The first gay and lesbian couples to wed under Maine's new same-sex marriage law exchanged vows early today in a series of civil ceremonies held shortly after midnight in the only state to welcome such nuptials solely by popular vote.
"We finally feel equal and happy to be
living in Maine," Steven Bridges (42) said shortly after he and his
newly wedded husband, Michael Snell (53) became the first couple at City
Hall in Maine's largest town to tie the knot.
After the pair had filled out the necessary paperwork, the city records
clerk, Christine Horne, performed the brief, no-frills ceremony,
pronouncing the two men married as they exchanged rings and kissed. Mr
Snell's two adult daughters, both from a previous heterosexual marriage,
looked on smiling.
Other couples waiting in the hallway outside the clerk's office cheered
the pair as they emerged, and a much larger crowd of about 250
supporters huddled in front of the building let out a jubilant roar as
Bridges, a retail manager, and Snell, a massage therapist, stepped out
into the cold night air.
A group in the crowd sang the Beatles song "All You Need Is Love,"
accompanied by several musicians playing brass horns, and many carried
signs with such slogans as "America's new day begins in Maine" and "Love
Similar scenes were repeated as five more couples exchanged vows during
the next two hours, and more weddings were expected before the office
was scheduled to close again at 3 a.m. About 15 couples simply obtained
their marriage licenses, with plans to wed later.
"We've been together for 30 years, and never thought that this country
would allow marriages between gay couples," said Roberta Batt (71) an
antiques dealer and retired physician with silver hair and round
eyeglasses, as she and her longtime partner, Mary, waited their turn to
"We're just very thankful to the people of Maine, and I hope the rest of the country goes the way this state has," she added.
Maine, Maryland and Washington state became the first three US states to
extend marriage rights to same-sex couples by popular vote with passage
of ballot initiatives on November 6th. But Maine was the only one of
the three where voters did so entirely on their own, without state
legislators precipitating a referendum by acting first.
Nine of the 50 US states plus the District of Columbia now have statutes
legalising gay marriage. Washington's law took effect on December 9th,
and Maryland's law does so on January 1st, 2013. Another 31 states have
passed constitutional amendments restricting marriage to heterosexual
City clerks' offices around Maine scheduled extra weekend office hours,
some opening late last night as in Portland to accommodate same-sex
couples rushing to wed as the new law went into force at 12.01am local
More lavish same-sex weddings were being booked for the spring at the On
the Marsh Bistro in Kennebunk, said owner Denise Rubin. "We support it
wholeheartedly," she said. "We look forward to being part of a whole new
wave of wonderful thinking."
The tide of public opinion has been shifting in favor of allowing
same-sex marriage. In May, President Barack Obama became the first US
president to declare his support for allowing gay couples to marry.
A Pew Research Center survey from October found 49 per cent of Americans
favored allowing gay marriage, with 40 per cent opposed. The US Supreme
Court has agreed to review two challenges to federal and state laws
that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The nation's highest court said this month it will review a case against
a federal law that denies married same-sex couples the federal benefits
that heterosexual couples receive. It also will look at a challenge to
California's ban on gay marriage, known as Proposition 8, which voters
narrowly approved in 2008.
Maine's voter-approved initiative this
year marked a turnaround from 2009, when legislators passed a statute
recognising gay marriage only to see it overturned that same year in a