And then there were five

AND THEN THERE WERE FIVE…. Both chambers of the state legislature Maine passed a bill allowing gay marriage, but it was unclear whether the state’s Democratic governor, John Baldacci, would sign the measure into law. Baldacci was on record opposing gay marriage, but did he feel strongly enough to veto a bill endorsed by the state’s democratically elected lawmakers?

Fortunately, no. The bill became law this morning.

Gov. John Baldacci on Wednesday signed a gay marriage bill passed just hours before by the Maine Legislature.

Baldacci made his announcement within an hour of the Maine Senate giving its final approval to LD 1020. The Senate voted 21-13 in favor of the measure after a short debate.

“In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions,” Governor Baldacci said in a written 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.”

The House of Representatives gave its approval on a 89-57 vote Tuesday.

Maine is now the fifth state to approve marriage equality. Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Iowa did so through the courts, and Maine joins Vermont as the two states to approve gay marriage through the legislative process.

Four of New England’s six states now allow gay marriage, which suggests to me that New Hampshire and Rhode Island really need to get on the ball.

As the right continues to lose these fights, the defeats in Vermont and Maine have to be especially difficult. Conservatives had argued that marriage equality lacked legal legitimacy because it was being “forced” through the courts. That argument disappears when state lawmakers choose to pass these laws, not because of an order from a judge, but because they realize it’s the right thing to do.

The debate has shifted — politically, legally, culturally, morally. The number of Americans who would deny the right to marry to consenting adults is shrinking — quickly. Social norms relating to respect and equality for all are experiencing a sea change, and the old way simply isn’t coming back.

It’s a development Americans can be proud of. Kudos, Maine.