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Maine Cities and Towns Gear up for Gay Marriages
12/28/2012   Reported By: Samantha Fields

At one minute after midnight tonight, the Portland city clerk's office will begin issuing the state's very first marriage licenses to gay couples. Most town offices and city halls in Maine, including Portland's, are generally closed on Saturdays. But some are making an exception this time, because it's the first day that Maine's same-sex marriage law, approved by voters in November, goes into effect. Among the couples who will be on hand in Portland tonight are Chris Kast and Byron Bartlett. Their plans to marry were dashed three years ago, when Maine voters overturned a gay marriage law that had been passed by the Legislature. Samantha Fields visited them this morning at their home in Portland.

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Byron Bartlett (left) and Chris Kast plan to be legally married when Portland City Hall opens early tomorrow morning.

Byron Bartlett and Chris Kast have been together for six years. And in their eyes - and in the eyes of their family and friends - they've been married for two-and-a-half. They were stunned by the rejection of Maine's gay marriage law by voters in 2009 - by then, they'd already started planning and getting excited for a wedding.

"So we decided we were going to have a non-wedding," Byron says, "which smelled like a wedding, tasted like a wedding and cost like a wedding."

"And it was to the point where our friends and our families and our chosen families were here," Chris says. "And so we said, 'Who cares what the majority of the state says? We care about each other, we care about our friends, and we care about our family.' And we care about making, not a political statement, but just, you know, we needed to go through with it for ourselves. And so 140 people - and we had it at the Ocean Gateway, and it was a beautiful July day. And, you know, Byron's daughters, Emily and Olivia, walked him in. My daughters, Blake and Emma, walked me in. And our dear, dear friend Louise Philbrick did the ceremony. And, you know, when she turned around she said, 'By the power vested in me by 47 percent of the voting population of the state of Maine, I now pronounce you married.'"

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Byron Bartlett (left) and Chris Kast at their 2010 "non-wedding," officiated by Louise Philbrick.  (Photo courtesy of Byron Bartlett and Chris Kast.)

Even though they feel married, that last piece - the legal piece - was missing. So when the effort to legalize gay marriage came up again, they decided to get involved. They gathered signatures to get the referendum on the ballot. They gave money to the Yes on 1 campaign. Chris knocked on doors, and shared his story with strangers.

gay marriage 2But even though things looked promising, Byron says they didn't let themselves assume anything this time. "I was scared going into the election. I was nervous about having my heart broken again," Bryon says. "And I, you know, we had the prep conversation with Olivia, just in case things didn't go the way we wanted them to go."

On election night, Byron was sick, and he fell asleep early. Chris was up, alone, glued to his iPad, watching results trickle in on Politico.

"It was about 11-ish that it came through," Chris says. "And I said, 'Hey, guess what, will you marry me again?' And then our phones lit up. Daughter in New York sends text and she called and she was in tears. She said, 'Yay, Maine, I'm so happy.' And then Emma from Vermont is texting and tweeting. 'Yes' - you know, I can't say what she said. But she did that. And friends, and our friend Louise. And it was just a really great feeling to go to sleep that night."

And now that they can, Byron and Chris feel compelled to head over to City Hall in Portland at midnight tonight to complete their union.

We're already married," Byron says. "We are an old married couple already. We act like a married couple every day. And this is just making it legal."

"And we know there are going to be some people there tonight for whom this is their wedding. And that's amazing," Chris says. "And part of me, energetically, just wants to be there and feel that energy. And there are going to be people there tonight who are married in other states who at midnight it becomes automatically legal for them. And just to feel that energy and that collective 'yeehaw' is going to be pretty cool.'

Chris and Byron are planning to arrive at City Hall at 11:00 p.m. tonight. They have no idea what they're going to wear. All four of their daughters will be there, along with their friend Louise, the notary. They will stand in line, and soak in the energy, and they will get a marriage license from the city clerk. They'll find an empty corner at City Hall, and fill out their paperwork. They will say "I do."

And this time, when Louise pronounces them married, it will be by the power vested in her by 53 percent of the voting population - and officially, legally, by the state of Maine.

Photos by Samantha Fields.



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