Maine was supposed to be the first. After ballot initiatives failed in thirty states, in each case translating to a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, Maine was supposed to be the first notch in the win column for gay rights advocates. Instead, it followed the herd.
Students didn't come out in the numbers expected by gay marriage advocates to support Question 1. Once again, young people are being blamed for the failure of this initiative. Perhaps the narrow margin could have been filled by the numerous liberal college students who populate the state. But with an off-year election turnout of over 50 percent of registered voters, high for any election, perhaps it is time for the middle-aged campaign organizers to look within rather than to blame those outside their inner circles.
It seemed that geography would help beat the initiative. New England states have been the most resounding supporters of same-sex marriage, if so far only through legislative and judicial action. And same-sex marriage seemingly had momentum on its side. New Hampshire and Vermont both legalized gay marriage in the last year, with Maine passing legislation soon after.
Gay rights advocates had time and money on their side. They have been active on this issue in Maine since Massachusetts started allowing gay marriage in 2004. Conservative groups have only put significant money into the state this calendar year, in order to support this particular ballot item. Gay rights groups outspent conservatives two to one, but the rejection of gay marriage in Maine has filled the coffers of conservative groups.
Until Tuesday, Maine had same-sex marriage. Against all odds and projections, the voters took it away.
Gay advocacy groups such as the Human Rights Campaign set high hopes for this election and are now trying to forestall fallout similar to that from the California Prop 8 debacle last year. At the recent gay-rights march in Washington, D.C., in October, many of the speakers called for an all-hands-on-deck approach in Maine, making gay marriage in one state the sole focus of this election.
The saddest part of the battle for gay rights is that marriage is at the center of what those rights mean, even when there are so many other issues that unify both gay and straight communities.
Many gay rights advocates have challenged Obama for not addressing gay issues in the first year of his term. Obama's focus has been on health care, which is one of the most pressing problems for the gay community. Gay youth are more prone to suicide and drug and alcohol addiction, and gay girls are as likely to become pregnant as their straight peers. Same-sex couples don't necessarily get covered under one partner's policy. Just because gays share some of the same issues as straights doesn't mean we are being ignored.
My greatest question about this is why people who care about gay rights keep putting gay marriage legislation up to a vote, and then futilely hoping for victory. We aren't getting brownie points for effort. We keep losing and wasting our money on campaigns that don't have a historical basis for hope.
The problem with the gay rights movement right now is that it is too idealistic, and is looking towards the wrong ideals to guide it. A cursory glance back at American history shows that progressive change does not come through the voters. It is almost always imposed on the voters, or on a significant portion of the voters, to their utter dismay before that dismay turns to acceptance.
Slavery was forcibly abolished in the South despite massive opposition. Women's suffrage came through legislative action, despite widespread protest and almost a century of building momentum for a constitutional revision. Civil rights were also legislative initiatives, and school desegregation and interracial marriage were both judicially imposed. Abortion was legalized through judicial action years before the majority of Americans believed that it was a woman's right.
Democracy is about protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority. The majority voting to repress a minority goes against the spirit of the Constitution. All this demonstrates is the failure of the American Republic to protect the rights of all its citizens in a fundamental way. Representative democracy provides a structure in which many sets of values should be able to coexist.
Obama promised during his campaign to fight for equality, but we need to be fighting, too. The gay rights community is not monolithic: resources need to be allocated in a way that represents the diverse needs of a diverse community to achieve results rather than become rhetoric for a future campaign.
Susannah Kroeber '11 really wants to party it up at a post-election gay marriage celebration.