With Maine lawmakers’ vote, gay marriage takes another leap ahead in New England

Gay marriage takes a new leap ahead in New England

AUGUSTA, Maine — New England moved closer to allowing gay marriage throughout the region Wednesday as Maine lawmakers sent a bill to an undecided governor and New Hampshire was poised to do the same.

The Maine Senate voted 21-13, with one absent, for a bill that authorizes marriage between any two people rather than between one man and one woman, as state law currently allows. The House had passed the bill Tuesday.

The legislation didn’t get enough votes to override a veto from Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat who has not indicated whether he’ll sign the bill.

Debate was brief. Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, turned the gavel over to an openly gay member, Sen. Lawrence Bliss, D-South Portland, to preside over the final vote.

Republican Sen. Debra Plowman of Hampden argued that the bill was being passed “at the expense of the people of faith.”

“You are making a decision that is not well-founded,” warned Plowman.

But Senate Majority Leader Philip Bartlett II said the bill does not compel religious institutions to recognize gay marriage.

“We respect religious liberties. … This is long overdue,” said Bartlett, D-Gorham.

If the bill becomes law, Maine could become the fifth state overall, and the fourth in New England, to allow same-sex marriages. Connecticut enacted a bill after being ordered to allow gay marriages by the courts, and Vermont passed a bill over the governor’s veto.

New Hampshire’s House was also expected to vote on a gay marriage bill Wednesday and send it to Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat who has not indicated whether he would sign the legislation.

Massachusetts’ high court has ordered the state to recognize gay marriages. In Rhode Island, a bill to legalize same-sex marriage has been introduced but is not expected to pass this year.

Outside New England, Iowa is recognizing gay marriages on court orders. The practice was briefly legal in California before voters banned it.

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