bill. Governor Pat Quinn has said he will sign the measure, while a White House spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday that President Obama also supports the measure.

Chicago Archbishop Cardinal Francis George urged parishioners to oppose efforts to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians in a letter that parishes distributed on Sunday.

Equality Illinois CEO optimistic bill will pass

Same-sex couples can legally marry in nine states and D.C., while Illinois is among the handful of other states that allow gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions.

Gay marriage referenda passed in Maryland, Maine and Washington in November, while Minnesota voters on Election Day struck down a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Maryland’s same-sex marriage law took effect on New Year’s Day, while gays and lesbians began to tie the knot in Maine and Washington on Saturday and Dec. 9 respectively.

Lawmakers in Delaware, Hawaii, New Jersey and Rhode Island are expected to consider measures later this year that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot.

Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov told the Washington Blade during an interview from Springfield, the state capital, earlier on Wednesday he remains optimistic lawmakers will support the same-sex marriage bill. He said he feels recent legislative and electoral advances on the issue in other states will spur more Illinois lawmakers to support it.

“In the past they kept us, the advocates, say to them that this is the right thing to do politically and morally,” Cherkasov said. “Now for the first time they’ve had a chance to see actually that the voters said this is the right thing to do politically and morally. So they didn’t need to trust just the activists and the advocates anymore. They can look at a clear record of successes from four states of voters being supportive of marriage equality.”


Del. advocates optimistic ahead of marriage debate

Jack Markell, gay news, Washington Blade

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (Photo by Molly Keresztury via Wikimedia)

Marriage equality advocates in Delaware continue to organize in advance of the expected introduction of a bill later this year that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot in the First State.

More than 150 people attended an Equality Delaware-sponsored town hall meeting in Wilmington on Jan. 30 at which U.S. Sen. Chris Coons spoke. A second gathering that drew nearly the same amount of people took place at Camp Rehoboth in Rehoboth Beach on Jan. 31.

Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman told the Washington Blade her group continues to work with the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry, the Gill Foundation, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and other national and local organizations on the issue.

The organization is holding weekly volunteer events, trainings and phone banks across the state to garner further support for marriage rights for same-sex couples. Goodman said Equality Delaware also continues to engage people of faith and communities of color on the issue.

“We are doing a very serious and robust faith outreach,” she told the Blade. “We had wonderful faith support for the civil union bill, and we are very confident that we will have an even broader-based faith support for the marriage effort. We also believe that we will have even broader support of people of color and across the board.”

Gov. Jack Markell, who signed Delaware’s civil unions bill into law in 2011, suggested to the Huffington Post last August that state lawmakers could debate a same-sex marriage bill during the 2013 legislative session that ends on June 30. He referenced the looming debate in his second inaugural speech last month.

“We will advance the cause of liberty, equality and dignity in our time,” Markell said. “Our state will be a welcoming place to live, to love and to raise families for all who choose to call Delaware home.”

Goodman did not provide a specific timeline in which she feels lawmakers would consider the issue, but stressed “we expect it to happen later this session.” She further noted House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) and Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere) are among the lawmakers and other state officials who support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“Obviously given the events of this last election cycle, there is a lot of momentum,” Goodman told the Blade.

Neighboring Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. that allow same-sex marriage.

An Illinois Senate committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to the knot, while the Rhode Island House of Representatives last month overwhelmingly approved a same-sex marriage measure.

Hawaii lawmakers on Jan. 24 introduced two proposals that would extend nuptials to gays and lesbians in the Aloha State. New Jersey legislators in the coming weeks are expected to once again debate the issue after Gov. Chris Christie last February vetoed a same-sex marriage bill they approved.

“Every state that passes a marriage equality bill I think starts to convince other legislators that, wow, it’s OK for us to do it too,” Andy Staton, a gay Rehoboth Beach Realtor who unsuccessfully ran for the state Senate last year, told the Blade. “Legislators are very influenced by their constituency. And if the constituency is telling them not to do it, then they’re not going to do it, which is why it’s important for people to be vocal.”

President Obama spoke out in support of the same-sex marriage referenda that passed last November in Maryland, Maine and Washington. The White House has also urged Illinois and Rhode Island lawmakers to support measures to allow nuptials for gays and lesbians in their respective states.

Goodman said she expects Obama and Vice President Biden to do the same in Delaware.

“We certainly would welcome his support and have no reason to think that he will not be supportive and publicly so, as will our vice president, Joe Biden, who of course all of Delaware is incredibly proud of,” she said.


Attorneys general urge Supreme Court to strike down Prop 8

Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

13 state attorneys general on Thursday filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case challenging California’s Proposition 8. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Fourteen state attorneys general on Thursday filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“Equality under the law is a founding principle of America, but we will not all be equal until everyone has the freedom to choose whom to love and whom to spend their lives with,” Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden said during a news conference in Wilmington. “It is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry.”

The brief onto which Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell and Washington Attorney General Robert Ferguson argues California’s voter-approved Proposition 8 denies a variety of legal and social benefits afforded through marriage to same-sex couples and their children. It also highlights nine states and the nation’s capital allow gays and lesbians to marry.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Wednesday filed a separate brief with the U.S. Supreme court that urges the justices to strike down Prop 8.

“Our experience in Massachusetts has unequivocally shown that ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage has only strengthened the institution,” Coakley said. “We urge the court to strike Proposition 8 down because it discriminates against gay and lesbian individuals and their families.”

The briefs come ahead of a likely debate on a bill in the Delaware Legislature that would allow gays and lesbians to marry.

An Illinois state House committee on Tuesday approved a same-sex marriage measure, while Minnesota legislators earlier on Thursday introduced a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to marry. Lawmakers in New Jersey and Rhode Island are expected to consider the issue in the coming days and weeks.

“We at Equality Delaware could not be any prouder of our attorney general, Beau Biden, for standing up for freedom and marriage equality for all Delaware families,” Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman, who spoke at Biden’s news conference, told the Washington Blade.

The state attorneys general filed their brief with the court on the same day Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings again expressed their support for marriage rights for same-sex couples in their own brief that urged the justices to strike down Prop 8.

Equality Virginia, the Utah Pride Center, the Campaign for Southern Equality and other LGBT advocacy groups on Wednesday filed a brief that urges the justices to uphold lower court rulings that found both Prop 8 and DOMA unconstitutional. Former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.,) Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, gay California Assembly Speaker John Perez and the U.S. Conference of Mayors are among those who have either filed briefs in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples or signed onto them.

Biden and other state attorneys general are expected to file a brief in the DOMA case on Fiday.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the two cases on March 26-27.


Year in review: Marriage victories in Maine, Md., Wash., Minn.

Washington State, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade, Dan Savage

(Seattle Gay News photo by Nate Gowdy published with permission)

Marriage equality took a giant leap forward on Election Day when, for the first time, voters in three states approved same-sex marriage rights at the ballot. In addition, voters in Minnesota rejected a ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage.

The results brought the total number of states where same-sex marriage is legal to nine plus D.C.

Same-sex marriage was made legal by referenda in Maryland, Maine and Washington State. The margin of victory in each state was slim; in Maryland, the measure passed with 52.4 percent of the vote.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, praised the wins after the results of the ballot initiatives were announced.

“Our huge, happy and historic wave of wins last night signaled irrefutable momentum for the freedom to marry, with voters joining courts, legislatures and the reelected president of the United States in moving the country toward the right side of history,” Wolfson said.

But those victories came just months after a defeat for LGBT advocates in May when North Carolina approved an amendment banning same-sex marriage.

In the week prior to Election Day, the Obama campaign published a letter in each of three states where marriage equality was on the ballot saying Obama supports the legalization of same-sex marriage in each of the states.

“While the president does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the president believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect,” said Michael Czin, Northeast regional press secretary for the Obama campaign, in the Portland Press Herald. “The president believes same-sex couples should be treated equally and supports Question 1.”


Maine’s same-sex marriage law takes effect

Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Marriage, Maine

Steven Bridges and Michael Snell exchanged vows inside Portland City Hall shortly after midnight on Dec. 29. (Photo by Kurt Graser/Knack Factory)

Two men from Portland on Saturday became the first gay couple to legally marry in Maine once the state’s same-sex marriage law took effect.

Michael Snell, 53, and Steven Bridges, 42, exchanged vows inside Portland City Hall shortly after midnight as Snell’s two daughters, Mayor Michael Brennan and several reporters watched. Hundreds of people who had gathered outside in sub-freezing temperatures cheered the men as they left the building — they even sang the Beetles song “All You Need Is Love” as Snell and Bridges and the more than dozen other same-sex couples who either exchanged vows or obtained marriage licenses walked down the stairs.

“It means equality,” Snell told documentarians with the Knack Factory moments after he and Bridges exchanged vows. “It means that our relationship, our marriage is equal to everybody else’s.”

The Portland City Clerk’s office remained open to any same-sex couple who wanted to apply for a marriage license or tie the knot until 3 a.m. The town clerk’s office in nearby Falmouth also opened at midnight for gays and lesbians who had already made appointments to get married.

The Portland-Press Herald reported South Portland City Clerk Susan Mooney issued marriage licenses to eight same-sex couples once her office — three of them tied the knot there — opened at 8 a.m. The Brunswick Town Clerk’s office also issued marriage licenses to gays and lesbians this morning.

Chris Kast and Byron Bartlett were among the same-sex couples who married at Portland City Hall after the law took effect.

They had a commitment ceremony two and a half years ago, but Kast told the Washington Blade earlier today their choice to get married after midnight was “a matter of fact decision on our part” to “go do it and be part of what was an amazing evening.”

“It felt incredible,” he said. “The energy was just all positive and joyful. It was amazing.”

Maine’s same-sex marriage law took effect after voters on Election Day approved it by a 52-48 percent margin. They repealed an identical statute in 2009 that then-Gov. John Baldacci signed earlier that year.

Same-sex marriage referenda in Maryland and Washington also passed on Nov. 6. Minnesotans on Election Day struck down a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

“All the politics is done; now it’s just about actual couples and the people who have been together wanting to make it official,” Matt McTighe, campaign manager of Mainers United for Marriage, the group that supported the same-sex marriage referendum, told the Blade. He was among those who gathered outside Portland City Hall to celebrate the state’s first legal gay nuptials. “The energy was amazing. It was just nothing but happiness — take the best parts of every wedding you’ve ever been too and multiply it by a hundred and that’s what it was like for these people.”

Sue Estler and Paula Johnson, who have been together for 24 years, married in their Orono home on Saturday. The couple plans to have a larger celebration next summer, but Estler told the Blade just before she and Johnson exchanged vows they decided to marry on the first day same-sex couples in Maine can legally do so because “we’ve waited so long.”

“It’s historic in Maine,” she said. “We’ve had so many ups and downs and so forth. Our commitment has been long-term, and this formalizes it.”

Donna Galluzzo, who married her partner of three years, Lisa Gorney, at Portland City Hall earlier on Saturday, echoed Estler.

“We had a feeling the vote was going to pass this year,” Galluzzo told the Blade. “After the vote happened and once it was all signed into law and knew what day City Hall was going to open, we looked at each other and said ‘let’s do it.’ It was a historic day and was important for us to be a part of history.”

Kast agreed, describing the scene outside Portland City Hall after he and Bartlett exchanged vows as “surreal.”

“It has taken us so long to get here, to get to a place where everybody’s the same,” Kast said. “It was such a struggle and how no one should have to do that, no one should have to fight, no one should have to give money or knock on doors just to have the legal right to marry the person with whom they choose to spend the rest of their life with. But that aside, it was flippin’ amazing. It really was.”

Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Marriage, Maine

Donna Galluzzo and Lisa Gorney marry outside Portland City Hall on Dec. 29. (Photo by Chloe Crettien)