Happy New Year, indeed. On November 6, Mainers United for Marriage celebrated as our state became the first to use a popular election to allow committed same-sex couples to receive a marriage license. On Monday, advocates cheered again, when they heard that the law would formally take effect on December 29.
"Well, we didn't know if this would happen before the new year, but we're thrilled!" exclaimed Jill Barkley, marriage project coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. "What better way to welcome 2013 than with full equality for same-sex couples in Maine?"
The date of December 29 is "a little earlier than expected," according to David Farmer, who served as the pro-marriage campaign's spokesman. The Secretary of State had 20 days to certify the election results, Governor Paul LePage had 10 days after that to sign off, and the law is scheduled to take effect 30 days later.
Of course, there's one little hiccup: December 29 happens to be a Saturday, on the weekend before New Year's Eve. How many government bureaucrats are going to be around just then remains to be seen. At the Phoenix's deadline, Portland city officials were still sorting out the administrative details with the Secretary of State's office, to determine if licenses would actually be available to the public on the day.
Regardless of the timing, here's how same-sex marriage licensing will work (hint: it's exactly the same as when heterosexual couples decide to tie the knot).
Maine residents must get an application form from the clerk of the town where either party resides; the couple must then have the marriage "solemnized" by an authorized officiant (such as a judge, notary public, lawyer, or ordained minister) within 90 days. No blood test is required in Maine. Documentation and fees vary from town to town. The certified marriage certificate can then be used to change your surname with the Social Security Administration and the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Same-sex couples from out-of-state may also get married in Maine.
As stated in the law, no clergy can be forced to perform a marriage to which they object, nor is any religious institution obliged to host such a ceremony on their premises. This exclusion does not apply to individuals doing business with the public nor to government officials and institutions.
According to a 20-page informational packet prepared by the Boston-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, "Entering into the status of 'married' will affect many aspects of your public and private life. It is uniquely challenging for same-sex couples at this time since the federal government, many states and even private entities disrespect these marital commitments." GLAD advises couples to consider issues like adoption (some foreign countries don't allow same-sex couples to adopt), prenuptial agreements (in Maine, a spouse cannot completely disinherit the other spouse unless such a signed agreement exists), and eligibility for various federal programs (1138 federal laws pertain to marriage; some rights and protections will still not be available to gay couples).
Now is not the time, however, to muddle through red tape. As Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, points out, New Year's Eve is a time for partying, for celebration — perhaps even more so, this year. "It's a day of out with the old, and in with the new," she says. "It's quite perfect."