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Aug 19, 2009
The marriage equality movement in California, instead of being comparable to a cross country meet with both sides running steady toward a finish line, has been more like a roller coaster ride. Marriage was legalized on May 15, 2008 and then, with Proposition 8 on November 4th, that decision was reversed. Between those times, over 18,000 gay and lesbian couples became legally married. When the passage of Prop 8 was challenged, there was the chance that marriage would be legal again, but when the California Supreme Court announced their Day of Decision verdict on May 26, 2009, we learned that, for now, it wouldn’t be. The 18,000 marriages performed legally between May and November were declared to be still valid, but that was small consolation for the many other couples who were, again, denied their rights.
With all of the back and forth and ups and downs that the California movement has experienced , they’ve learned a lot. They’ve seen the benefits of what works and the consequences of what doesn’t. Now, as California prepares to go back to the ballot in 2010, Maine is hoping to learn from California’s mistakes.
On May 6, 2009, Maine became the fifth state to gain marriage equality. It passed relatively smoothly through the legislature (passing with a vote of 21-13 in the Senate) and became the first marriage equality bill to be signed by the Governor without having to be voted on again by a veto-proof majority (as they did in Vermont in April).
Now, though, they’re finding themselves in the same place California was last November with their very own Proposition 1. According to a press release from Equality Maine on May 6:
The Maine law now faces the likely prospect of a referendum challenge much like California’s. In Maine, citizens who collect 55,000 signatures can file a "people’s veto" to have a law passed by the legislature overturned, and opponents of same- sex marriage have said they plan to do so.
The opponents have gotten the required number of signatures, so the people of Maine will be voting on equality when they get their ballot on November 3.
So, how do we win in Maine? Well, we actually have a lot to be optimistic about. We certainly can’t be lax in our optimism, but we have got good things going for us. First, the Maine campaign is on a significantly smaller scale than California. They are expecting 500,000 people to go out and vote in this off-year election (as compared to the 13 million people who voted in California- although, yes, it was a presidential election year) which means that they need only an estimated 250,001 votes to win. It’s a lot easier to reach 250,001 people, compared to a few million. Further, they’re expecting to be able to win with a $3-4 million budget, as compared to the $40 million that was spent in California.
Speaking of those 250,001 people, what will we tell them to make sure that when they cast their vote, it’s a vote for equality? To start with, 75% of all Mainers know at least one person who is LGBT, and 45% consider that person to be a friend. That’s a big advantage, because knowing someone who is LGBT makes it harder to vote to take away their civil rights. Here are some other things I learned from the Protect Maine Equality panel at Netroots Nation:
1) Since the right to civil marriage was won through the legislature, this issue (as a legal issue) has been on people’s minds for months now (and definitely years for some). There were thousands of people who were actively involved with the campaign to legalize marriage, and all of those people are now focused on protecting those rights.
2) Volunteer Vacations. Volunteers from all over the country are invited to “vacation” in Maine for a week or more to help work on the ground for the cause. Community housing will be available for these volunteers. You can learn more by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also give them a call at (207) 899-1330
P.S. I hear New England is lovely this time of year.
3) Mainers believe in the mentality of “live and let live.” They know their neighbors, and are respectful and tolerant of differences.
4) Maine is one of the “least religious” states in the country.
5) Maine has same-day voter registration.
6) The campaign has a “very aggressive campus program,” a great rapid response team, and have laid a “fantastic foundation.”
We also have to consider, though, the strength of our opposition. We know that they have a lot of influence, and a ton of money. I learned at the Netroots panel that the Catholic Church in Maine, for instance, has pledged to donate $2 million dollars to Yes on 1. However, it’s also important to note that this pledge was made along side the fact that the Catholic Church in the state is seriously low on money. They’ve even started closing churches. It may be hard for them to keep their expensive promise.
It’s also important to remember that a win in Maine will be incredibly beneficial for California as well as the 44 other states still working for / hoping for marriage equality. Marriage rights have never been won through the ballot, and that is what the opposition is hoping will continue and what we hope will change. It will speak exponentially if these rights can be upheld through a ballot vote. It will be a game-changer. It will change the rules. We already know that the opposition, who are hoping to quash the momentum of the marriage equality movement, no matter the confidence they exude, is starting to get desperate. We know this because of the absurd, extreme, and factually false nature of most of their arguments. While they can be frightening (sometimes to the point of circling around to humorous), this is actually a good sign. It shows that they don’t have any solid, reasonable argument against equality. (And really, isn’t it always impossible to argue against equality and be taken seriously by anyone with a brain and a conscience?)
Winning in Maine is important because if we can do something that we have never done before, we can do it again (if need be). Ballot initiatives won’t be as threatening if we know it’s possible to win. Prop 8 in California was a huge wake-up call. A lot of work, time, and money was put into opposing it, but we know now that we have to adjust our strategy. Every state is different, so no battle can be fought the same way, but we can learn from each success, as well as each setback. Each battle will be difficult, but the momentum is still on our side.
What will keep the momentum on our side is to keep this issue on everyone’s mind. We need to write about it, talk about it, volunteer, and donate. Donating early is important. The more money they have up front, the more they can do with it before November. Donating money during the last two weeks, while still helpful, can honestly be put to better use if given now. We need to do all we can to make sure that Prop 1 doesn’t repeat history and become the Prop 8 of Maine. All Maine couples deserve the right to marry. Today, that right is still a very real possibility. I don’t want to be the one to tell them on November 4th that that’s been taken away. So keep it up!