2012-11-02 / Front Page

City’s stand on marriage – yes on 1

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

Next week, Mainers will decide if they want to allow same-sex marriage in their state. The issue is divisive, contentious and closely contested across Maine. But past voting records show marriage equality is overwhelmingly supported in South Portland.

At a special meeting Monday, Oct. 22, councilors in South Portland publicly supported a “yes” vote on Question 1.

“We have a lot of different folks who live in South Portland and many are gay and lesbian or transgender. It’s important to recognize them and take a step toward equality,” said Mayor Patti Smith in an interview after the meeting.

South Portland residents voted by a significant margin to keep a same-sex marriage law passed by the Maine Legislature in 2009. By a vote of 7,391 to 4,174, city voters rejected the people’s veto that ultimately prevented the law from ever going into place.

Despite the fact that about 64 percent of South Portland voters supported same-sex marriage three years ago, the people’s veto passed in the state by a six percent margin.

This year, marriage equality advocates hope for better results. Smith, who is gay and works part time for Mainers United for Marrige, an organization that works toward passage of Question 1, said approval of the referendum would eliminate an element of discrimination in South Portland’s diverse community.

“If you are sick, family leave does not extend to domestic partners. I think that’s a matter of discrimination, and I think there are a lot of folks affected by that,” she said.

Smith motioned to recuse herself from a vote on the resolve because her employment with Mainers United for Marriage may have presented a conflict of interest, but the council decided to include Smith’s vote because the resolution does not present her with a financial conflict or change the city charter.

Councilors passed the resolve by a 5-1 vote, with Councilor Alan Livingston in opposition, but many residents who attended the special meeting spoke up to voice their opposition to the council’s action.

“I have no objection to anyone having their own personal opinion. My concern is with the council, representing the city of South Portland, taking a position on one item on the ballot,” said Hill Street resident Jim Hoy, who compared the resolve with a public endorsement from the city for presidential candidates Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

Four residents at the meeting said they agreed with Hoy. During council discussion, Hoy attempted to ask if the city’s decision would be used in any marketing or advertising efforts. Mayor Smith informed him council rules only allow an individual to speak once about a certain issue, and only during time allotted for public comment. After Smith spoke, another resident, who spoke to support Hoy, clearly became upset and left the meeting.

One resident said she was in favor of the council’s decision, Pam Koonz Canarie of Sawyer Street.

“I think the resolution reflects the way a lot of us feel in South Portland. I thank you for bringing it up and I hope that people vote for it,” Koonz Canarie said.

Although Smith made comments in favor of passage of Question 1, she said the purpose of the council’s resolve was to represent its diverse constituency rather than to sway voters’ decisions.

“We advise people to do their homework, take time to understand the issues and vote with knowledge. That’s our main goal as representatives,” Smith said after the meeting.

Livingston was the lone member of the council who disapproved of the resolve.

“It’s not our place to discuss what’s proper and not proper. It’s up to each citizen to discuss what they feel. You don’t know which way I’m voting; that’s everyone’s privilege to decide,” Livingston said.

“I don’t like the direction we’re going in. I think it’s wrong,” he added.

South Portland is the third city in Maine to publicly voice its support for marriage equality. The Portland City Council passed a similar resolve at its meeting Oct. 15, and Bangor did so in its Oct. 10 meeting.

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