With same-sex marriage set to become legal Dec. 29 in Maine, gay and lesbian advocacy groups want to make sure that same-sex couples who plan to get married soon have all the information they need.
Mary Buonato of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Betsy Smith of EqualityMaine and David Farmer of Mainers United for Marriage hosted a webinar on Thursday to answer questions and clear up any lingering confusion.
About 75 people participated in the online chat. Here is a recap of some common questions and answers.
Q: If a same-sex couple got married in another state where same-sex marriage is legal, do they have to get remarried in Maine?
A: No. In fact, couples cannot get married twice. Those who got married in another state become legally married in Maine at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 29.
Any other legal declaration, such as a domestic partnership or a civil union, is nullified by marriage. A couple can’t have both a marriage and a civil union, for instance.
Q: What will a same-sex marriage license say? How will same-sex couples be addressed?
A: Buonato said the state’s Office of Vital Statistics creates the form that all city and town clerks use when couples apply for marriage licenses. That form now has a section to be filled out by the bride and another to be filled out by the groom. The state office is updating its form to reflect the new law and sending the new version to municipal clerks.
Buonato said she doesn’t know exactly what the form will say, but other states have created options for applicants to check “bride,” “groom” or “spouse.”
As for addressing same-sex couples, when a notary or clergy member announces a marriage, Buonato said simple is best: “I now pronounce you … legally married.”
Q: How and where do couples get licenses? Are there any restrictions?
A: A couple must apply for a marriage license at the municipal office in the city or town where at least one of them lives. An out-of-state couple, however, can apply for a license anywhere in Maine.
The cost, $40 plus $15 for a certified copy to take home, is the same at every municipal office.
Smith said the best thing to do is contact the office beforehand and make arrangements, rather than wait until Dec. 29. Same-sex couples must wait until Dec. 29 to apply for marriage licenses.
Q: Can I get married right away?
A: A couple can get married as soon as the license is issued, but the marriage must be solemnized by an officiant and witnessed by two people. Once a license is issued, a couple must get married within 90 days or the license is voided.
Q: Can a notary public refuse to solemnize a same-sex marriage? What about a clergy member?
A: Notaries who do not perform weddings will not be required to as of Dec. 29. Those who do perform weddings cannot discriminate on any basis, including sexual orientation.
Clergy members, under the law passed by voters Nov. 6, don’t have to perform same-sex marriages if doing so conflicts with the teachings or beliefs of their church. That provision was included in the citizens initiative to protect religious freedom, Farmer said.
Q: Can any wedding vendor (photographer, baker, florist) or venue be required to cater to same-sex couples?
A: No vendor or venue can discriminate against a couple for any reason. That was true even before the same-sex marriage law passed. In practical terms, Buonato said, many vendors will be more than happy to assist same-sex couples.
Q: Once a same-sex couple are married, can they file taxes jointly?
A: That is still undetermined.
Because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage for legal purposes as the union of one man and one woman, same-sex couples cannot file federal taxes jointly. The federal law also restricts access to Social Security and veterans’ benefits.
State taxes are another story. Some states that have passed same-sex marriage laws have allowed those couples to file taxes jointly. Maine has not made a decision, said Buonato, and the ruling ultimately will come from Maine Revenue Services.
Q: Can Maine’s same-sex marriage law be repealed or put on hold?
A: Any Maine law can be repealed, through the legislative process or through the citizens’ initiative process, although neither appears likely, according to Farmer.
Mainers approved same-sex marriage 53 percent to 47 percent, a margin wide enough to suggest that voters are unlikely to overturn it. And with Democratic majorities in the Legislature, it’s unlikely that there would be enough votes in the House and Senate to overturn the law.
Even if opponents started the process of gathering signatures to force another citizens’ initiative, the law would be in effect during that process.
More information is available at www.glad.org. A list of same-sex wedding resources is available at www.equalitymaine.org.