In May, Maine became the fifth state to approve marriage equality, and only the second state to approve gay marriage through the legislative process. Yesterday, sadly, a narrow majority of Maine voters turned back the clock.
In a stinging setback for the national gay-rights movement, Maine voters narrowly decided to repeal the state's new law allowing same-sex marriage.
With 87 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday morning, 53 percent of voters had approved the repeal, ending an expensive and emotional fight that was closely watched around the country as a referendum on the national gay-marriage movement. Polls had suggested a much closer race.
With the repeal, Maine became the 31st state to reject same-sex marriage at the ballot box. Five other states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont — have legalized same-sex marriage, but only through court rulings and legislative action.
The Maine vote was particularly discouraging for gay-rights groups because it took place in New England, the region that has been the most open to same-sex marriage, and because opponents of the repeal had far outspent backers.
The results showed a very strong urban-rural divide, with the initiative being rejected by a margin of about 2:1 in Portland but racking up big margins in smaller towns and rural areas, especially in the north of the state.
I'm sure my nephews and niece in Maine are disappointed. While most of them couldn't vote, it was clear (if their Facebook statuses are any indication) of their emotional investment. Their uncle, also a Mainer, is an openly gay man; he and their grandmother bucked the Catholic Church to make this pro-marriage equality ad.
Hopefully, my nephews and nieces are wise beyond their years of life experience. The arc of history is long, but ultimately — ultimately – it bends towards justice. Ten years ago, a vote like this would have probably gotten only 25% support for marriage equality. Twenty-five years ago, television stations would never have even aired their grandmother's ad. And forty years ago, their uncle's sexual preference probably couldn't be openly discussed or accepted in Maine.
On the other hand, my sister's kids need only look to their classmates to see the future of Maine. In five to ten years, these kids will be voters, and — yes — the issue will come back again. With a different result. That's the way these things work. All the Catholic Church and homophobes did was kick the can down the road for a few years.[UPDATE: Want more evidence that the younger generation gets it? Here's the tally on "Question No 1" from the University of Maine at Orono: 81% No, 19% yes]
In the meantime, there are signs all over the places that the bigotry against gays is becoming a dinosaur. In Washington state, voters moved the state closer to marriage equality by passing a referendum allowing for domestic partnership laws (which Maine already has for gay couples, despite the loss yesterday). Voters in Kalamazoo, Mich., approved an amendment to extend the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to include LGBT people. In Houston, lesbian mayoral candidate Annise Parker secured a spot in the runoff by capturing about 30 percent of the vote in a four-way race. And in Chapel Hill, NC, an openly gay candidate was elected mayor. None of these things were even imaginable when I was the age of my nephews and niece. The arc of history and all…..