Mayor Brennan calls for marriage equality on MLK Day

Michael Brennan (BDN file photo by John Clarke Russ)

The issue of gay marriage in Maine resurfaced again today during the Portland NAACP’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast, during which Portland Mayor Michael Brennan told attendees that one of the three things they should fight for in the coming year is marriage equality.

(The other two things were to battle proposed MaineCare cuts and make sure every high school student graduates.)

Brennan, a high profile voice by virtue of having recently become the first popularly elected mayor in Maine’s largest city since 1923, said:

The title of this event is ‘What does equity look like in Maine?’ Equity in Maine looks like passing a law that allows marriage equality.

The issue may return to voters again this year, as gay marriage supporters have reportedly gathered enough signatures to put the question on the ballot.

While Brennan seemed to get a positive response at the Portland event for his marriage equality sentiment today, associating — even tenuously — the ongoing struggle of gays in America with the civil rights movement in which Dr. King became an icon has not been a universally embraced move nationwide.

Frank Bruni, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote in the fall about the complicated dynamics in race, religion and sexual orientation. In his column, Bruni wrote that the clear majority of black voters polled in New York and Maryland during same-sex marriage campaigns signaled opposition to allowing gay marriages.

Speaking in part about the situation in Maryland — where Pastor Emmett Burns, a Democrat in the House of Delegates, successfully helped defeat a bill legalizing same-sex marriages — former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond told Bruni religion compels many in the state’s black community to speak against gay marriage. Bond, who has appeared in television advertisements advocating for same-sex marriages, said to Bruni: “This is a community composed of many Biblical literalists,” adding that such opponents derive “wrong and wrong-headed” justifications for opposing homosexuality from the Bible.

There are many same-sex marriage opponents in Maine and elsewhere who might argue that their interpretation of the Bible is not “wrong-headed.” Folks come out pretty passionately on both sides of this one.

Here’s another couple of paragraphs excerpted from Bruni’s column that are interesting:

Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, noted the existence of phrases like “gay is the new black” and said that attempts to equate the persecution of gay and black Americans can be “deeply offensive.”

African-Americans were enslaved. And during their brutal struggle for justice, they couldn’t make a secret of what set them apart from others, said Henderson, who supports same-sex marriage, during a phone interview Friday.

When gay men and lesbians glide over such details, he said, it feels “inherently disrespectful to the black experience in this country.”

It’s important to say here that Brennan did not compare the 1960s civil rights movement with today’s push to legalize gay marriage in Maine, outside of saying it falls under the general category of “equity in Maine.” Still, as Bruni wrote, discussing gay marriage at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event can be a complicated step.

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Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.