Play-by-play

On the front lines at the gay-marriage hearing
By DEIRDRE FULTON + EMILY PARKHURST  |  April 30, 2009


Portland-gay-marriage_main 
PACKING THE CIVIC CENTER: As many as 4000 people attended the public hearing.

The Portland Phoenix had two reporters at the gay-marriage hearing that took place before the Maine Legislature's Judiciary Committee in Augusta on April 22. Here are some of their observations from the (exhausting, inspiring, frightening) day:

6:30 am
I arrive at the Augusta Civic Center. A crowd of about 100 people is already gathered; most, if not all, are wearing red, as gay-marriage supporters have been encouraged to do. There's a sense of nervous anticipation as they wait for their opponents to show up; when a bus rolls out of the morning mist, everyone cranes their necks to see who disembarks.

"Yay, it's the good guys!" someone shouts, as red shirts and scarves become visible.

University of Maine students Jen Law, 28, and Kiley Jones, 21, were the first ones to arrive on Wednesday morning. They'd driven three hours from Machias the night before, and stayed in a hotel overnight.

"It's the first time I've ever been part of something like this," says Law, who wears a cross around her neck and says she hopes to get married someday if the law passes.


7:30 am
A small group of same-sex marriage opponents begins to congregate. Among them is Omar Whelen, of Litchfield, who quietly says he came to the hearing with his wife and children "first and foremost, to honor God." More flamboyant is Peter Gervais, who came from Wiscasset to hold a neon green sign that quotes Genesis 2:24. "I wanted to support the Christian side of matters, and represent God in an honoring sort of way," he says.

A male couple walks into the Civic Center. They are wearing red shirts that tell the world they've been together for 33 years.

Back outside, 73-year-old Shirley Winningham of Bangor arrives and proclaims that "they" (gay-marriage supporters) "have lots of money so they can buy their way into the hearts of the legislators." Standing a mere foot and a half away from members of the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, Winningham tells me that "not all clergy are representing God. The devil has his representatives too."


8 am
Inside the auditorium, thousands claim seats on the floor and in the bleachers. The room looks like a sea of red; opponents are likely kicking themselves for not thinking of the color-war idea ahead of time.

Democratic state Senator Dennis Damon, lead sponsor of LD 1020, which would change the legal definition of civil marriage in Maine to allow same-sex couples to tie the knot, is the first to offer testimony. He does so flanked by a dozen or so legislative co-sponsors (though not the handful who also sit on the Judiciary Committee).

"I feel at once tiny and huge," Damon says. "Simply put, this bill will allow people to live and let live. ... The progress of the human mind does not tolerate homophobia. ... It's fair, it's right, it's time." Damon is a surprisingly strong speaker and he gets two standing ovations.

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