Governor-Baldacci-bioAUGUSTA, ME. – Maine has become the fifth state to recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont, and the second to do so via the legislative process. New Hamshire and New York also are considering bills that would legalize same-sex marriage.

Governor John E. Baldacci (pictured) signed LD 1020, An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom Wednesday afternoon, moments after the Maine House of Representatives passed the bill 98-57, and less than a week after the Senate had voted 21-13 in favor.

In addition to allowing gay couples the right to marry, LD 1020 also protects religious institutions as well as individuals from being forced to recognize or perform same-sex marriages.

“This bill repeals the provision that limits marriage to one man and one woman and replaces it with the authorization for marriage between any 2 persons that meet the other requirements of Maine law. It also specifies that a marriage between 2 people of the same sex in another state that is valid in that state is valid and must be recognized in this State,” reads the official summary of the bill.

“This bill also clarifies that the authorization of marriage between 2 people of the same sex does not compel any religious institution to alter its doctrine, policy or teaching regarding marriage or to solemnize any marriage in conflict with that doctrine, policy or teaching. It also specifies that a person authorized to join persons in marriage and who fails or refuses to join persons in marriage is not subject to any fine or other penalty for such failure or refusal”

“I have followed closely the debate on this issue. I have listened to both sides, as they have presented their arguments during the public hearing and on the floor of the Maine Senate and the House of Representatives. I have read many of the notes and letters sent to my office, and I have weighed my decision carefully. I did not come to this decision lightly or in haste,” Governor Baldacci said in a prepared statement.

“In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions,” Baldacci added. “I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.”

“Article I in the Maine Constitution states that ‘no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of that person’s civil rights or be discriminated against.’

“This new law does not force any religion to recognize a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs. It does not require the church to perform any ceremony with which it disagrees. Instead, it reaffirms the separation of Church and State,” Baldacci said.

Maine citizens still have the opportunity to repeal the law by gathering enough signatures to override the Governor’s signature.