Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009, the state of Maine witnessed a political battle over gay marriage that attracted funds and attention from all over the United States.

The issue was Referendum No. 1 — Should the people of the state of Maine, i.e., the citizens of the state of Maine, repeal the law passed by the Legislature to permit marriage of persons of the same sex (gay marriage).

If the issue was not confusing, certainly the referendum could not have been more confusing in terms of wording.

If you supported gay marriage, you voted no. A no vote was to keep the existing law as passed by the Legislature in effect. It opposed the referendum wishing to repeal same-sex marriage.

If you voted yes, you supported the referendum to repeal the law.

With all the publicity, it is probable that most voters knew that no meant yes and yes meant no.  Voters had also been bombarded with so much information and misinformation, that they should have been aware of what their vote meant.

The people of the state of Maine voted to repeal same sex marriage — 53 percent voted yes and 47 percent voted no. As a result, the gay marriage law was repealed.

What was not discussed and should have been discussed were the provisions of Public Law No. 104-199, 110 Statute 2419. The provisions were codified as 1 USC § 7 and 28 USC § 1738C.

The law was passed under the Clinton administration and signed in to law by Bill Clinton on Sept. 21, 1996. The vote on the bill in the Senate was 85-14, and the vote in the U.S. House of Representatives was 342-67. The bill went through with little notice and almost no fanfare.

The essence of the bill is that United States federal government does not recognize marriages of same-sex couples, and the government is prohibited from recognizing the marriage under the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, is a federal law that  provides as follows: 1. No state (or other political subdivision within the United States) shall treat a relationship between persons of the same sex as a marriage, even if the relationship is considered a marriage in another state; 2. the federal government defines marriage as a legal union exclusively between one man and one woman.

The Defense of Marriage Act is a federal statute that would preclude Maine’s law or any other state’s law from having couples of same-sex marriage participate in the Social Security system, file jointly under the IRS code, or reap benefits as married couples under any federal benefit program.

It was odd this statute was not mentioned during the debate in Maine. For those who were concerned about gay marriage giving unreasonable and unlimited rights, those persons would be comforted in knowing that it would have no affect whatsoever on federal rights and remedies.

Those who are opposed to gay marriage would have had the comfort of knowing if the Maine statute had not been reversed, the gay marriage law would only affect the rights of the individuals within the state of Maine and would not have any federal or out-of-state effect.

I have taken no position on Referendum 1 and I do not intend to do so. Even though I am coming “from the right,” I believe the gay marriage issue is worthy of consideration and it is appropriate for it to again be considered by the Legislature. Accordingly, I also believe the people have the right, again, to pursue their views by referendum, however the Legislature decides.

The issue of gay couples getting Social Security rights was all bogus. The impact on the Social Security fund as a result of same-sex couples being married was a nonexistent issue.

What will be interesting to see is the impact on the new Legislature. Certain legislators voted to pass the gay marriage bill and the public repealed the law. Legislators from districts that heavily voted yes will have a lot of dancing to do before they can get re-elected in November 2010. Could the legislators have gotten too far out in front of the Maine citizenry?

The aftermath of Question No. 1 remains to be seen.

Sumner Lipman has practiced law as a trial lawyer for more than 40 years and is a member of the Augusta law firm Lipman, Katz & McKee.