Gay What ?
Rest of site back up shortly!

Veteran strategist takes helm of coalition to pass ENDA

Matt McTighe, Americans for Workplace Opportunity, gay news, Washington Blade

Matt McTighe is campaign manager for Americans for Workplace Opportunity. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

For Matt McTighe, the strategy for passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is similar to the one he oversaw guiding the legalization of same-sex marriage in Maine: Having LGBT people tell their stories about the harms they face under current law.

“The big things are just the need for personal interactions, really trying to educate people using our own personal stories,” McTighe said.

The gay 34-year-old veteran political strategist, who in addition to leading the 2012 ballot campaign that brought marriage equality to Maine had a hand in efforts as a Gill Action Fund operative in defeating anti-gay marriage efforts in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, has been contracted through the fall to head the $2 million LGBT campaign known as “Americans for Workplace Opportunity.” The campaign has a singular goal: pass ENDA.

During an interview with the Washington Blade on Tuesday, McTighe said he wanted to bring the recent success the LGBT community has seen on marriage equality to ENDA in the wake of legalization of same-sex marriage at the ballot in three states and in legislatures in two states.

“We can take those same proven tactics and apply them to other issues that haven’t had as much resources behind them or as much as a concerted push behind them in recent years and see if we can get it done,” McTighe said.

Ian Grady, the Equality Maine communications director who worked with McTighe under the Maine marriage campaign, said his former boss’ ability to work with people of different political affiliations makes him “a great choice” to lead the new coalition.

“In Maine, while he led the efforts to secure marriage, he brought together people and groups from across the political spectrum to build the support we needed to win,” Grady said. “He’s a natural choice to lead this new, bi-partisan effort.”

Foremost on McTighe’s mind is ensuring successful, bipartisan passage of ENDA in the Senate, where a vote is expected in the fall. The campaign has identified several key states with undecided senators where it’ll concentrate on building grassroots support: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia.

With U.S. senators at home in their districts during August recess, McTighe said the immediate focus of the campaign includes efforts “to generate a high number of quantity contacts and quality contacts” of individuals and business leaders who have a personal connection to lawmakers and are able to talk with them about ENDA.

“And so far, that outreach has been going really well, we have a growing list of supportive companies, a growing list of faith leaders who are coming on board and some really high-profile prominent advocates on both sides of the aisle,” McTighe said.

Also on the agenda while Congress is on hiatus is updating the research and polling on ENDA, which McTighe says has remained stagnant for some time.

“The last real massive comprehensive poll on this was done in early 2011,” McTighe said. “So, we need updated research, we need updated numbers. Our guess is that support has only increased in recent years because we’ve seen support increase on marriage and growing acceptance of LGBT Americans across the country.”

Amid anticipated plans for town halls for lawmakers and their constituents, McTighe said he encourages ENDA supporters to question their representatives in Congress about ENDA “as long as they do it in a respectful way that gives them space.”

“It’s never helpful for them to do it in an accusatory way that’s going to put it on the defensive and frame it as, ‘Why aren’t you supporting this thing already?’” McTighe said. “Because the case is for some of these legislators, yeah, we wish all of them were supportive, but some of them just really haven’t had the exposure to the education.”

Three of the undecided senators on ENDA are Democrats: Sens. Bill Nelson (Fla.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.). Nelson has been quoted in the Tampa Bay Times about having concerns over the transgender protections in ENDA, including whether private business insurance policies would have to pay for gender reassignment surgery.

While expressing faith that Nelson would cast a vote in favor of ENDA based on the lawmaker’s record, McTighe said the way to bring the Florida senator on board is through additional education and lobbying from transgender constituents.

“I think the things that Sen. Nelson has said and certainly his past voting record shows that he’s open-minded, fair-minded who, I think, gets that these are his constituents, too, and anybody needs to be protected,” McTighe said.

McTighe said he’s “optimistic” that ENDA would find 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, but added “it’s not going to be easy” getting there and he wouldn’t predict the number of votes that would be ultimately won on the Senate floor.

The Senate vote has such prominence in McTighe’s strategy that he said he wouldn’t openly speculate about the strategy for passing ENDA in the House, saying it’s “premature” to talk about ideas like a discharge petition or the Senate inserting ENDA into a larger bill that the House would later pass.

“The biggest thing is that we know for sure that we’re not going to get anywhere until we actually have a successful bipartisan vote that actually comes to the floor and can overcome a filibuster in the Senate,” McTighe said. “To me, it’s pointless to speculate about what’s going to happen in the House, or what’s going to happen on the executive order in the administration until we really give it our all to get a full Senate vote.”

Still, McTighe said his work during the short-term on the Senate vote is meant to build support for success in the lower chamber of Congress.

“Even though I’m only contracted to oversee this effort through the Senate vote this fall, everything I’m doing and all the plans, field and research groundwork I’m putting into place is predicated on the notion that the coalition will need to keep the fight going in the House,” McTighe said.

McTighe said he sees a path forward in the House following a bipartisan vote on the Senate floor if other GOP lawmakers joins Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in supporting the bill.

“We think we’ve got a really good shot of getting anywhere between two to five more,” McTighe said. ”If we can do that, and show that this isn’t a partisan issue, I think a lot of Republicans in the House are going to look at this and probably put some pressure on leadership that this is an issue that so many Americans support, this is an issue in every state you’ll see, in every poll you’ll see support growing, and the polls are only going in one direction.”

McTighe says executive order would ‘inject level of partisanship’ into debate

The campaign is focused on the Senate without looking for additional help beyond what the administration is currently offering. McTighe said he’s happy with the level of support from the administration and Obama’s position on the legislation is clear.

“I think the president has been great in expressing his support for this legislation and expressing his support for the pathway of trying to actually get a bill passed because the administration recognizes and has a long track record of supporting workplace protections,” McTighe said.

Notably, McTighe expressed a lack of interest in Obama issuing an executive order that would prohibit LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, saying that kind of unilateral administrative action “injects a level of partisanship into whatever that debate is.”

“We want to embrace the legislative process here instead and actually work with the Senate, and work eventually with the House to get this passed because an executive order would only cover approximately 20 percent of the American workforce or less through federal contractors, whereas passing a full ENDA, which we’re only going to get to with a bipartisan majority, is going to cover everybody,” McTighe said. “The minute an executive order is invoked, now you’re going to make it a lot harder for people from whatever party the current administration is not in, so in this case Republicans coming on board, it makes it harder for them because now this is much more of a partisan issue.”

The Americans for Workplace Opportunity coalition includes more than 90 groups seeking to pass ENDA headed by a steering committee of eight prominent groups — LGBT-affiliated and otherwise — seeking to pass the legislation. The steering committee consists of American Civil Liberties Union, American Federation of Teachers, American Unity Fund, Human Rights Campaign, Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the Service Employees International Union.

McTighe said these groups working under a single umbrella to pass ENDA is more effective than each of them working individually because a bigger pool of resources will be combined toward a larger goal.

“We know there’s a focus and we know that we’ve got significant resources that are going to be better spent and more effectively utilized because they’re going to all flow through one entity, and in this case it’s going to be overseen by me as campaign manager, and I can treat it as I would any other campaign, focusing on a deadline and a specific goal,” McTighe said.

Getting access to the steering committee, McTighe said, required organizational strength as well as shared belief that the tactics employed to win marriage equality are the right ones to pass ENDA.

“This is a very specific campaign where funding is being allocated for very specific purposes, so we’re working with the organizations that do that, that actually do that level of research-driven targeted field [work] with a tailored message and message-testing like what we’ve seen done with all the marriage states,” McTighe said.

Still, the steering committee lacks some groups known for their work on ENDA, including GetEQUAL, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, Log Cabin Republicans and Freedom to Work. Freedom to Work’s absence is particularly striking because that group is focused specifically on winning LGBT workplace protections.

McTighe emphasized that each of these organizations is part of the larger 90-group coalition to pass ENDA and emphasized that inclusion on the steering committee “really depends on the tactics” that these organizations pursue.

“I look at it as a pie; this is one slice of the pie,” McTighe said. “There’s a much bigger movement, and this is true of every movement and every campaign. There are going to be groups that are supportive, some of them are going to be part of the coalition some might be on a board, some might be on a separate advisory board.”

Asked whether he was happy with Freedom to Work’s contributions to the effort to pass ENDA, McTighe replied, “I haven’t had a lot of firsthand experience working with Freedom to Work, but everything that I’ve seen, I know they’re really dedicated to this issue, and I look forward to working with them as part of the broader coalition that we’re all going to be working in.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said he hasn’t met McTighe, but looks forward to collaborating as part of the effort to pass ENDA.

“I’ve never met Mr. McTighe, but I’ve heard really wonderful things about him from our contacts at the Gill Foundation, in Maine, and elsewhere in our movement,” Almeida said. “I’m looking forward to learning more about AWO’s efforts, especially since Freedom to Work has a full docket of lobbying, litigation, field organizing, Republican outreach, Spanish-language Latino outreach, collaboration with faith and business leaders, and social media efforts that we will roll out in September.”

The presence of another group on the steering committee, the ACLU, is also noteworthy because that group is the chief organization that’s seeking to narrow a religious exemption to enable a greater number of meritorious cases for LGBT workplace discrimination. McTighe denied the group’s inclusion means the campaign would share this goal, nor did the issue come up during negotiations in bringing the ACLU on board.

“The opportunities to amend it — whether it was in the committee process, or previous years, or in the early drafting stages — some of these organizations had positions were they were really trying to advocate for narrow exemptions or different wording or additional language, but in the case of coming together in the steering committee, we’re united in trying to get a bill passed that’s already passed the committee and that’s the version that’s out there right now,” McTighe said.

But the main message that McTighe had for supporters of ENDA was that people need to make clear the federal employment non-discrimination protections don’t exist to grow the number of voices calling for its passage.

“You need to get those same people who are shocked and even outraged when they hear protections don’t currently exist … trying to contribute in a productive way whether it’s supporting the organization — supporting Americans for Workplace Opportunity in this case — also just talking to the legislators, telling them them in an open-minded way why they care about it,” McTighe said.


ENDA strategist’s remarks stir controversy

Matt McTighe, gay news, Washington Blade, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA

Matt McTighe comments dismissing an LGBT workplace executive order are stirring controversy. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Members of a coalition working to advance LGBT workplace protections reaffirmed their belief in a dual-track push for both the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and an executive order prohibiting job bias among federal contractors in the wake of the campaign manager dismissing administrative action as partisan.

Heather Cronk, managing director of one group that isn’t part of the campaign’s steering committee but that is still pushing for LGBT workplace protections, GetEQUAL, expressed the greatest concern over comments from Matt McTighe.

“It’s concerning that the new ENDA campaign manager is dismissive of any effort to make LGBT folks more equal under the law,” Cronk said. “And while I’m glad that Matt is lending his tremendous expertise on marriage to the fight for employment protections, we’re all able to walk and chew gum at the same time. We need both ENDA and the executive order to be treated equally in the workplace, as research has shown over and over again — one or the other is simply insufficient.”

Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Americans for Workplace Opportunity, made the comments during an interview with the Washington Blade on Tuesday when asked about President Obama signing a heavily sought executive order prohibiting LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, saying that kind of administrative action “injects a level of partisanship into whatever that debate is.”

“The minute an executive order is invoked, now you’re going to make it a lot harder for people from whatever party the current administration is not in, so in this case Republicans coming on board, it makes it harder for them because now this is much more of a partisan issue,” McTighe added.

That viewpoint departs from what LGBT groups have articulated about the need for both the executive order and ENDA to protect against LGBT workplace discrimination, including many of the groups that are part of the eight-member steering committee for the $2 million campaign that McTighe heads.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, was among those saying that LGBT advocates should pursue both legislative and administrative action.

“LGBT workers across the country must have employment protections now,” Carey said. “We will pursue all avenues to make progress on that goal — including local and state work, an immediate executive order and pushing for Congress to pass ENDA.”

Since legislation such as ENDA takes time to move through Congress and to the president’s desk, an executive order is seen as an option that would bring more immediate relief to LGBT workers. Additionally, as noted in a 2013 report by the Center for American Progress, the executive order, unlike ENDA, would extend to companies with fewer than 15 employees.

Charlie Joughlin, a Human Rights Campaign spokesperson, expressed a sentiment that was similar to the Task Force’s in favor of a dual-track approach.

“We believe we need both,” Joughlin said. “The EO is essential and even if ENDA passed tomorrow, we would still want the EO. The EO can and should be done immediately. It’s long overdue as is ENDA.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she wants both the directive and ENDA, but noted McTighe’s campaign is focused on legislative efforts.

“LGBT people need both ENDA and the executive order, and we really believe we will get both,” Keisling said. “Our goal is to be smart and hardworking and get both done as fast as possible. The Americans for Workplace Opportunity campaign, of which we are a part, is a campaign singularly focused on passing ENDA, as it was created to do.”

Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, said his group is “proud” to take part in McTighe’s campaign, but also wants both the executive order and ENDA.

“To be clear, even if Congress were to pass ENDA tomorrow, President Obama should still sign this executive order to further protect Americans from workplace discrimination,” Thompson said. “It is important to provide LGBT people with the same workplace protections that apply based on race and sex, which is why both ENDA and the executive order are needed.”

The ACLU is one member of that steering committee that has spoken out against the religious exemption in ENDA on the grounds that it’s overly broad because it leaves LGBT people with fewer protections than discrimination based on race and gender.

Thompson also responded to comments that McTighe made in the article saying all steering committee members were on board with ENDA as currently written by saying ACLU would continue to push for limiting the religious exemption.

“We’re committed to working shoulder to shoulder with our partners to move the ball forward on ENDA in Congress,” Thompson said. “But we’re also committed to seeing ENDA’s current religious exemption appropriately narrowed. Our commitment to narrowing the religious exemption will continue while we advocate for both ENDA and the non-discrimination executive order for federal contractors.”

One exception on supporting a dual-track came from the Republican member of the steering committee on the Americans for Workplace Opportunity coalition.

Jeff Cook-McCormac, senior adviser to the pro-LGBT Republican group American Unity Fund, said he can’t comment on the executive order because his group is exclusively focused on building support for legislation.

“The reason we have been so successful on the GOP side of the aisle at the state level is because of our laser-focus on our mission – thoughtfully and respectfully engaging and winning the support of Republican legislators to advance freedom for gay and lesbian Americans,” Cook-McCormac said. “Working together with our partners through Americans for Workplace Opportunity, we are confident that when senators get the chance to vote their conscience this fall we will be one giant step closer to making ENDA a reality.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, another group that isn’t part of the steering committee even though it’s a chief advocate of ENDA, said he wished he had spoken to McTighe beforehand.

“I have never met Mr. McTighe, and it’s a shame we did not meet before AWO and before he decided to speak publicly about the executive order,” Almeida said.

Almeida added he had an email exchange with McTighe on Wednesday and the two intend to meet in the immediate future when their schedules allow.

“I’m looking forward to hearing more about what AWO is planning on doing and how AWO is different from the long-standing and broader ENDA coalition that has always been housed at the Leadership Conference for Civil & Human Rights,” Almeida added. “I can’t comment on AWO itself because very little is known about AWO.”


U.S. Chamber of Commerce stays neutral on ENDA

U.S. Chamber of Commerce, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is neutral on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. (Photo by Almonroth; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Amid growing support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act from companies large and small ahead of an expected Senate vote this fall, the nation’s largest lobbying group representing business and trade interests remains neutral on the legislation.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s neutrality on ENDA is noteworthy in the aftermath the AFL-CIO adopting a resolution to “redouble” efforts to pass the bill.

Blair Latoff Holmes, a Chamber spokesperson, affirmed the Chamber’s neutrality on ENDA adding the organization continues conversations with supporters of the bill.

“Since ENDA’s introduction, the Chamber has been in contact with proponents of the bills, both on the Hill and off,” Holmes said. “Consistent with our prior positions on the bill, the Chamber remains neutral on ENDA.”

Holmes didn’t respond to a follow-up email asking whether any change could be made to ENDA to win the Chamber’s endorsement.

But LGBT advocates working to pass the bill say they’re happy with the Chamber’s neutrality on ENDA because the lack of interference of a powerful business lobbying group enables Republicans to support the bill.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said the neutrality of the Chamber on ENDA is “a huge victory” considering the group regularly opposes expansions of workplace protections proposed to Congress.

“It may be that the Exxon Mobils of the world, who are dragging their feet on LGBT workplace fairness are the reason the Chamber cannot get to an official ‘yes,’” Almeida said. “But regardless of the reasoning, the Chamber’s neutrality is incredibly helpful and we raise their neutrality when we speak to Republican senators, Republican members of the House and Republican staff on Capitol Hill.”

Still, Almeida said he’d like the Chamber to come out in favor of the legislation. He declined to comment on whether Freedom to Work has had conversations with the Chamber to convince the organization to support ENDA.

The Chamber was neutral on ENDA in 2007, when a gay-only version of the bill lacking trans-inclusive language came to a vote on the House floor.

Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Americans for Workplace Opportunity, said he doesn’t expect the Chamber’s neutrality to change even though many companies have now expressed support for ENDA.

“The fact that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce does not oppose ENDA is helpful,” McTighe said. “While we don’t expect the Chamber to alter their current position, an ever-increasing number of businesses of all sizes in the U.S. do support the legislation.”

Earlier this month, as McTighe noted, UBS and Moody’s — two leading financial services firms — joined the business coalition of Fortune 500 companies and small businesses that have come out in support of ENDA.

Jeff Cook-McCormac, senior adviser to the pro-LGBT Republican group American Unity Fund, said his group is working with members of the business community to pass ENDA when asked about his views on the Chamber’s position.

“The private sector has been leagues ahead of government on non-discrimination for years,” Cook-McCormac said. “Business and labor leaders alike both recognize that non-discrimination is not only the right thing to do, it’s the best policy for businesses that need to compete for talented individuals and want their employees focused on getting the job done instead of fearing discrimination.”

The Family Research Council didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on whether the Chamber’s neutrality on ENDA was helping its opposition to the bill.

Despite the general satisfaction, some LGBT advocates say an endorsement from the Chamber would bring the organization into alignment with the companies it represents and provide a much needed boost to ENDA.

Michael Fleming, executive director of the David Bohnett Foundation, which contributes funds to LGBT causes, said having the Chamber endorse ENDA would have a positive impact.

“So many companies — big and small — are on the record supporting policies like ENDA, because they know they’re both the right thing to do and good for their bottom lines,” Fleming said. “Having the Chamber endorse ENDA would likely reflect the internal policies of their members. It would also, I think, move some members of Congress from considering supporting ENDA to fully and publicly endorsing the bill.”

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he’s comfortable with the Chamber’s current position on ENDA, but the organization could help by coming out in favor of the bill.

“Eagerness to know the Chamber’s position on ENDA comes up a lot in my meetings with Republicans on the Hill,” Angelo said. “Knowing that the Chamber is neutral on ENDA is always welcomed; having their full support would only help bring more Republican supporters to the bill.”


GOP lawyer Ted Olson latest to endorse ENDA

Ted Olson speaks at the Cato Institute

Former Solicitor General Ted Olson is the latest to endorse ENDA. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

A Republican lawyer who has gained notoriety for leading marriage equality lawsuits is lending his name to another LGBT cause: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Ted Olson, who argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court and just this week joined another lawsuit seeking marriage equality in Virginia, announced he backs ENDA during a conference call with reporters on Monday about his new lawsuit with the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

Asked by the Washington Blade whether he supports ENDA, which would prohibit employers from discriminating against LGBT workers, Olson initially replied simply, “Yes.”

“I feel very, very strongly that this country ought to stop discriminating against our citizens on the basis of their sexual orientation,” Olson continued. “It is unfair, it’s unreasonable, it’s unacceptable. It serves no purpose and it does a great deal of harm.”

Olson endorses ENDA on the day that the Americans for Workplace Opportunity, a campaign seeking to pass the legislation, made public new polling from Republican pollster Target Point Consulting. Among the findings: 68 percent of voters, including 56 percent of Republicans, support a federal law barring LGBT workplace discrimination.

Olson’s support for ENDA makes him one of those Republicans. He served as solicitor general under former President George W. Bush after representing the former president in the 2000 case Bush v. Gore, which led to Bush winning the White House.

Further, Olson helped the Romney campaign during the 2012 presidential election by impersonating Vice President Joseph Biden during debate prep with then-GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Americans for Workplace Opportunity, said Olson’s endorsement demonstrates ENDA has significant bipartisan support.

“Ted Olson’s support amplifies the bipartisan momentum to pass ENDA,” McTighe said. “He joins the strong majority of Republicans, according to the poll we released this morning, who believe in protecting gay and transgender employees in the workplace. ENDA is both good for business and the right thing to do.”

The Target Point Consulting poll also found 8 in 10 voters incorrectly believe that it’s currently illegal under federal law to fire or refuse to hire someone for being gay or transgender. Additionally, the poll projects that ENDA enjoys majority support in all 50 states.

Olson’s endorsement also comes at a time when a Senate vote on ENDA is anticipated this fall. Amid expectations that ENDA will pass the Senate, observers anticipate a more difficult fight in the House, where Republicans have control.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, commended Olson for coming on board in support of ENDA and said the news could move Republicans to back the legislation.

“Freedom to Work applauds Ted Olson for joining the growing number of Republicans who support national workplace protections for LGBT Americans,” Almeida said. “Mr. Olson campaigned for the McCain presidential campaign, and we hope Sen. McCain will be among the Republicans who vote in favor of ENDA this fall.”


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)