Campus Pride Blog

Maine Marriage Equality Hearing

Yesterday I woke up at 3:30am in order to get on a bus at 4:15, to be in Augusta by 7:30, so I could get a good seat and watch the marriage equality hearings. Marriage Equality Maine had encouraged everyone there in support of Dennis Damon’s bill LD 1020 to wear red, and wear red we did!

I’m in the lower right-hand corner of that picture – the one playing with my ear. Attractive, I know, but it’s the only press photo I found myself in so far.

There are estimates that there were between 3,500 and 4,000 people there, and from what I saw and heard there were MANY more proponents than opponents. The wearing red thing REALLY made it stand out, too.

View the whole post in order to see a video of some of what went down, my reflections on the day, and my own testimony.

There was a lot of emotional testimony. I teared up more than a few times. Here’s the Bangor Daily News video that includes some of the testimony (Bangor Daily News is typically pretty conservative – keep that in mind as you watch this)

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Two comments on the video:
The applause for Dennis Damon went on for a solid minute after he finished talking, there were a lot of applause WHILE he was talking, and he got a standing ovation before he even started talking.

The woman at the end holding the two signs was the ONLY protester I saw that day. Granted, I was inside almost the entire time, but still. No signs were allowed inside the building.

Flat out yesterday was inspiring, fun, funny, and heart breaking at the same time. The repetition of families who have been denied their rights, partners who have lost partners and been denied their rights, children who just want to see their moms or dads or godmothers get married was just heartbreaking. Sure, marriage equality effects me because it’s marriage equality and I’m queer and on the off chance that somebody wants to marry me some day I’d like for that to be legal. But I don’t have the history behind this.

There was the older man who stood up, told the story of how he’d been working in a grocery store when he was a teen and had a friend there who couldn’t get legally married to his partner. At the end you found out that this had nothing to do with being gay – his friend was a white man and his friend’s partner was an African American woman. There was a lot of comparison to interracial marriage yesterday; and the opponents of the bill fought that with vengeance, repeatedly claiming that race was not a choice, while homosexuality was.

When somebody on the opponents side was spouting really hateful things, like how allowing same sex marriage will allow gay people to molest children more easily, or that allowing same sex marriage will provide an avenue for rampant STI transmission many people in the proponents group stood up and turned our backs on them in silent protest of the lies they were spouting. It was an amazing time to be a part of the LGBT community.

I gave and received so many hugs yesterday, both from people I knew and people I didn’t know. The woman sitting next to me stood up to talk about her partner who had passed away last fall; they had been together for a long time, had an 11 year old daughter, and had gone to California in September to get married. They were married for 24 hours – the entirety of their stay there. 2 months later, back home in Maine, her partner had died. When she got back to her seat I just gave her a big hug. I’d never met this woman before, but she needed a hug.

I gave a hug to the older male couple, one of whom had HIV/AIDS and the other who had cancer, and yet had to have separate health insurance plans because they weren’t legally married and the man with HIV/AIDS wasn’t able to put his partner of a number of years on his health insurance plan at work.

There was a 9 year old girl who was held up to the microphone who started crying, because she wanted her godmother to get married. Her words? “Please let her get married, she’s a really nice woman.”

Lastly, there was a HUGE number of LGBT couples with babies, and babies just make everything more fun.

I may update this later as I remember more stuff. The following was my testimony:

Senator Bliss, Representative Priest, and the esteemed members of the Judiciary Committee, thank you for allowing me to speak today. My name is Andrew Coate and I am a student at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine and I am speaking in favor of LD 1020, the Marriage Equality Bill. I am originally from Los Angeles, California and I have been advocating for marriage equality and rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender individuals since I was 12 years old – nearly half of my 21 years of life.

I work with LGBT and allied youth, and every day I hear stories that echo those of my own adolescence. LGBT teens are routinely ridiculed, bullied, and harassed because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. In the past month we have seen two 11 year old boys commit suicide because their peers taunted them because they were perceived to be gay. Hate based harassment, bullying, and ridicule will NOT stop until we have equality. As long as our legislators see it as ok to put LGBT people on a lower level with fewer rights than our heterosexual counterparts it will remain a fact that being LGBT is something that can, and will, be a point of harassment.

I grew up hearing my elders in the LGBT community saying that they never thought that they’d see same-sex marriage in their lifetime, and I pretty much took their word for it – and then when I was 16 the infamous “gay wedding march” happened in San Francisco, and I watched as friends of my parents, and parents of my friends, drove up to get marriage licenses and have their relationships legally recognized. And I remember their heart break when those marriages were voided. A couple months later I remember celebrating with my very first girlfriend the news that Massachusetts had become the first state to legally recognize same sex marriage.

Last year I cried tears of joy as I sat in my dorm room at my college and read the news coming in that California had legalized same sex marriage – I had never felt happier for my home state. And five months later I cried again, when voters in my state narrowly voted to constitutionally ban same sex marriage. I joined in last November as people all over the country decided to join the impact, and protested Proposition 8 right here in Maine.

Two weeks ago I excitedly sent out emails and text messages, updated my facebook status and twitter feed, and made a bunch of phone calls when the news that first Iowa and a few days later Vermont had legalized same sex marriage.
And now we have Maine. Over the past couple years I have grown to love Maine and, while I realize that I will never be a true Mainer in many people’s eyes, it will always hold a very special place in my heart. I truly believe that the people of Maine value equality, fairness, and respect, which is really all we are asking for.

Marriage equality is not about indoctrinating children, invalidating heterosexual marriage, staunching religious freedom, or taking rights from anybody – Marriage equality is about the equality of all people, the validation that LGBT individuals deserve the same rights as all other individuals, and giving the same respect to my relationships as to the relationships of my straight peers.

I thank you for your time