FREEPORT, Maine (AP) — Had Tuesday’s gay marriage referendum failed, Sarah Dowling planned to burn the wedding dress that’s been hanging in her closet.
Instead, she’s dusting it off with plans to marry her partner of 18 years. With same-sex marriage soon to be legal in Maine, they hope to have a church wedding next spring and have their love for each other put on par with heterosexual couples who have always been allowed to marry.
Dowling, 54, and her 57-year-old partner, Linda Wolfe, feel their commitment has now been validated in the eyes of society and the state. They've felt married for years in most ways — they own a home with two dogs and a cat, they have an 11-year-old daughter, they volunteer at school, they’re active in church — except the legal one.
Dowling ordered the wedding dress last spring and kept her fingers crossed. When Wolfe learned about the dress, she asked a simple question.
‘‘She said, ‘Well, honey, what are we going to do if we lose?'’’ Dowling said in their Freeport home, 15 miles north of Portland. ‘‘I said we'll have a big party with a bon fire, and we'll burn it.’’
Before Tuesday, same-sex marriage had been rejected in all 32 states that held popular votes on the issue.
The effective date of the Maine law will be set after the vote is certified and the governor signs a proclamation. It will go into effect no later than Jan. 5, according to the secretary of state’s office.
In the meantime, gays and lesbians around Maine are beginning to think about when and where they'll be exchanging vows.
Jim Bishop, 65, and Steve Ryan, 59, expect to get married on or around Sept. 25, which would mark the 38th anniversary of their relationship. They live in Saco, where they own a property management company together.
They have to figure out how big the wedding will be and where to go on a honeymoon, Bishop said. He likes the idea of Paris, where they spent time while traveling through Europe when they were first together.
Having Mainers give their stamp of approval to gay marriage is as important as the marriage certificate itself, Bishop said.
‘‘Ten years ago I wasn’t seriously interested in marriage because I figured it would never be possible and we'd never get there,’’ he said.
In Hallowell, Brenda Adler and Melody Main are also planning for a church wedding next spring. The pair has been together for 18 years and own a property management business.
After 2009, when voters overturned a gay marriage law passed by the Legislature, many same-sex couples shied away from talking about wedding plans until the election was over.
With the law now passed, Adler and Main are ready to begin making plans. Adler, 60, was married twice before, to men, and has a 36-year-old daughter.
Adler and Main had a non-legal wedding ceremony at a church in 1995. They wore tuxedos then and may do so again.
With the new law, gays will no longer feel like second-class citizens, Adler said.
‘‘There’s the respectability component where you can come out to people and say we’re married,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s not just for straight people any more, we’re equal.’’