Legislation which will allow same-sex marriage in Maine has been signed by the American state’s governor John Baldacci following its earlier passing in the House of Representatives.

Balducci had previously been against gay marriage, but said in a statement: “I have come 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.

“I have followed closely the debate on this issue. I have listened to both sides, as they have presented their arguments during the public hearing and on the floor of the Maine Senate and the House of Representatives. I have read many of the notes and letters sent to my office, and I have weighed my decision carefully. I did not come to this decision lightly or in haste.

“This new law does not force any religion to recognise a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs. It does not require the church to perform any ceremony with which it disagrees. Instead, it reaffirms the separation of Church and State. It guarantees that Maine citizens will be treated equally under Maine’s civil marriage laws, and that is the responsibility of government,” Balducci said.

The conservative Maine Marriage Alliance warned that if Baldacci signed the bill it would press for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese responded to the signing in a statement: “Congratulations to Gov. John Baldacci, Senator Dennis Damon, and Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree for making sure all loving, committed couples in Maine, and their families, will have equal rights and responsibilities under state law, and congratulations to Equality Maine for the hard work it has done over the years to make today a reality.”

Maine has now joined Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont to become the fifth American state to recognise gay marriage.

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