In the debate about same-sex marriage, civil unions fall short

A lot has changed in the three years since I became the first governor in the country to sign legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry.

One thing, however, is as true today as it was then: Civil unions and domestic partnerships are not the same as marriage.

Opponents of allowing same-sex couples to marry say that domestic partnerships are enough, and if current law is inadequate, then it can be fixed. That’s not their intent, however. At each step of the way, they have opposed domestic partnerships and civil unions.

Current law regarding domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian couples falls short of making sure all are treated fairly. The only remedy is to allow all loving, committed couples to receive a marriage license.

Before 2009, I thought that civil unions were enough. I was concerned about the implications of changing the law to allow same-sex couples to marry.

I’m Catholic. My faith plays an important role in my life, and it had left me conflicted and torn.

I followed the debate three years ago closely, and I talked to hundreds of people. Each night, I took letters I received in my office home and read the arguments for and against.

I called people on both sides of the debate and I talked to them. I wanted to hear what they had to say.

And I’m proud to say that those types of conversations have continued. The Mainers United for Marriage campaign has had more than 200,000 one-on-one conversations with people about why marriage matters.

We can see in the polls and the personal stories that people tell — folks are changing their minds.

The idea of allowing same-sex couples to marry is an emotional issue that touches on some of our most important values: freedom of speech and religion and the pursuit of happiness.

And there are good people — solid in their faith, kind in their heart — on both sides of the debate.

We are all on our own path in our consideration of how we recognize the very real relationships of our gay and lesbian friends and family.

For me, it was a journey to acceptance as my understanding of the law and its impact on families changed.

Eventually, I came to realize that a civil union or a domestic partnership is not equal to marriage.

For me, it was a question of fairness and equal protection under the law. Maine’s Constitution is clear that "no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of that person’s civil rights or be discriminated against."

Finding the person whom you love and making the decision to build a steady, stable and committed life together has been the foundation of my life.

And I belief that the same opportunity should be given to same-sex couples, who share a desire to build a life, through the good times and the bad, together.

Growing up, no one dreams about the perfect civil union or finding the right person with whom to enter into a legal, binding contract. They dream about a wedding, and the beginning of a life together that it represents.

I know that some members of the religious community and my own Catholic faith do not support same-sex marriage. Some of them may one day change their minds, while others won’t.

The citizen’s initiative guarantees that no member of the clergy, no church, no religious denomination and no religious institution will ever be required to host or perform a wedding that falls outside of their tradition. It respects personal opinion and personal liberty.

That protection for religious freedom is important to me, and it’s important to the people who brought this question to voters.

Three years ago, I knew that ultimately, expanding marriage to include same-sex voters would require the support of Maine’s final decision-makers — the voters of our state.

More than 105,000 people signed the petition to put a marriage initiative on the ballot. And on Nov. 6, voters will have their say.

I believe that allowing same-sex couples to receive a marriage license is the right thing, and it is my hope that voters in Maine will agree.

John E. Baldacci served two terms as Maine governor. In 2009, he became the first governor in the United States to willingly sign legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry. He is hosting a spaghetti fundraiser for Preble Street on Oct. 26 at the Irish Heritage Center in Portland and to support civil marriage for same-sex couples.