Maine State Sen. Linda Valentino (D-York) Floor Speech Opposing Religious Discrimination Bill LD 1428 (Video, Text)
Last week, the 126th Maine State Legislature took up LD 1428, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom”. The bill was voted down Tuesday in the Senate by a 19-16 vote and finally died with a 89-52 tally in the House on Thursday.
Judicial Committee Chair Senator Linda Valentino (D-York) rose to speak quite strongly and eloquently in opposition to the bill. Here is video of her floor speech presented on Tuesday to her colleagues with the senator’s prepared remarks.
Thank you Mr. President. Mr. President, Men and Women of the Senate, I rise today to say that I support religious freedom. And if I had to venture a guess, I would guess that almost everyone in this room, if not every person in this room, supports religious freedom.
I support the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. I support Article 1, Section 3 on religious freedom in the Maine Constitution. I even support the title of this bill, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom.”
What I do not support is this bill. Bill titles do not become part of Maine Law.
I do not cast my vote based on the title of a bill. I cast my vote for the contents of the bill, for this is the part that will be entered into Maine Law.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …
When our founders drafted the Constitution “religious freedom” and “equality” were lofty ideals, not reality. There was no equality for women or poor people or people of color. Religious freedom may have extended to people’s rights to worship and congregate, but certainly not to politics or jobs.
Many people may not realize that when the First Amendment was enacted, it applied only to laws passed by the U.S. Congress. State and local governments could abridge the free exercise of religion as long as there was no similar provision in their State Constitution. In South Carolina and Georgia’s original constitutions it stated that only men of the Protestant religion were eligible to sit in the House of Representatives. In Maryland, it wasn’t until 1828, that Jewish Americans were eligible as candidates to the Legislature.
Growing up in a very poor Irish-Catholic family in Portland, my father was a paper boy. One of his routes was the very exclusive West End. Hundreds of times I heard the story about his grandmother warning him that if he wanted to keep his job that if he ever met a person of a specific “privileged” religion on the sidewalk, in the West End, he was to get off the sidewalk and walk in the gutter until the person passed.
He also told me about signs for job openings hanging in shop windows saying “Catholics need not apply”. This was in the 1940’s.
Over the last 200 years, people in both Maine and the nation have fought hard to extend religious freedom to all denominations. I do not want to roll back any of the protections and advances we have made in religious freedom.
I admire the integrity and the beliefs of the sponsor of this bill and those who support it, and I do not question his motives for the bill, but we differ in our opinions.
I see this bill as a step backwards.
I see this bill filled with unintended consequences.
I see this bill being used as a vehicle for extremists to hide behind the words “religious freedom” as a way to circumvent our anti-discriminate laws.
And I see this bill being used as an end run around the Maine Human Rights Act.
So why do people feel we need this law?
• One of the biggest reasons we uncovered during the public hearing on this bill was that people did not know their rights under current Maine law. For example: A woman said she was not allowed to wear a cross necklace at work, while others wore necklaces. Yes, she was discriminated against, because she did not know that Maine law protects this religious freedom. Another said their child was not allowed to bring a Bible to school. Yes, they were discriminated against, because again she did not know that Maine law protects this religious freedom. Children can bring a Bible or other religious book to school. It is school organized religion, or someone forcing their religion on another, in school that is prohibited. This RFRA bill will not give them anything they don’t already have for protections. People need to know their rights.
• Another example, was the South Bristol Elementary School boat launching ceremony. This boat launching had been done for 18 years, and each time a pastor was asked to recite a blessing, asking for safe passage of the boats that the students built. In 2013, they did not conduct the blessing. Why? Because prior to the boat launching – someone complained!
This caught the attention of a Washington based group who threatened to sue, claiming that a prayer at a public school event violated the Establishment Clause. The school backed down. Even if RFRA had been in place, the public school would not have been able to say the prayer. Again, people need to know their rights. Just because no one had complained for the past 18 years, didn’t mean they were allowed to say a prayer.
So why don’t we need this bill?
• Religious freedom is protected in Maine under the Constitution and there was no evidence given that Maine’s existing religious protections were not working.
• Religious freedom is explicitly protected in Maine under the Human Rights Act.
• There are 34 religious exemptions in Maine Title 5 law that protect religious freedom – in everything from property taxes, immunization, school absences, smoking, polygraph tests, highway signs, food safety, workers compensation, prisoner’s rights, alcohol and drug counseling,- to name just a few.
• Plus under Title 22, Health and Welfare, Maine has two statutes that protect physicians, nurses, health care workers and others from having to perform or assist in any act pertaining to an abortion.
• Many people mistakenly believe this bill will allow the navitity scene back at City Hall or some other religious display. It does not do this, or any other specific example. It only allows a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding. You must bring action in court against the government. Which are those who make the laws.
Why now? What has happened to bring this bill forward? I don’t know, but I do know that:
• Although the first state passed a RFRA-like statute 17 years ago, according to research from our Law Library, this bill has never been introduced before in Maine.
• I also know that in 2012, same-sex couples won their freedom to marry by changing Maine law through the citizen initiative ballot process.
• And also in 2012, the Affordable Health Care Act was passed by Congress and a ruling was made which required health plans to cover contraception. To date, 90 cases have been filed using state RFRA acts to challenge this one ruling under the Affordable Care Act. The Hobby Lobby case is the test case. This case is before the United States Supreme Court and oral arguments are scheduled to be heard on March 25. This is a case where the owner of the company is using RFRA and his religious freedom to deny contraceptive coverage for his 13,000 employees. Maine should not pass anything until this case is decided.
Since this bill was never introduced prior to 2012, it makes me wonder if this bill is really about religious freedom, or is it about trying to erode existing women’s rights and gay rights that we have fought so hard for?
We cannot use religious freedom as a vehicle to circumvent Maine’s strong anti-discrimination laws. Maine has a history of working hard to strike a balance between religious freedom rights and the right to equal protection under the law. We have a strong Human Rights Commission to uphold the Human Rights Act and we have strong Maine case law based on well-defined facts.
There are over 10,000 religious denominations in the world, with 50 to 100 known ones in Maine. According to survey results in the Portland Press Herald, 70.8% of Maine people responded that they do not identify themselves with any particular religion. If we pass this bill what happens to their rights?
I would like to close by reading an email that I received yesterday urging me to defeat this bill. It says:
- “As a Christian minister, I’m offended when religion –any religion— is used as an excuse to deprive others of their rights as human beings. We need to send a message to those who would do so, that in the State of Maine, legalized bigotry will not be tolerated.”
Supporters of the bill have not demonstrated any factual problems with our current laws. Please follow the bi-partisan Majority Report and vote ought not to pass on LD 1428.
UPDATE (1/24/14): The Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted against the measure, 9-4. Senator Linda Valentino (D-York), who serves as chair of the committee, later issued the following statement:
“I support and believe strongly in the First Amendment which provides for religious freedom. This bill would do nothing more than foster and legalize discrimination. We’ve come too far to take such a drastic step backward. One danger of this measure is the unintended consequences. Because your religion ‘says so’ does not mean you have carte blanche to break the law.”
The bill will now go before the Senate for another vote.
(Originally posted 1/19/14)
LD 1428, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom” was held over from earlier in the session and had a public hearing on January 16th before the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. Among those to speak in opposition to the bill, which opponents say will lead to legalized discrimination was Maine’s Attorney General, Janet T. Mills. Below is her testimony as presented to the committee.
An overview via EqualityMaine:
- Everyone’s religious beliefs should be respected, but no one should be above the law.
- LD 1428 would allow anyone who claims that a law or regulation has burdened their religious freedom to sue for monetary damages, no matter how minor, incidental or indirect the alleged infringement is.
- It creates a pre-emptive cause of action, allowing someone to sue if they merely expect their religious freedom to be burdened, without showing harm.
- It makes no exceptions for civil rights, health care, criminal behavior or public safety.
Maine already has strong protections for religious freedom.
- The Maine Constitution and the U.S. Constitution explicitly protect religious freedom.
- The Maine Human Rights Act explicitly protects people from discrimination on the basis of religion.
- There are 13 individual statues in Maine that protect religious freedom in everything from property tax, to militia service, to immunization and school absences for children.
LD 1428 creates many problems and solves none.
- Religious freedom is protected in Maine, and there is no evidence that Maine’s existing religious protections are not working.
- Maine already has a law that says that doctors and nurses can’t be required to participate in the performance of an abortion, if they object. LD 1428 would, however, open the door to possible claims by health care professionals that they have the right to refuse to provide any medical service based on their religious beliefs, regardless of existing state laws or governing standards of care.
- This proposal creates a gaping exemption to every Maine law, allowing people to use their religious beliefs as an excuse to break laws that apply to everyone else.
- LD 1428 would circumvent the non-discrimination laws and their requirements that any individual or entity treat all persons fairly, regardless of race, religion, sex or sexual orientation.
- This bill could dramatically increase the number of lawsuits against state and local governments, and cause them to incur large legal costs.
Laws like LD 1428 have fostered lawsuits and discrimination in other states.
- In Texas, a public bus driver refused to drive a passenger to Planned Parenthood, citing his religious beliefs. (Graning v. Capital Area Transportation System)
- In Florida, an employer who believed pregnancy outside of marriage is a sin fired an unmarried pregnant employee. (Hamilton v. Southland Christian School)
- In Georgia, a student enrolled in a university counseling program claimed that she had the religiously based right to defy professional standards and condemn gay clients. (Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley)
ACLU of Maine shared statements of some of the opponents who spoke.
Rev. Sue Gabrielson:
“LD 1428 would actually foster discrimination, by undermining our non-discrimination laws and the understanding that people treat others fairly, regardless of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. As people of faith, we honor the inherent worth and dignity of all people and reject any law that would allow discrimination against Mainers in the name of religious freedom.”
“Throughout the immigrant community here in Maine, there are many people who have fled violence and persecution based on religious or ethnic discrimination with the hope of a peaceful new beginning here in a country where “all men are created equal”. The blessing of America is that our freedoms are protected – including freedom of religion – but discrimination is not. As a Christian I am glad that I have the freedom to practice my religion. But I know firsthand how dangerous it can be to decide that your personal beliefs entitle you to break laws that protect us all. Once we start down the slippery slope of allowing someone to use their religious beliefs to pick and choose the laws that they need to follow, we start down a path that has caused violence and persecution in other nations around the world.”
“Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, protected by the constitutions of Maine and the United States, and we will always fight for the right of individuals to believe what they choose. But LD 1428 goes far beyond protecting religious freedom, so far that it would allow people to use their religion to ignore important laws that are meant to protect the common good of all Mainers. This bill is a solution in search of a problem, and in fact it creates far more problems than it solves. The legislature should reject it.”
The bill next comes up for a January 23 work session.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
[10:29p] And the live-blogging begins. There are about a dozen people in support of equal marriage out front, and two scripture-spouting zealots against it outside of Portland City Hall.
[10:40p] Chris and Byron are amp3ed for their big day… To get their dog license… They kid, they kid. They’re excited, and hilarious.
[10:53p] I just talked with Amanda Hollander who is up in the air as to whether or not she will be married tonight. On one hand, for her, it’s about being a part of the crowd, and joining her parents who have been married for 40+ years and have been a part of this on-going civil rights struggle. Either way, she is here to support what is happening, and be a part of it… potentially.
[11:02p] I just talked with Chris O’Connor, who has been fighting for marriage equality since 2008. He said that he was just at dinner and a waitress asked if City Hall would be staying open in this way for straight people. She just got married herself. He asked, “How many doors have you knocked on in order to have this right?” He is happy to be here tonight. He is excited to be here tonight. It means “everything” to him.
[11:13p] I just talked to Byron Bartlett (pictured below) who says that he is lucky to be here. There are so many loving couples who came before him who aren’t here. He is lucky to be a part of this, and he says that is important for him to acknowledge.
[11:32p] I just talked with Erin McNally, a straight ally and a notary who is here to marry people for free. This is important for her because it is about time, she says, that equality is recognized in this state.
[11:35p] I just talked with Jill Barkley, who told me that she kept fighting campaign after campaign for this moment. This is important for the state because equality is important. Now people won’t move from here just to be recognized.
[11:42p] LuzMarina Serrano just explained that she is here for her friends, and she is here, despite having to bundle up so much, because of love. Love is important to support, she says.
10:30- EqualityMaine @EqualityMaine
It looks like the first same-sex couple to marry in Maine will be Steve Bridges and Michael Snell. Congratulations! #yeson1
Couples started arriving at City Hall Plaza shortly after 9:30 p.m. First in line were Michael Snell, 53, and Steven Bridges, 42, of Portland, who said they have been together for nine years and had an informal marriage ceremony in Portland six years ago. They plan to have the state’s first-ever official gay wedding shortly after midnight.
They said they were shocked to be first because they expected more people to be at City Hall when they arrived around 9:30 p.m.
“We’ve been smiling the whole day,” Bridges said.
Snell arrived with his two daughters, who live in Boston.
“I’m so excited and happy for Dad and Steven,” said Carolyn Snell, 25. “This has been a long time coming.”
Her sister, Katie Snell, 27, noting that same-sex marriage has been legal in Massachusetts for nearly a decade, said, “It’s nice to see Maine catch up.”
11pm- TVTEDDY TVTEDDY 4m
The line is slowly growing at Portland City Hall. About 12 gay couples now waiting to get their licenses. #ME4M pic.twitter.com/WJi1LehM
Amy Fried @ASFried
Don’t forget what it took for Maine to get marriage equality: http://pollways.bangordailynews.com/2012/12/28/national/dont-forget-what-it-took-for-maine-to-get-marriage-equality/ … #me4m #mepolitics #yeson1
Tonight’s couples can use the State of Maine room if they’re interested in having a more elaborate ceremony. #ME4M pic.twitter.com/kTUYuZ3T
Here is a list of the Maine cities opening early to accommodate those wishing to get a marriage license early are:
Via Waldo County Democrats’ Neal Harkness: “Belfast,Northport, Palermo, Knox, Morrill, Swanville will all be open tomorrow. Monroe and Freedom clerks have said they’d open if anyone called.”
NOW- Maine is truly “The Way Life Should Be”. Onward to Dirigo, America. It’s TIME.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
(Originally posted 8 Nov 2012; worth resharing. ~AP)
The historic moment when supports of marriage equality in Maine learn that Question 1 will pass and equal marriage will become a reality in the state.
From 2009, my photos. So excited that Maine got it right.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Via Mainers United press release:
President Obama Supports Question 1 in Maine
In a statement, Michael Czin, northeast regional press secretary for the president, said: “While the president does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the president believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect. The president believes same-sex couples should be treated equally and supports Question 1.”
President Obama first announced his support for allowing same-sex couples to marry during an interview with ABC News in May.
“I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together; when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama told ABC’s Good Morning America.
“President Obama made history earlier this year when he became the first sitting president to endorse same-sex marriage. Today, he spoke out in support of the thousands of loving, committed same-sex couples in Maine who want to accept the responsibility and joy that go along with marriage,” said Matt McTighe, the campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage. “We are grateful for his support.”
Dotty & Harlan Gardner of Machias talk about why marriage matters to them and what it would mean for their granddaughter and her partner, Alexandria. Harlan says, “What has been so good for Dorothy and I is too good not to share with the people we love.”
Via Mainers United press release:
PORTLAND – Harlan Gardner and his wife, Dorothy, return in a new 30-second television advertisement urging voters to vote “Yes” on Question 1, which would allow same-sex couples to receive a marriage license while also protecting religious freedom.
Harlan and his family were first featured in a TV ad from GLAD that began airing during the Olympics this summer. The one-minute ad earned Gardner the title of “Maine’s Marriage Hero” from New York Times columnist Frank Bruni.
The original ad has been viewed almost 100,000 times on YouTube.
“While our opponents continue to try to scare and mislead voters with their ads, we believe the best thing we can do is let real Mainers tell their stories about why marriage matters to them,” said Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage. “As Harlan says in the first ad, this isn’t about politics, it’s about family, and how we, as people, treat one another.”
The new ad can be viewed at http://www.mainersunited/ads.org. It will begin running statewide today.
Harlan and Dorothy have been married for 59 years and live in Machias. They hope that one day, their granddaughter Katie will be able to legally marry her partner, Alexandria.
“There are four generations of our family sitting around this table,” Harlan says as the ad opens.
“Our granddaughter, Katie, is gay,” Dorothy says. “I would in my lifetime really like to be able to see Katie and Alex get married legally. We want for her what we have. A marriage, not a domestic partnership.”
“What has been so good for Dorothy and I is too good not to share with the people we love,” Harlan says, to close the ad.
From the accompanying press release:
Mainers United for Marriage has released a new statewide TV ad featuring Catharine and Phil Curtis of Biddeford.
In the 30-second ad, Catharine and Phil talk about their youngest daughter, who is a lesbian, and why civil unions and alternative forms of relationship recognition are not enough.
The ad started on cable on Tuesday and on broadcast networks today.
“Opponents of the freedom to marry continue to wrongly argue that domestic partnerships or civil unions are a legitimate substitute for marriage. They are not,” said Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage. “The word ‘marriage’ carries profound personal meaning for the couples and for others who instantly grasp its significance. Everyone knows what it means to be ‘married’ legally. In our new ad, Phil and Catharine explain what it means to their family.”
Maine does not have civil unions. Maine has a domestic partnership registry, which can provide very limited protection for same-sex couples in matters of probate, for example.
Catharine: “We’ve been married for almost 52 years.”
Phil: “She’s the most important person in my life. We have three daughters. Our youngest, Catie, is gay.”
Catharine: “People will ask: ‘Why wouldn’t a civil union be enough for her?’ When we were young, we never dreamed about having a civil union or signing a piece of paper. We wanted to be married.”
Phil: “I want our Catie to have what we have: The joy and security of marriage.”
Catharine: “A civil union is no substitute for marriage. We know that in our hearts.”
New ‘Yes’ on 1 Ad Featuring ME Rep. Stacey Fitts (R-Pittsfield) Shows People Can Change Their Minds on Marriage
Stacey Fitts of Pittsfield talks about why, as a Republican, he supports the freedom to marry. He voted against marriage for same-sex couples in 2009, but, since then, he’s talked with the people in his life and changed his mind.
The accompanying press release:
PORTLAND – Mainers United for Marriage today released a new statewide TV ad featuring Republican State Rep. Stacey Fitts, who voted against allowing same-sex couples to receive a marriage license in 2009 but has changed his mind and supports a “Yes” vote on Question 1 this year.
“Stacey is an example of folks – from all across the political spectrum – who are changing their minds about the freedom to marry,” said Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage. “Through more than 200,000 one-on-one conversations, we know that Stacey isn’t alone. Thousands of Mainers have changed their minds and support allowing same-sex couples to receive a marriage license.”
Fitts: “I’ve always been a Republican. I voted against same-sex marriage in 2009. But I know some gay people, and I’ve talked with them and with my family.
“Deciding who you marry is the most important decision you will ever make.
“I don’t believe the government should tell anybody who they can love and who they can marry.
“Voting ‘Yes’ protects religious freedom and it protects individual freedom. To me, that’s what our country is all about.
“We should allow gay people the freedom to marry, and we should protect individual liberty, too. Voting ‘Yes’ on Question 1 will do both.”
The 30-second ad can be viewed at: www.mainersunited.org/ads.
Mainers United for Marriage is the coalition to win marriage for all Maine families. A “Yes” vote on Question 1 in November will allow marriage licenses for loving, committed same-sex couples in Maine while also protecting religious freedom.
For more information about the campaign, visit http://www.mainersunited.org.
“Jeanette and Paul Rediker of Fort Fairfield, Maine – married for 42 years – talk about what marriage marriage means to their family and why they’re voting “Yes” on Question 1.”
From Mainers United’s 10/4/12 press release:
Mainers United for Marriage today launched a new statewide TV ad featuring Paul and Jeanette Rediker from Fort Fairfield.
“Our campaign will continue to tell the real stories of Maine families and why marriage matters to them,” said Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage. “We know that the opponents of the freedom to marry plan a media blitz built on misinformation and funded by shadowy out-of-state groups that are suing the state of Maine. We believe the best answer to their attacks is to have families talk about marriage.”
The 30-second ad tells the story of the Rediker family as they found out that their oldest daughter is a lesbian and the advice that they received from the family’s priest.
“We weren’t always so gay friendly,” Paul says in the ad, after talking about being married to Jeanette for 42 years. “We didn’t even grow up in an era when it was discussed.”
“We had just found out that our daughter was gay,”Jeanette says. “There was a lot of emotions. We went to see a priest, and I will never forget the answer he told me: ‘She is the same person that you loved yesterday.’”
“We love our daughter,”Paul says.
“I would be very happy if my oldest daughter could get married at home,” Jeanette says.
The ad, which is the third from Mainers United for Marriage, will air in the Portland, Bangor and Presque Isle media markets.
The ad can be viewed at: http://www.mainersunited.org/ads.
(UPDATED) ‘Marriage for All Families’ Releases First of 4 Part Series Supporting Marriage Equality: ‘Stories from Maine’
From the site comes this description of the 4 state project and its goals, as well as an endorsement from Bruce Springsteen (h/t Scott Wooledge for the accompanying graphic, which has quickly gone viral):
Marriage For All Families captures the real experience of same-sex couples, to show that they have the same challenges, responsibilities, and aspirations as other couples. Still, they are strangers in the eyes of the law. That’s why marriage equality is so important: it aligns personality reality with legal reality, as a simple matter of fairness and equality.
Here is The Boss’ original 2009 marriage equality endorsement (h/t Joe.My.God):
A BRIEF STATEMENT FROM BRUCE
Like many of you who live in New Jersey, I’ve been following the progress of the marriage-equality legislation currently being considered in Trenton. I’ve long believed in and have always spoken out for the rights of same sex couples and fully agree with Governor Corzine when he writes that, “The marriage-equality issue should be recognized for what it truly is — a civil rights issue that must be approved to assure that every citizen is treated equally under the law.” I couldn’t agree more with that statement and urge those who support equal treatment for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to let their voices be heard now.
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