Posts Tagged ‘Maine’

Reading the Maine Marriage Equality Setback

November 4th, 2009 No comments

Let’s face it; this loss in Maine is tough to swallow. Here’s a comment from a despondent reader:

I know after some rest I’ll even out and get back to the business of living, but right now I feel very done with the ballot box, and donating, and phone-banking, and talking myself blue in the face, etc. I honestly don’t feel its proper to submit the rights of a minority to a popular vote and I’m not up for any further indignities at this time. I’m sure I’ll come around and get on with it like everyone else, but right now … I don’t know.

It’s easy to feel this way, especially after the heady victories over the past year throughout New England and in Iowa. There’s a brick wall that still hasn’t been battered down: When voters have been asked to weigh in on marriage equality, they consistently vote against us. We’d likely win in a state like Vermont, and maybe in a few other places, but we’re not there yet in most places — even, as we saw, in California or Maine. Nor is the Maine story as “spinnable” in our favor as the California narrative, because this time the equality forces outspent their opponents, and did the very kind of door-to-door campaigning that was supposed to result in victory. It’s tempting to join the reader’s pessimistic appraisal, and ask:  “What’s left to try”?

It’s fair enough to feel that way on the day after such a devastating loss. But two things seem worth saying. First, we should acknowledge that there is indeed something wrong with putting minority rights up to a vote by the majority. But of course the constitutional or, in Maine, referendum, process in many states allows just this sort of result. Judicial challenges, as we’ve seen, are risky, too. One day (not soon) the U.S. Supreme Court may put an end to this state-by-state denial of basic equality, but for now, we’re stuck with the political process. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing, as it forces us (or should) to continue to engage our neighbors about our lives, and their value.

Second, we’re pushing closer and closer to that 50% threshold. It seems right now that we’re in the 47-48% range in more socially progressive states, so we’ve not far to go. And when the (in this sense) toxic word “marriage” is taken out of the equation, we’ve now cleared that majority hurdle: It looks as though the Washington full domestic partnership ordinance will stand. This result mirrors national polls, which now consistently show a majority in favor of at least marriage-in-all but name status for same-sex couples. It’s literally the word “marriage” — and its manifold, deeply embedded religious and cultural significance for many (including same-sex couples, of course) — that keeps the wall standing.

But let’s keep this in mind: In 2009, we’re already there, in many places, on equality in all-but-name. In a few states, we’ve even crossed the barrier on marriage. In several others, we’re close. Now think about where we were a decade ago. From that perspective, our progress has been nothing short of astonishing.

As a father with two young kids, I’m determined that they grow up in a place where their family is valued. As a citizen married in all but law to my spouse, I demand equality. Nothing else will, or should, placate us. I still believe — I still know — that we will get there, and soon.

Victory in Maine Would be Monumental, However Close the Vote

November 4th, 2009 1 comment

Andrew Sullivan is wrong in saying:

“I should say this about Maine. Whoever wins this vote will do so by the slimmest of margins. I don’t think it therefore represents much of a victory for either the pro-gay or anti-gay forces. It represents an essential 50-50 split. Maybe the coming results will alter that. But all we find out from Maine is that this is a very evenly divided state on this subject.”

I couldn’t disagree more. If marriage equality holds in Maine, it will be the first time that voters, faced with a decision about marriage equality only, decided that same-sex couples were entitled to not only the same rights and privileges as they, but to the same dignity and respect, as well. And because this will have been achieved by voters — not by courts, or even by legislatures — the right’s one remaining, populist argument disappears. No longer would they be able to crow that, whenever “the people” get to vote, “traditional marriage” wins.

That’s a huge, perhaps tectonic, shift towards marriage equality.

A Few Thoughts As We Await Decisions in Maine and Washington

November 3rd, 2009 2 comments

(Some thoughts are flying around up here, and I want to get them down and disseminated quickly. So this post will be link-free, at least in its first version.)

Within the hour, we might know whether Maine voters have decided to let the marriage equality bill enacted last summer stand. Update: It appears that this will go into  the wee hours. As of about 11 pm  EST, only 22% of precincts had reported, and the vote was essentially tied. Find updates here.

Later, we’ll have an answer to the slightly less dramatic question of whether the Washington electorate (or the tiny percentage of it that votes in mid-term elections, anyway) will let stand the comprehensive civil union bill that was passed into law a few months ago, or will overturn it and thereby cause the state to revert to the slightly less generous version of civil union status that previously existed. (Still awake?)

I feel like I’ve been going on about these issues forever (I’m hardly the only one), and I sometimes find myself wondering: What’s left to say? When I read that there were literally hundreds of  people scheduled to testify on the D.C. marriage equality bill, I’ll confess that my first reaction was one of numbness.

Haven’t we already made the case? How many more tearful children of same-sex couples will need to speak to the often-subtle, but real, shame that most states continue to enforce by fencing their parents — really, the whole family — out of a basic civil right? How many more visions of apocalypse will be described and displayed by opponents? We can all see, I think, how this is going to end, so  — why isn’t it ending?

Because it’s marriage, and a (shrinking) majority of people remain uncomfortable with a change of this magnitude. Marriage equality is either radicalism dressed up as conservatism, or the other way around, and that ambiguity has both spawned endless scholarly debate and given much of  the electorate cold feet. Better, some say, to stay away from the religiously charged lightning rod of “marriage” and offer the deliberately bland “domestic partnership” or “civil union” as a supposed virtual equivalent. In a limited sense, this is a good strategy: Washington’s domestic partnership law is quite likely to pass; Prop 8 took away marriage but left full domestic partnership status in place; and both Vermont and New Hampshire used the “civil union” to grease the skids towards full marriage equality. Even in Maine, equality opponents seem ready to accept civil unions, just not “marriage.”

I won’t go on about why the whole idea of marriage-in-all-but-name is unacceptable. It suffices to say that once one’s willing to grant all of the benefits but withhold the name, what is left is pure discrimination. If you have trouble seeing this, here’s a quick thought experiment: Imagine that the proposal were to call same-sex unions “marriages” but to rename opposite-sex unions “civil unions.” Acceptable? Q.E.D.

Everyone cares about marriage because that’s the status we understand, and that’s valued. As far as gay people in committed, long-term relationships are concerned, we are married in every way that matters. We just need the law to catch up, and thereby serve its valuable symbolic and educational role in changing hearts, minds, and practices in the many everyday ways that pass unnoticed. Consider this homely example:

A couple of years ago, we  bought an unnecessarily large fridge from Sears, which should change its slogan to: Where Americans Suffer Thoughtless Customer Service Procedures. Every time our adhesive service contract comes up for renewal, whoever answers the phone is asked whether she can speak to “Mr. or Mrs. Culhane.” Every time,  we tell the voice that this is a same-sex household1 and that we’ve told them this before. The reaction: “I’m sorry, but that’s the way we are required to speak.”

Really? In 2009? Yes; and Sears is  hardly the only company from whom we’ve gotten this treatment. There’s nothing sinister about it, and it comes even at the hands of other gays: When I told my retirement portfolio counselor about my “spouse,” she then proceeded to ask a question about “her.” (When I corrected her, she quickly disclosed that she “also was gay.”)

What does any of this have to do with Maine? Plenty. If we don’t win today, soon we will. As more and more people realize that the most important political act they can take part in is to be out, out, out, our numbers, proximity, and lives will work their transformative change on an ever-swelling number of our fellow citizens. Things are moving fast, now. It took Mainers three tries to support their state legislature’s sexual orientation anti-discrimination bill. Expect the much more cutting-edge marriage bill to pass either today, or next time.

We are pushing on the wheel of history, and everyone can hear the creak.

  1. Well, we only used the italics this last time.

What Obama (Really) Thinks About Maine Question 1

October 28th, 2009 No comments

Where does Obama stand on Maine’s ballot Question 1, which, if  passed, would reject the state’s marriage equality law before it ever takes effect? As we used to be told in high school social studies class, compare and contrast:

1. In response to a question from the Advocate about his view on the referenda in Maine and Oregon:

“The President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples, and as he said at the Human Rights Campaign dinner, he believes ‘strongly in stopping laws designed to take rights away.’ Also at the dinner, he said he supports, ‘ensuring that committed gay couples have the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple in this country.’”

2. Attorney General Eric Holder, replying to essentially the same question from a reporter after an event at the University of Maine:

“[The president and I] are of the view it is for states to make these decisions. That federal law [DOMA] is not necessarily a good piece of legislation, and we are going to work to repeal it….”

What th–?

When I read the first (and earlier) quote above, I did notice that the question had been answered with the circumspection and avoidance that too often characterizes (and results in caricature of) the legal profession:  Read carefully, the statement doesn’t take a position on Question 1, because it’s not clear that a right is being “taken away.” One might argue that this case is different from California, where marriage equality was in effect — gay and lesbian couples by the thousands had married — and then taken away. Under Maine law, same-sex couples’ right to marry wasn’t, in a sense, “complete” until the date for challenging the the new statute through the referendum process had expired. So is a “right” being taken away by a Yes on 1 vote? Yes and no.

Given Holder’s more recent statement, though, it’s clear that Obama’s avoidance reflects a willfully agnostic position on Question 1. In short:  he’s not with us on this, at least not in any way that’s useful. Is anyone surprised? If we lose by a point or two, I’ll know exactly where to place the blame.

That hate crimes uplift disappeared quickly, didn’t it?

On and On and On….

October 12th, 2009 No comments

Here’s a story you likely know, at least in broad outline:

During his campaign, Obama promises progress on gay rights. Once in office, his rhetoric cools and — to be charitable — he doesn’t seem to be moving very fast. Then he makes things much worse with a dreadful brief his Justice Department files in defending the Defense of Marriage Act. Critics (including this one) erupt.

Chastened, Obama signs a memorandum extending a few lousy benefits to partners of federal employees. Then the lifting of the ban on HIV-positive travelers moves closer to reality. Hate crimes law should be a reality any day now, but other promises, like the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT)” and (especially) the Defense of Marriage Act remain just…promises.

Then, this past Saturday night, Obama headlines the gay dinner-to-end-all-dinners — the HRC soiree in DC — where he “opens” for the ubiquitous Lady Gaga.1 His speech makes more concrete (but with no timeline) his goal of repealing DADT and of passing ENDA (the federal non-discrimination law).

Some bloggers continue continue to howl. “When”? “Give us concrete times and dates!” In this vein, Andrew Sullivan titles his post on the speech “Much Worse Than I Expected.”2   Others read it differently. Nan Hunter, for example, thinks that the focus on DADT has occluded Obama’s subtle but important move towards the language of moral equality. (Her post is really worth your time; so is her blog, in general.) Sullivan would say (and has, in almost these words): “We know the man can give a great speech. Now he needs to shut up and do something.”

There’s the story. Now the question: Where to stand?

I’m trying to find some way of accommodating these two truths: First, Obama is an advocate (except on marriage). Second, so far and perhaps for good, he isn’t willing to expend much political capital on LGBT rights; so he moves slowly or (perhaps in the case of DOMA), not at all. This is advocacy in name (and soaring rhetoric) only.

Here are a few suggestions to help maintain your sanity. So far, they are working for me:

  1. Focus on the states, where marriage equality will continue to play out. Right now, Maine is hugely important. If Question 1, asking the voters to repeal the recently enacted marriage equality law, is voted down, then the right can’t argue about courts — or, weirdly, even legislatures — subverting the will of the people. Of course, some leadership from Obama wouldn’t hurt in this regard, either. (So far, silence).
  2. Be practical — not ridiculous, as in waiting for 2017 to render judgment, but realistic. If we get hate crimes and ENDA this year, as well as the regulatory repeal of the HIV travel ban, and the end of DADT next year, I’d swallow my disappointment over DOMA (not for long) and congratulate Obama on some actual accomplishments. (As I wrote here in summarizing the remarks of Chai Feldblum and others, getting legislation through Congress is tough because of the difficulty of getting their time and attention.)
  3. Continue agitating, and criticizing the Administration. Consider supporting organizations other than the HRC, at least until they can show something, anything, for their decades of black-tie fund-raising efforts.

Maybe this is too timid, maybe I’m too critical, maybe…I should go to bed.

  1. Who sang a freshly kitted-out version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that stands with the Elton John/Bernie Taupin retread of “Candle in the Wind” (to fit Princess Diana’s memorial) in the “lazy songcraft” pantheon. I’m sure the guests would rather have heard “Pokerface.”
  2. Some context is useful here. Earlier, Sullivan had leveled HRC Pres Joe Solomonese for a letter he’d sent out supporting Obama, and suggesting that we wait until 2017(!) to evaluate his Presidency. Although some of the post is needlessly incendiary (esp. the title), Sullivan was right in the essentials, and it’s hard not to read Obama’s speech in light of the HRC’s bland acceptance of almost anything he says or promises to do.