Dozens of gay and lesbian couples filled out domestic-partnership forms in the Maine statehouse on Friday as a state law creating a registry for those relationships took effect. "This is phenomenal. I wasn't expecting this kind of turnout," said Ralph Cusack of Portland, who registered with his partner, Butch Fenton, adding that the registration will add security to their 24-year relationship.
Besides creating a domestic-partnership registry, the new law says that if a domestic partner dies without a will, trust, or other estate planning, the surviving partner inherits the other's property. It says a domestic partner is considered next of kin, just as a spouse is, when determining who has the right to make funeral or burial arrangements. Also, a domestic partner is considered a guardian when the other partner is incapacitated. The law covers gay as well as heterosexual couples.
Some partners already have wills spelling out their wishes, so signing up in the new registry amounted to making a statement. "The state is acknowledging we have some kind of relationship, so by God, we're going to do it," said Harold Booth of Hallowell, who registered with his partner, Daniel Kelley.
Gay and lesbian couples lined up to have printed forms notarized at tables in the Hall of Flags, which was decorated with flowers and where a guitarist serenaded the couples. Some couples posed for snapshots, and a few tears were shed. Later they marched in a group across the street to the Health and Human Services Department to file their forms.
The new law will help couples who have lived together for years or even decades and incorrectly assumed they had a common-law marriage, said Lynne Williams, an attorney who notarized registry forms Friday. "There is no common-law marriage in Maine," said Williams.
The event came at a time when many states are struggling with the gay marriage issue and a little over two weeks after the U.S. Senate scuttled a proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Maine is among the states that have a Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and woman and prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. Maine's new Declaration of Domestic Partnership forms state that registration does not create a marriage between the partners. Partners must live together for at least 12 months in order to register. It also says that the form "is not a substitute for a will, a deed, or a partnership agreement." The state charges $35 fees for the registrations.