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Why Maine Matters

October 31st, 2009 1 comment

Winter has already come to parts of Maine. In the ominously named “Caribou,” several inches of snow have already fallen, and the western part of the state has  experienced a “wintry mix” – which sounds like a snack from a bad holiday party.

So spare a thought for the ground warriors up there, slogging through this mess in their door-to-door campaign to tip the very tight race on gay marriage in their favor. That’s a good tactic in a small state, but really: Who cares? Why have millions of dollars come cascading into the state in an effort to influence this question? It turns out that more is at stake here than most people realize.

First, some background: This past May, a marriage equality bill was signed into law. But Maine law allows citizens the “People’s Veto,” whereby a small percentage of citizens can ask their fellow Mainers to reject recently passed laws.

So, this coming Tuesday, voters will decide ballot Question 1, which asks whether the new law should be rejected. And the pelts are flying. The “Yes on 1” forces ran an ad that had unspecified “legal experts” predicting apocalypse –including a flood of lawsuits and “homosexual marriage taught in schools” – were the law to stand. The State’s Attorney General, Janet Mills, said that she’d “scoured” the law for any mention of marriage in state-wide educational curricula, but found none. “Yes on 1” answered that by calling Mills’s opinion “a shameless political ploy.” And so on.

What’s really at stake here? Just that a few thousand same-sex couples might get to marry? Even that’s not as big a deal as you might think. “Yes on 1” spokesman Mark Mutty, in what was surely the dreariest debate on an important topic ever televised, was willing to just about throw the baby out with the bathwater, conceding that gay couples should have the same rights as straight ones – just without the name “marriage.”

But the anti-equality forces are running out of rhetorical weapons, and a loss in Maine would strip them of an important one. When courts demanded marriage equality, “robed activists” were the problem. Next, when legislatures passed equality bills,those exercises in representative democracy weren’t…democratic, because they had been hijacked by special  interests. “Whenever the people have voted,” they say, “’traditional marriage’ wins.”

In a few days, they might not be able to say that, either. If this law stands, the final wall will have been breached.

Maine’s Attorney General: Marriage Equality Won’t Affect School Curricula

October 18th, 2009 No comments

With no actual arguments left against marriage equality, the “Yes on Question 1” forces in Maine have been trying to get voters apoplectic about the horrific changes about to be wrought on public schools — they’ll have to start teaching about gay marriage!1 In trying to make their case, Stand for Marriage Maine even enlisted the sour Scott FitzGibbon of Boston College Law School to join their disingenuous ads. In this ad, he offers a stentorian admonition that “legal experts” (like him, I guess) predict that “homosexual marriage will be taught in schools.”

I’m no expert on Maine education, but I suspected he was wrong. I had some history here; a few years ago, FitzGibbon had sent me a cheerfully inscribed article in which he argued, apparently with a “straight” face, that Eleanor Roosevelt would be spinning in her grave if she only knew that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on which she’d worked so hard, was about to be violated by granting same-sex couples the right to marry. His tortured exegesis of the document isn’t for the faint of heart. After all, the Declaration doesn’t start off well for his purposes; here’s the first sentence of the Preamble:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world….

And so on, in ways that somehow don’t daunt FitzGibbon — who is surely the most conservative person ever to have emerged from Antioch College which, to paraphrase Jon Stewart in another context, is a campus made entirely from hemp fibers and recycled liberal ideals.

So, anyhow…here’s the Maine Attorney General, one Janet T. Mills, answering the question from Susan A. Gendron, the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education, about the impact of marriage equality on Maine’s school curricula: “My office’s analysis of the issue reveals no impact on the curricula of Maine’s public schools.” Wait! What are you saying, Madam Attorney General? Surely there is someth… “I have scoured Maine laws relating to the education of its children for any references to marriage in the public school curricula. I have found none.”

Oh.

In true FitzGibbon, down-is-up style, though, Stand for Marriage Maine responded with a press release entitled: “AG Mills Unable to Deny Same-Sex Marriage Can Be Taught in Maine Schools.” Er, aha? Here’s the first sentence following this strange headline: “It is irrefutable that there is nothing in LD 1020 that prevents our children from being taught about same-sex marriage.” Well, it doesn’t require administering a mild shock to any educator who utters the words “marriage” and “same-sex couples” in the same sentence, no.

See, here’s the problem. Marriage equality is an emerging issue. Teachers will increasingly have in their classes kids whose families are headed by same-sex parents, and questions will come up. Curriculum or no (“no”, btw), good teachers will use the experiences of the kids in front of them as chances to educate about diverse families. This will happen whether Maine has marriage equality or not.

So this is the tide Stand for Marriage Maine is trying to swim against. They won’t succeed even if they recruit Michael Phelps. Some day soon, we’ll look at this opposition the way we look at this judge’s actions in refusing to marry an interracial couple.

  1. If you value your lives, run for them!