It’s rare that the country gets too worked up about voting in Maine. Though sometimes referred to as a “battleground state,” it’s mostly an honorary title: we’ve gone Democratic in every presidential election since 1992; our party caucuses are too late and light on delegates to interest anybody besides Ron Paul.
But in 2009, we had our moment in the sun. Maine had a choice between two landmark results: would we be the first state to ratify gay marriage by popular vote? Or would we be the first to say “thanks, but no thanks” to our legislature’s attempt at establishing equality between gay and straight relationships in the eyes of the law?
Unfortunately, Maine opted for the latter, by a 53 percent majority.
There was a long, ugly, well-funded campaign to paint a picture in Mainers’ minds of the hellscape the state would become after legalizing gay marriage. Little children, claimed a series of melodramatic TV commercials, would be made aware of gay marriage in schools. The horror.
There is no denying that this debate comes at a crucial intersection of freedoms in a diverse society. On one hand, the people are being heard, in state after state where it has come up for a vote, and they are rejecting the idea that gay couples have an equal place in society as straight couples. The idea genuinely offends some people, and it’s their right to be offended.
So why are gay rights activists and civil liberties groups, among others, gearing up to push the issue once again in 2012? The previous result was simply a contemptible one, majority vote or not. Rather than reflecting the increasing acceptance of gay people and gay couples, the anti-gay marriage lobby achieves its ends by clouding the issue as it passes through the public square.
The emphasis always lands on a perceived threat to the innocence of children. The idea is always to equate the visibility and/or recognition of gay and lesbian couples with their private sex lives, it’s a nasty double standard that becomes very hard for the pro-gay marriage forces to address without benefiting their opposition.
At the same time, some conservatives in Maine say they’re willing to bend on creating a separate class of “civil unions” for gay couples, with some of the same benefits and protections as marriage. This is being rejected, and rightly so. Gay couples in Maine deserve to be recognized and respected every bit as much as straight couples, and a separate, lesser designation falls well short of that goal.
Surely there will be people and communities that will never give them this respect. But they’re fighting for respect under the law, not in every household or church. Right now our government makes certain legal considerations towards couples and families; gay couples and their families are real, deserving of the same considerations, and we hope that the next massive and bitter act of denial on the part of conservative groups will be seen for what it is this time out.
The Free Press supports the efforts of EqualityMaine and associated groups in taking on this rough battle once more. We also encourage our readers to participate in what is likely to be another very heated and influential debate.
The above column is endorsed by the editorial board of The Free Press. It does not necessarily represent the views of all writers and contributors.