Gay-marriage bill signed by Maine governor

Wed May 6, 2009 6:30pm EDT
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By Jason Szep

BOSTON (Reuters) - Maine's governor signed a bill on Wednesday legalizing same-sex marriage, clearing the way for the Northeastern U.S. state to become the fifth in the country to do so, five years after Massachusetts became the first to allow gay people to marry.

But the law could be delayed or even voided by a possible statewide referendum if opponents to the bill gather enough support in coming weeks.

"I have read many of the notes and letters sent to my office, and I have weighed my decision carefully," Democratic Governor John Baldacci said in a statement. "I did not come to this decision lightly or in haste."

Gay marriage, a major front in America's culture wars, has made significant inroads in the United States this year. In a single week last month, Iowa and Vermont joined Massachusetts and Connecticut in allowing gay couples to wed legally.

Similar legislation is advancing in New Hampshire, where lawmakers sent a gay-marriage bill to the governor on Wednesday. If he supports it, Rhode Island would be the only hold-out in the six-state New England region.

In California, gay marriage advocates are hoping to overturn Proposition 8, the 2008 constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage there, in the state's highest court.

Maine's Democratic-controlled Senate voted 21-13 last week in support of a bill that redefines marriage as the legal union of two people rather than between a man and a woman. Maine's House of Representatives passed it on Tuesday.

The law in the state of 1.3 million people takes effect 90 days from when the legislative session ends, likely in June.   Continued...