Mary Bonauto's testimony on LD 1020 #marryME

As promised, when anyone sends me their LD 1020 testimony (as long as they send it to me before today's hearing ends), I'll post it:

Joint Committee on the Judiciary
Testimony of Mary L. Bonauto, Civil Rights Project Director,
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
April 22, 2009
Senator Bliss, Representative Priest, and Honorable Members of the Judiciary
Committee: My name is Mary Bonauto. I live in Portland with my partner of 21 years
and our two daughters. I became a member of the Maine bar in 1987, and since 1990,
have worked for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (“GLAD”), a New Englandwide
legal organization that seeks equal justice under law for gay people. I am here to
support LD 1020.
I’ve seen and appreciate the many steps forward taken by the legislature over the
years to address the needs of gay and lesbian people and families. At the same time, I
respectfully submit that the time for incremental steps like LD 1118, the Registry
expansion, is over.
Our state Constitution provides that no person may “be denied the enjoyment of
that person’s civil rights or be discriminated against in the exercise thereof.” But denying
marriage denies basic civil rights and denies gay people the chance to join together in an
esteemed legal and social institution that marks a couple as a family.
Goodness knows, in my position, I realize gay and lesbian couples need legal
protections. But alternatives to marriage are not adequate and will not end the debate.
Study Commissions in Vermont and New Jersey demonstrate that civil unions did not
create parity between married couples and those in civil unions – because only marriage
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provides the protections of marriage. Only the word “marriage” provides a gateway to
the thousand-plus protections of marriage at the federal level. Although current federal
law bars married same-sex couples from those protections, President Obama seeks to
repeal that discriminatory law and GLAD filed a legal challenge to it last month. We
hope to succeed.
Apart from legal rights, marriage carries profound personal meaning, for the
couples and for others who instantly grasp its significance. Time and again in
Massachusetts and Connecticut, I’ve seen an outbreak of happiness when couples could
at last join in marriage. Is terminology really innocuous? What married person would
exchange his or her marriage for a “domestic partnership?” Because it is understood by
all, the word “marriage” is itself is a protection.
Alternatives to marriage also fail as a matter of principle. The Massachusetts high
court rejected an attempt by some to substitute civil unions after its marriage ruling. The
Court said the differences “between the terms ‘civil marriage’ and ‘civil union’” [were]
“not innocuous; [but]… a considered choice of language that reflects a demonstrable
assigning of same-sex … couples to second-class status. … The history of our nation has
demonstrated that separate is seldom, if ever, equal.” Others courts have agreed, and this
year Vermont jettisoned its separate system for gay people and made marriage available
to all committed couples.
No other system is the same as marriage, and no other system provides the same
protections. Please support LD 1020. Thank you.

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