Why Pa. should care about Maine

Same-sex marriage was slated to go into effect in Maine on Sept. 12. Because of the upcoming referendum on the law, it didn’t.

After Vermont, Maine was the second state in the union to pass a same-sex-marriage law without court direction — the legislature approved it, the governor signed it.

If November’s referendum repeals marriage equality in Maine, then same-sex-marriage advocates will have found that their outreach and lobbying efforts to lawmakers — and years of work — will have been in vain. To date, court rulings allowing (or requiring) gay marriage have been more effective than legislative initiatives.

Of the states that have same-sex marriage — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and, starting in 2010, New Hampshire — the first three utilized court decisions; the latter two, legislative action. And while Maine used legislative action, California’s Supreme Court ruling was overturned by referendum.

In Pennsylvania, it’s difficult to rally activism in support of same-sex marriage in the Pine Tree State. Here, the LGBT community is more concerned about obtaining protections from discrimination in employment, housing and accommodations at the state level. In Pennsylvania, gays, lesbians and bisexuals can still be fired for their sexual orientation. Transgenders can be fired for their gender expression.

At present, sexual orientation and gender identity/expression are not protected classes under the hate-crimes law in Pennsylvania. There are no statewide anti-bullying laws in place to protect LGBT students. And while a marriage-equality bill has been introduced in the Senate, the threat of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage still looms.

To LGBT Pennsylvanians, the challenge of Maine might not seem like a big deal. After all, couples can just head to a different Northeastern state if the marriage bug has bitten them. Since it won’t be recognized in their home state (perhaps for years), it’s a symbolic gesture — not to say unimportant; just not receiving government recognition.

But Pennsylvanians might want to keep an eye on Maine. So far, it appears the antigay-marriage groups operating there have ties to California and New Jersey. Considering gay-marriage opponents successfully overturned marriage equality in California, it’s worth keeping an eye on them for any impact they may have on New Jersey, especially since our neighbor will likely seriously consider converting civil unions to marriage in the not-too-distant future.

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