BANGOR, Maine - Maine Gov. John Baldacci on Tuesday urged residents to vote against repealing the state's same-sex marriage law while acknowledging his past opposition to gay marriage.
With one week remaining before a vote, Baldacci said he once preferred civil unions to gay marriages.
"I came to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage," said Baldacci, who signed the bill recognizing same-sex marriages after the Legislature passed it last May.
When he ran for re-election in 2006, the Democratic governor defended actions the state had taken toward ensuring equality for same-sex couples.
"I support Maine's domestic partner registry for committed same-sex couples. I don't support changing Maine statutes to recognize same-sex marriage. That isn't a fight Maine needs now," Baldacci said then.
At the news conference Tuesday, Baldacci said he did not arrive at his decision to support gay marriage "lightly or in haste."
"My responsibility as governor is to uphold the Constitution and do, as best as possible, what is right. I believe that signing the legislation was the right thing to do," he said, flanked by supporters of the NO on 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins takes no positions on state referendum questions, a spokesman said.
Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe released a statement saying she was one of 85 senators who voted in 1996 in support of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined for the purpose of federal law that marriage is between one man and one woman.
"Under DOMA, it is left to individual states through the legislature or referenda to make their own determinations on this very personal issue - and the people of Maine will now make this final determination come Election Day," the statement said.
Second District Rep. Michael Michaud, a Democrat, said in a statement that Maine residents "don't like to be told how to vote by politicians." He said he considered it "appropriate" that the voters would decide the outcome of gay marriage in the state.
A leader of Stand for Marriage Maine, which supports a repeal of the gay marriage law, said Maine's politicians have had their chance to speak on the issue.
"Now they just need to step aside and let the people make their decision," the Rev. Bob Emrich said. He added that Baldacci's change of heart on the issue demonstrates how complex and confusing it is.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.