AUGUSTA — In September 1670, Daniel Stone and Patience Goodwin registered their intention to marry with the Kittery town clerk.

Town records show their names, the date and the name of the bride’s father, said Deputy Town Clerk Kathryn Pridham. It’s one of the earliest marriage records held by a Maine town, although at the time, Kittery was part of Massachusetts. In another 150 years — 1820 — Maine would become its own state.

When voters go to the polls in November, they will decide whether they want to let gay couples follow the same process followed by heterosexual couples for centuries. Go to the town clerk, file an intention to marry, find a clergy member or justice of the peace, hold a ceremony, and become legally married.

When Secretary of State Charlie Summers reworded the question for the Nov. 6 ballot, he added a reference specifically to marriage licenses: “Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?”

At one level or another, government has been in the marriage business since state legislators first approved a marriage law in 1821.

“An Act for Regulating Marriage, and for the Orderly Solemnization Thereof” forbids the marriage of relatives, such as “no woman shall marry her husband’s daughter’s son,” and prohibited white people from marrying any “Negro, Indian or Mulatto.” (That prohibition was repealed in 1883.)

It gave the governor the power to decide who could perform marriages, including ordained ministers and justices of the peace. It laid out the process for getting married in a religious ceremony and for those who chose not to make religion a part of their marriage.

“All persons desiring to be joined in marriage, shall have such their intentions published at three public religious meetings, on different days … in the town or plantation wherein they respectively dwell; or shall have their intentions of marriage posted up by the Clerk of such town or plantation, fourteen days in some public place,” it reads.

It required all ministers and justices to report to the town each April a record of any marriages they performed.

In 1892, cities and towns were required to start reporting marriages to the state. One of the earliest marriage records on file at the Maine State Archives shows the union of John E. Smith, 24, of Jonesborough, and Edeth Lamson, 18, of Jonesport. The double-sided card asked the bride and groom to record their “color” — both listed white — their occupation and whether it’s their first marriage. They were married by a justice of the peace on May 21, 1892.

On the back of the card, they list information about their parents.

While lawmakers have made various changes to the marriage laws in more recent times, the last major change adopted came in 1997. That’s when lawmakers adopted language submitted through a citizen initiative to explicitly ban same-sex marriage and to add language about traditional marriage.

State law now reads: “The union of one man and one woman joined in traditional monogamous marriage is of inestimable value to society; the State has a compelling interest to nurture and promote the unique institution of traditional monogamous marriage in the support of harmonious families and the physical and mental health of children; and that the State has the compelling interest in promoting the moral values inherent in traditional monogamous marriage.”

State lawmakers and Gov. John Baldacci approved a law in 2009 to allow same-sex marriage, but voters repealed it by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.

The citizen initiative before voters this November would leave the traditional marriage language intact, but would add:

“Marriage is the legally recognized union of 2 people. Gender-specific terms relating to the marital relationship or familial relationships must be construed to be gender-neutral for all purposes throughout the law, whether in the context of statute, administrative or court rule, policy, common law or any other source of civil law.”

It also adds a religious exemption that would not require religious leaders to perform same-sex marriages, and it states that refusal to host a marriage cannot affect the tax-exempt status of the religious institution.

Finally, it strikes the prohibition against same-sex marriage.

Back in 1821, lawmakers also prepared for what sometimes comes after marriage by approving the next chapter of law: “An Act Regulating Divorces.”

Susan Cover — 621-5643

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.