Those who were closely following the nationwide battle for marriage equality in 2009 maybe experiencing some déja vu about now. New York, which was the scene for a heartbreaking marriage defeat in December, has just succeeded in legalizing it. And now Maine, where Question 1 on the ballot turned into a voter veto of legislatively introduced same-sex marriage, activists may now be coming back to the ballot for round two.
While the defeat that time was and still is painful, there’s a growing consensus of people who think that times have changed. According to two different polls, 53% of Mainers now support marriage equality; two years ago, that was the statistic of people who opposed it. The climate of the US overall on this issue is changing, demonstrated perhaps most glaringly by the Gallup poll from May that indicates that for the first time ever, the majority of Americans overall support gay marriage. Since the vote in Maine in November of 2009, same-sex marriage has been legalized in the District of Columbia, New Hampshire and New York; Prop 8 was overturned; and civil unions achieved in Illinois, Hawaii and Rhode Island. (Civil unions will become a legal reality in Delaware on January 1, 2012.) Is that enough change to make a difference in Maine?
Campaign strategy may also be an important factor in the outcome of the vote. Marriage equality campaigns across the board in 2008 and 2009 were criticized after their failure for poor strategy and lack of connection with voters. Geoffrey Kors of EQCA admits that the campaign in California was too politically minded and not rooted in the community; some critics of the Maine campaign have had similar complaints. But along with the seemingly increased goodwill, activists are knocking on doors in 2011. “We know this because we’re going door-to-door, talking with Mainers, about why marriage matters to gay and lesbian people,” says Betsy Smith, Executive Director of EqualityMaine, which will be leading the petition drive to get a same-sex marriage initiative on the ballot, along with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders–or GLAD.
Of course, not everyone is as optimistic – opinions on the fate of a ballot initiative in Maine vary wildly. With initiatives like this, political climate and personal contact has to face off with financial clout. In 2009, NOM and other contributors to the anti-marriage equality team raised $5.8 million, as opposed to the equality activists’ $3.8 million. The fight against Prop 8 was a great example of how huge amounts of money can trump moral truth when you have the resources to bombard voters with sensationlist and false information about your opponent. And not everyone is of the opinion that things are different this time around:
The Rev. Bob Emrich, pastor of Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church in Plymouth and one of the leaders in the last campaign veto the law, on Thursday disputed the notion that more Mainers now support same-sex marriage. “I don’t believe opinion has shifted at all. I think if anything people are more resolved to say ‘leave marriage alone, the definition is what it is,’wp_postssaid Emrich. “The resistance to this is there, it’s very real. It’s too early to say what form it will take for sure — but I think it will be a broader coalition than it was last time.”
It will take a while to find out whose assessment of the situation is on point; right now marriage equality supporters are still in the stage of gathering signatures just to get the issue on the ballot. But if they succeed at that, and then succeed at the even bigger proposition of winning a majority vote for marriage, they will have accomplished something that no one else ever has: a popular vote of the people that supports equality. Marc Mutty, the director of the office of public affairs for the Portland Diocese of the Catholic Church, has said: “The people of this country have rejected same-sex marriage in all cases where the issue has been put on the ballot; there is no reason why we should expect a different outcome this time.” But someone else disagrees:
[Pastor Mark Gray of the Old Orchard Beach United Methodist Church] used to describe himself as a born-again Christian and follower of conservative talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. But over time, he says, he’s changed his mind about letting same-sex couples marry.
“I not only support their right to have the freedom to marry if they are lucky to find someone that they love, I also think that it is imperative that the state treat and protect these relationships and the families that they create in the same way that my family is treated and protected,” he said.