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This is Governor John Baldacci.

On Wednesday, Maine became the fifth State in the country to recognize same-sex marriage.

The bill, An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom, came to my desk with strong support in the Maine House, the Maine Senate and among Maine people. With my signature, the bill became a law.

Since this legislation was first introduced, I followed the debate closely.

I have listened to law makers as they have debated the issue.

I have read many notes and letters sent to my office, and I have weighed my decision carefully.

I also appreciate the tone brought to this debate.

This is a very emotional issue that touches deeply many of our most important ideals and traditions.

There are good, earnest and honest people on both sides of the question.

So I did not come to this decision lightly or in haste.

In the past, I have opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions.

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 a civil marriage.

Article I in the Maine Constitution states that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of that person’s civil rights or be discriminated against.”

My responsibility is to uphold the Constitution and do, as best as possible, what is right. That is the oath that I have taken as Governor.

The new law does not force any religion to recognize 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 our civil marriage laws, and that is the responsibility of government.

I know that this may not be the final word on the issue.

The ultimate political power in the State belongs to the people.

As momentous as a week as it has been, we can’t forget that the Legislature still has important work to be done.

A week ago, I presented a plan to close a $569 million budget gap created by this global recession.

This is an additional $300 - $400 million cut that was on top of a budget earlier this year I presented which was $200 million less than its predecessor.

The plan includes many tough choices, but I believe it is fair and reasonable. It asks almost everyone to do their part without asking any group to carry too much of the burden.

The plan protects our economy and our most vulnerable citizens while making strategic investments for the future.

There’s a lot of pressure and a lot of difficult decisions to make, but we must move quickly.

Without action, many families and businesses in Maine will suffer unnecessarily.

This week will surely be remembered for the stand Maine has taken to breakdown inequality. But we can’t rest. Work continues. More must be done.

And also, Sunday is a very special day. To all the Maine mothers out there, have a very Happy Mother’s Day.

Thank you very much.

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