Gay marriage after Maine

by on November 4, 2009  •  In Elections, Marriage

As heartbreaking as it was for the people on the ground and as callous as this may sound, Maine 09 was just another move in the two steps forward, one step back dance that social change movements are. The overall strategy on marriage has been to win in enough states to create a tipping point before seeking a nationwide resolution. Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the big gamble of a case now in federal court in California, might change that strategy, but a loss in any one state won't. Instead, what comes out of Maine are little lessons that are new and big questions that are old.

The little lessons are tactical points: Heavy turn-out is not necessarily a good sign for a minority rights issue. Religiosity isn't everything (Maine is one of the four least religious states in the country). A huge fundraising advantage may be necessary but definitely is not sufficient. And we should trust only automated polling – when people respond to other people instead of to computers, a chunk of them say they will vote to legalize gay marriage, then actually cast their ballots against it.

More importantly, here are three major issues reinforced by the Maine experience as ones that people need to wrap their minds around:

+ Marriage is different. For lots of progressives and lgbt people, marriage is simply the next frontier in an expanding civil rights movement. (Personally I dissent from the view that legalizing marriage is the apex of our goals, but I digress – that's another post.) We visualize it as linear because that is how we conceptualize it. But for a huge number of other Americans (at least if they are over 35), marriage really is different. Really different. Really. Maybe our team should consider ways to acknowledge that feeling without endorsing it.

+ Time may be on our side in the long run, but in the very short run of an election campaign, time feeds doubts about jettisoning the status quo. Both in Maine and California, early polls showed the good guys winning, but that lead evaporated in the run-up to the election. Draining a swamp of fear and prejudice can't be done with a three-month campaign, even a smart one.

+ Lastly, if the post-election surveys that are about to be done (if they haven't begun already) indicate that the homosexuals-indoctrinating-children-in-schools attack was as effective in Maine as it was in California, the gay marriage forces may want to consider an inoculation against that, even if the inoculation is painful. Let parents of young children register with the school if they want to opt their children out of teacher-initiated discussions of gay marriage. Not out of discussions of gay people and their families, but solely and specifically discussions of marriage. Most parents won't do it; most teachers won't be affected. It could make a difference.


4 Responses to Gay marriage after Maine

  1. Nick November 5, 2009 at 6:02 AM

    Interesting analysis.

    Do you think that popular loss in Maine and before in California, could help arguments in the Perry case or in other cases that sexual orientation should be a suspect or quasi suspect class, because loss in those states show that gays and lesbians are a politically powerless minority?

  2. Theresa November 5, 2009 at 11:17 AM

    The “inoculation” is an intriguing idea. I hated it on first hearing, but it might be the lesser evil. Yes, it would be colluding in the stigmatization of same-sex marriage, but it would block the anti-marriage side’s (apparently) strongest argument. And after SSM is law for a few years the opt-out will probably start to look ridiculous.

  3. Nan Hunter November 5, 2009 at 11:26 AM

    To Nick -

    I agree that both the number of states where marriage for gay couples has been barred by popular vote and the contrast to the lack of a comparable degree of disempowerment for any other minority should help with that argument.

  4. Arvish November 5, 2009 at 1:10 PM

    “But for a huge number of other Americans (at least if they are over 35), marriage really is different. Really different. Really. Maybe our team should consider ways to acknowledge that feeling without endorsing it.”

    I could not agree more with this statement. As a heterosexual guy who considers his parents (in their late 50′s and early 60′s) “open-minded,” I was aghast when I find out several years ago how much of an anti-gay their values are. I say this because my parents spent a dozen years in Europe and have always steered away from religion and even to the point of being slightly anti-religion (they are agnostic by the way). So when I found out they had voted for a ban on gay marriage in our state, I was totally floored. My mother being a hair stylist even once divulged to me that she would not accept a lesbian client (argh!) even though several of his colleague are “flaming” homosexuals — oh the irony. Strangely, we living in a very conservative state and many of the local clients usually exhibit an anti-gay rhetorics but to everyone’s surprise, they “adore” these gay hair dressers or even others working in various industries; I’m talking about the church going arrant Christians.

    I have tried to have a conversation with my folks regarding gays and stunningly, I always find their reasoning extremely one dimensional and sophomoric. It usually starts with wisdom of repugnance fallacy and veers off to puerile rejection of such sexual orientation. Many times I have locked them to the corner in the discourse where it left them no other rational getaway other than to confess to their mistake but for some egotistical reason, they just discard the logical argument from the base. However, over the time, as I stab their false perceptions, I have come to the realization that they are gradually but surely making progress. At least they no longer use the “disgusting” hook as a narrative to dismiss gays and now moving on with a more philosophical reasoning which I gleefully wait to dismantle point by point.

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