The clearest result from Election Day in the states of Maine and Washington is that this is a conclusion to this chapter of the culture war conflict over gay marriage and not a resolution by any means.
Maine received more national attention and deservedly so.
For much of the campaign this reliably blue state in Presidential elections seemed like fertile ground for gay marriage backers to get their first win at the polls. Protect Maine Equality held a nearly 2-to-1 fundraising advantage. Instead it became the 31st state to reject gay marriage at the ballot box by way of referendum or constitutional amendment.
What swung the vote decisively in the favor of gay marriage opponents were issues centered on education.
The first was a rehash of a successful strategy from last year’s Prop 8 fight in California. Expressing concerns about how homosexuality would be addressed in public elementary schools proved effective in Maine. The tipping point, however, was unexpected when a guidance counselor who endorsed traditional marriage in a TV commercial had his licensure status and professionalism attacked.
“I do think the combination of those things were big factors,” said Bob Emrich, a Plymouth pastor who was a leading force for the victorious Stand For Marriage Maine campaign. “The idea that someone could have their livelihood threatened by their stance on this issue was an illustration of the consequences we had been talking about all along.”
Ermich said he was filled with conflicting emotions after the vote. He said he was proud to have helped turn back what opponents saw as a bad law foisted upon them by the governor and the legislature. He also lamented about the amount of money spent on both sides to get back to a point legally the state was a year ago.
The fact of the matter is that everything that happened in 2009 could replay itself again in the near future. Maine has a history of laws being passed multiple times and re-challenged in people’s veto contests. Emrich believes this could certainly be the case with gay marriage and it was a point brought out in a spirited between Tony Perkins of the conservative Family Research Council and Evan Wolfson, executive director of the national Freedom to Marry organization on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360° Wednesday night.
When asked if he thought his life would go back to the way it was before the election, Emrich said he doubted it. Certainly the specter of having to relive the campaign all over again is a factor, but so too are threats Emrich said he and other campaign workers have received. He said he received death threats and promises of ugly confrontations at public appearances. He says he takes it seriously, but will not hide from his stance. He added that he hopes the aftermath of the Question 1 fight does not play out like Prop 8 with vandalism of churches, businesses and personal attacks on gay marriage opponents.
“I really hope it doesn’t come to that,” he said. “The sort of things that cropped up in California hasn’t happened here. If it comes to that we’ll have to face it, but I won’t be intimidated by it.”
Regardless of your personal feelings on gay marriage the disappointment on the part of Protect Maine Equality supporters is palpable.
While vowing to fight another day, the mood surrounding the campaign portrayed in news reports shifted from great expectations to crushing disappointment in a matter of hours Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.
In a letter sent to supporters, Equality Maine president Betsy Smith expressed this disappointment with a promise that this was not the end of gay marriage as an issue.
“Today has been one of the more difficult days of my life. I know I’m not alone in that feeling. When you’re on the right side of history, it’s devastating to be on the wrong side of a vote,” Smith wrote.
She further praised gays and lesbians for stepping forward to tell personal stories which she felt drove the legislature to sanction gay marriage in the first place.
“Many Maine voters have simply not heard these stories yet — at least not without the drumbeat of lies and attacks from our opponents,” Smith wrote. “While devastated by yesterday’s results, I am encouraged and inspired by the people who put their lives and families on the line for equality. We are committed to working even harder to win the protections and respect you deserve.”
Washington steps closer to gay marriage
Votes are still being counted in Referendum 71 to uphold a domestic partnership law that has been billed as an “everything but marriage” law for Washington. All the votes were sent in by mail to state election officials, dragging out final results.
The most recent results reported by The Seattle Times shows that Referendum 71 enjoys 52 percent support without several hundred thousand votes tallied from King County where Seattle is located.
The referendum lays the groundwork for a push for gay marriage legislation in Washington, which if passed, could be challenged by another referendum similar to the procedure in Maine.
The results show an interesting urban vs. rural dynamic.
Incoming votes from Washington indicate vibrant support for the expansion of gay rights in and around the Puget Sound area where Seattle and the state capital Olympia are located. To the south and east in more rural areas, support is sparse with several far-flung counties rejecting the referendum by whopping 70-30 margins.
Similarly in Maine, more urban areas around Portland and Bangor supported gay marriage whereas rural locales took a much more conservative bent.
These are just a few more factors to consider as gay marriage continues to be an issue of social tension for years to come.