Maine says yes to pot, no to same-sex marriage
If you’re like me, you were holding your breath and hoping that marriage equality would win the day in Maine on November 4. It didn’t. Mainers voted 53% in favor of repealing a law recently passed and signed by their Governor that granted marriage to same-sex couples. On the flip(pant) side: they did legalize distribution of medical marijuana. It’s not that I think these issues are related but they were on the same ballot (giving me an easy title for this blog post).
Marriage equality came to Maine through legislative action, distinguishing the campaign from the court fight it took to pass marriage in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Unfortunately, like the 30 states before it, when Maine’s residents had a chance to vote on the issue, they voted down the right of its citizens to choose a same-sex partner for marital bliss. The national news analysis (strangely less visible than you’d think) noted that Maine’s most populous city, Portland, overwhelmingly came out against the repeal of same-sex marriage but it was those “conservative regions to the north (http://www NULL.nytimes NULL.com/2009/11/05/us/politics/05maine NULL.html)” that could not be swayed.
While voting patterns can tell us something about where to take the fight (i.e., “regions to the north” in Maine), they can’t tell us how we might need to re-define what we’re fighting for when we’re working out in the country (punned intended).
Let me clarify: When we struggle over marriage equality (whether fought state-by-state or on the national stage) our strategies suggest that winning is a matter of clarifying our message and delivering it (personally) to folks who haven’t thought about our rights before. But, I’d argue, we also need to translate why our issues might (or should) matter to someone who sees LGBT life as strictly a city (or white or upper class) thing.
One of the most important moves LGBT rights advocates can do now is not just assess whether we need to shift from a state-by-state approach to a Federal frontal attack of the Defense of Marriage Act. We also need to ask why we find it so difficult to imagine doing both. To win in states like Maine (or states like Kentucky, Indiana, or Tennessee, discussed in Out in the Country), we have to engage rural communities and others we have long seen as an “immovable middle,” and reckon with the complicated questions they are asking like “Are we talking about the same thing when we talk about the meaning of family and marriage?” “Are we prepared to make a case for why young people should learn about same-sex couples in schools?” And, most pressing, “how will supporting marriage equality address basic needs and political goals in communities where struggles for equality are far from over for the majority of residents?”
This is the next stage of our struggle. What can we do to struggle effectively? Stay tuned as I hash out some innovative strategies from conversations with the folks I meet on the Queer Country Book Tour (next stop: A Different Light Bookstore in San Francisco’s Castro District, Thursday November 19, 7:30 p.m.)…come join the conversation?