AUGUSTA, Maine — Same-sex couples from around the state urged Maine lawmakers to pass a bill that would allow them to marry, while opponents asked that it be rejected. A hearing is being held today before the Judiciary Committee at the Augusta Civic Center.

 Supporters outnumbered opponents roughly four to one as the legislative hearing got under way about 9:30 a.m. About 3,000 people filled the auditorium.

Click here to listen to the live testimony.

Kate and Erica Quin-Easter of Stockholm said they have done everything they can do under the law to protect each other. They even were married in Massachusetts five years ago but that union is not recognized in Maine.

  “During the past 10 years with lots of pieces of paper we’ve proven our commitment to each other over and over again,” Erica Quin-Easter said. “It’s time the state of Maine recognized our marriage.”

  In addition to LD 1020, committee members also were scheduled to heard testimony on LD 1118 that would extend to people registered on the state’s domestic partner registry the same rights and benefits as those who are married but would stop short of creating civil unions. Rep. Leslie Fossel, R-Alna, the sponsor of the bill did not attend the hearing and no one spoke in favor of or against it during the morning session.

  Bishop Richard Malone, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, on behalf of the state’s 200,000 Catholics urged the legislature “to support traditional marriage and vote against LD 1020.”

  “Let me be clear,” he said, “our objection to same-sex marriage is not based on a belief that gay and lesbian Mainers are somehow undeserving of civil rights because of their sexual orientation. We speak in opposition to same-sex marriage because we are deeply concerned about the institution of marriage itself – in this state and in this nation.

  “Marriage as practiced in America today falls short of its ideals,” he said. “But redefining it will make our problems worse, not better.”

  Bev Uhlenhake of Brewer told the committee she was afraid to tell her beloved grandfather, a devoted Catholic, that she and her partner, Sue Mitchell Ulenhake, had a commitment ceremony in 2006, the same year he marked his 60th wedding anniversary.

  “At their quite large anniversary party, Grandpa gave me ‘the look’ and told me he had a few words for me,” she told the committee. “I may be a grown woman, but the look and words shook me to the core. I knew I was in trouble.

  “At the end of the afternoon, Grandpa caught up with me,” she continued. “He said, ‘I understand you and Sue got married.

  “’Yes’, I said.

  “’Well, bless ol’ Miss Mitchell,’ he said, with tears in his eyes. ‘That’s great news.’”

   Uhlenhake’s grandfather, Ben Droesch, died last year so he would not be able to see them married if LD 1020 is passed. She “begged” the committee to allow her grandfather to see them married “from heaven.”

  “He and my grandmother may not understand homosexuality, but they do understand love and commitment, and that your husband or wife is the most important partner in life,” she concluded. “We want to show our son what a partnership like theirs is like. We want him to learn, by example, how to treat someone with love, respect and caring. We want him to have the same sort of comfort that comes from that binding commitment that is marriage.”

  The Uhlenhake’s one-year-old son is named for Ben Droesch, she told the committee.

  The pastor of Franklin Baptist Church in Franklin told the committee that he shared the perspective of most Mainers, many of whom did not attend the hearing.

  “I am not motivated by hate or homophobia,” the Rev. Steve Sobel, pastor of the Franklin church said. “It’s my good old Down East common sense and my God-given love for those that want it to pass that led me to be here today to oppose the bill.”

   The minister said that God had ordained the union between men and women. Sobel called sex between members of the same sex as a “perversion.”

  “To redefine this sacred assembly, which what LD 1020 would do, would be to moralize and justify a perversion,” Sobel said. “Perversion is not a hateful word and those of us who truly love God don’t hate people who are different from us. The concept of same-sex marriage is nothing less than an assault on God’s design for humanity. Nothing is scared if the institution is on the chopping block.”