Maine takes step toward approving gay marriage

BOSTON (Reuters) - The lower house of the Maine state legislature passed a bill on Tuesday that takes the northeasternmost U.S. state a step closer to being the fifth in the nation to allow same-sex marriage.

Two men walk hand in hand outside the California Supreme Court during a Proposition 8 demonstration in San Francisco, California in this file photo from March 5, 2009. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Maine’s Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted 89 to 57 to enact the proposal.

The bill now returns to the state Senate, which has previously approved it. If it passes there it will be brought to the governor for his signature.

Governor John Baldacci once opposed gay marriage but in April said he is keeping an open mind on the issue.

“Marriage is not just a bundle of rights, but is dignity and respect; it is full and equal citizenship; it represents a future of hope for gay and lesbian youth,” said Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which has been lobbying for approval of same-sex marriage across the New England region. “We are hopeful that Governor Baldacci is hearing this, too.”

Opponents of the bill in the rural state of 1.3 million people did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont in the Northeast and

Iowa in the Midwest have already legalized gay marriage, and New Hampshire’s state senate last month approved a gay marriage bill.

Were New Hampshire and Maine to pass laws allowing gay marriage, Rhode Island, the nation’s smallest state, would be the only New England state not to allow it.

The Washington, D.C. city council on Tuesday voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where those unions are legal, although gay marriages can’t be conducted in the city itself. The measure must still be signed by Mayor Adrian Fenty, who supports gay marriage, and then reviewed by Congress. Because the U.S. capital is not a state, Congress has the authority to amend or repeal any legislation approved by the city government.

Editing by Jason Szep and Cynthia Osterman