AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - The Rev. Thomas Bruce, pastor of the Assembly of God Church in Dover-Foxcroft, drew exclamations of "Amen" as he presented himself as living proof that homosexuals can abandon their lifestyle and have a traditional, man-and-wife marriage.
Margaret Fournier of Portland said her 25-year relationship with her female partner is as strong as any heterosexual marriage. But she said the couple, who have a daughter, are denied the rights of marriage.
The two witnesses represented the extremes as a legislative committee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill to ban same-sex marriages.
About 300 people attended the session, which at times seemed more like a prayer meeting than a hearing. Bible verses condemning homosexuality were read to the Judiciary Committee, and the word "Amen" punctuated addresses by supporters.
The proposal would ban same-sex marriages in Maine and direct the state to refuse to recognize those performed in other states. It's advanced by Concerned Maine Families, which led an unsuccessful 1995 campaign to restrict gay rights in Maine.
The leader of both initiatives, Carolyn Cosby, said gay activists want to "de-construct traditional marriages" as part of a quest to gain special minority status.
Bruce, the fundamentalist pastor, said gay marriages are part of a homosexual agenda that threatens to "destroy the moral fabric of the nation."
The 46-year-old preacher said he was a homosexual from his childhood until eight years ago. He now has three children with his wife of seven years, Rhonda.
"Fidelity is taken very lightly in the gay lifestyle," Rhonda Bruce told the committee. She called the homosexual lifestyle "a lie from the pit of hell."
But a Presbyterian minister, Rev. Marvin M. Ellison, a Christian ethics professor at Bangor Theological Seminary, said the bill is unnecessary, reflects prejudice and will harm the institution of marriage.
"In an increasingly diverse society, some families are formed by same-gender families," he said in prepared remarks.
Fournier said she and her partner have a relationship that "is as strong and spiritual and loving as any heterosexual marriage. We absolutely live as a married couple, but we are disallowed the rights and responsibilities of marriage."
Also opposing the ban is the Maine Civil Liberties Union. President William Coogan said that when the state attempts to write someone's definition of marriage into law, "it can make grave mistakes."
Social definitions of marriage change from generation to generation, said Coogan, who cited a Virginia law that forbade the marriage of mixed-race couples even in the late 1950s.
The Maine Women's Lobby also opposes the ban, saying it would be unfair to gay and lesbian citizens and would harm efforts to build strong communities.
While the Legislature usually sends initiated bills on to a public vote, that might not happen in this case.
An informal poll of Judiciary Committee members last week shows most would just as soon enact the law, and Sen. Susan Longley, co-chairwoman of the Judiciary panel, said she thinks the whole Legislature will follow suit.
Longley, D-Liberty, said she expects to vote against the ban.
Gov. Angus King has said he would probably not oppose the same-sex marriage ban, although he doesn't consider it front-burner issue.
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