2012 ending, 2013 beginning with gay weddings

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A year of unprecedented public victories for marriage equality is ending with private wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples in Maine.

And 2013 will begin with weddings for same-sex couples in Maryland.

In both states, as well as Washington, voters affirmed marriage equality in ballot initiatives on Nov. 6. In Minnesota, voters rejected an anti-gay marriage amendment.

Gay couples in Washington state began marrying earlier in December.

The weddings were to begin in Maine on Dec. 29 and in Maryland on Jan. 1.

In mid-December, the Maine Office of Vital Records was updating the marriage license application used by cities and towns across the state and clerks were receiving notice that they cannot legally refuse licenses to gay couples.

Later in the month, some clerks in more progressive communities were preparing to open offices to issue licenses over the weekend.

Meanwhile, there were rumblings and grumblings in Maine’s conservative community of a campaign to repeal the marriage equality measure.

“Our opponents are already working to undermine our recent victory,” said Betsy Smith of the LGBT civil rights group Equality Maine. “They have promised to introduce legislation to amend the new marriage law and are exploring a possible ballot measure campaign to overturn it.”

She added, “To that end, we must remain vigilant.”

Mainers approved same-sex marriage 53 percent to 47 percent on Nov. 6, a margin wide enough to suggest that voters are unlikely to overturn it, according to the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders group in New England. Also, with Democratic majorities in the Legislature, it’s unlikely that there would be enough votes to overturn the measure.

So, with the transition into a new year, LGBT civil rights advocates are focusing on the campaigns for marriage equality in state legislatures in Illinois, where a vote may occur as early as January and a governor is eager to sign a bill, and in Rhode Island, where a vote is expected in 2013 with the support of another governor. Activists also are planning to press for marriage equality in Minnesota.

Illinois could become the second Midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriage. “The quick pace of our marriage efforts may seem surprising to many, but we have been paving the ground for this from the moment civil unions passed the legislature in 2010,” said Bernard Cherkasov of Equality Illinois.

Rhode Island, which like Illinois currently recognizes civil unions, would be the last New England state to legalize same-sex marriage. Rhode Island Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed still opposes gay marriage and blocked a vote this past year, but she said she expects the chamber to take up the issue if the House advances a bill.

Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay, has said he intends to call an early vote on gay marriage legislation and passing it is one of his top priorities.

Independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee has made it clear he wants to sign such a bill.

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