Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Marriage Equality Heartbreakingly Defeated in Maine

The promise of Maine was a strong one, but in the end it wasn't strong enough to overcome the fear and lies championed by the opposition. With 93% of precincts reporting, marriage equality was defeated for the 31st time at the ballot box 52.77% to 47.23%, roughly the same numbers as Prop 8.

"Tonight, hundreds of thousands of Maine voters stood for equality, but in the end, it wasn't enough," said Jesse Connolly, NO on 1/Protect Maine Equality's campaign manager in a concession statement.

"I am proud of the thousands of Mainers who knocked on doors, made phone calls and talked to their family, friends and neighbors about the basic premise of treating all Maine families equally.

"And I'm proud of this campaign because the stories we told and the images we shared were of real Mainers -- parents who stood up for their children, and couples who simply wanted to marry the person they love.

"We're in this for the long haul. For next week, and next month, and next year-- until all Maine families are treated equally. Because in the end, this has always been about love and family and that will always be something worth fighting for."

Those images of real Mainers was the hallmark of the NO on 1 campaign. Unlike the opposition who either used out-of-staters or actors in their ads, the NO on 1 campaign used real residents with real stories to tell, explaining why marriage equality was so important to them.

At times it was questioned whether or not the campaign should bite back equally hard against the opposition's lies and attack ads, but Jesse Connolly and staff studied hard the failure of California's No on Prop 8 campaign which didn't use gay people in their ads and took forever to respond to the opposition's claims. Jesse and team adjusted that rule book and adapted it to Maine.

The Pine Tree State proudly boasts a strong libertarian population and attack ads don't sit well with them. The strategy was to rise above the fray of lies such as "homosexual marriage in schools" and stick to the "All Families Are Equal" and the "Live and Let Live" mantra Maine holds dear. They responded fast and quick, had a very impressive field campaign, creatively utilized the internet and the netroots (which I am proud to say I was a part of) and had over 8,000 volunteers.

But in the end, it wasn't enough.

This time.

Unlike California, whose voters amended the state constitution banning same-sex marriage, Mainers only threw out a law passed by its legislature and signed by the governor granting marriage rights to Pine Tree State's LGBT population.

Marriage equality in Maine will probably take a similar path that Maine's anti-discrimination bill took - it was passed three times by the state's legislature, was defeated twice by a people's veto whose campaigns were rain by fierce anti-LGBT forces, and it wasn't until the third time voters upheld the law. The video below gives a moving history of LGBT rights in Maine, including the defeats and wonderful victories.

A new marriage equality bill will likely appear before Maine's legislature and pro-marriage equality governor, John Baldacci, soon.

This is just a chapter in a long narrative, not just for Maine, but for the nation. In one year's time since the historical passage of Prop 8, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont all passed marriage equality either through the court or in the legislature. Currently, Washington D.C., New York and New Jersey are on the cusp of passing marriage equality legislation.

The tide is turning. One defeat does not mark the end. We dust ourselves off, learn from what worked and what didn't, and charge ahead.

Images by Rex Wockner.

Read responses:
David Mixner, "Gay Apartheid in America"
LezGetReal (Boycott Lobster?)
Nate Silver
Daily Kos, Eddie


  1. My takeaway from last night: There are 2 possible conclusions to draw. One possibility is that No on 1 was as good as it gets and there is just nothing more we can do to push our support above 50%. We just have to wait for the anti-gay 65+ cohort to die and then win in a decade or two.

    The second possible conclusion is that we might win if we can come up with some way of making gay marriage matter to the selfish interests of the majority. That is the central tenet of Schubert's campaigns. It seems that no matter whether you use gay people in your ads or not, no matter how nice and appealing the families in your ads, no matter how rapid your rebuttal ads and no matter how good your GOTV, the straight majority just won't support us if there is even a remote and hypothetical chance that their self-interest could be harmed.

    If we had run ads that somehow convincingly argued that voting Yes on 1 would destroy the Bath, ME iron works or that voting No on 1 would restore jobs to Biddeford, the outcome would have been different. And those claims are not much more absurd than the S4MM claims about education.

    Obviously the above examples are not serious, but there probably is a good economic-based argument that could be crafted to support marriage equality. It is terrible to say, but we live in a soulless, selfish, materialistic country. Straight Americans will sell out Sam Putnam and his family in a heartbeat, but if there are dollars at stake, they will sing a different tune.

  2. I agree with the second conclusion. There's always something to learn from a defeat, something to glean and use.

    Like you said in an earlier comment, we didn't always agree about the NO on 1 ads, but not because we thought the campaign wasn't kick ass, only because we (I mean this collectively) are still trying to figure out the best way to win.

    We haven't done that yet.

    The New Jersey ads are pretty hard-hitting and show with more devastating honesty what the lack of marriage protection can do.

    But Wayne Besen at Truth Wins Out put it best: "...we continuously test-drive our messages while actual campaigns are taking place. We repeatedly act shocked that our opponents are soulless charlatans who lie, cheat and use immoral fear tactics to win. Our persistent “surprise” at the “recruit your children” canard and on-the-fly strategy to counter it is a foolproof recipe for a 0-31 record."

    Then, "It is also crucial that we create pilot programs – while no referendum is underway – where we hit back harder at our opponents. The fact is, religious fundamentalism, whether it is Islamic, Catholic, Mormon, Protestant or Jewish does not appear compatible with equality. Can you name one fundamentalist enclave where gay rights exist? Thus, when these groups attack us we should stop coddling them and join with religious moderates to make the fundamentalists pay dearly by driving up their negatives."

    I've always said we confuse an educational campaign with an initiative campaign. When there's no initiative, we fail (but not always) to do the hard work of education. (Equality Maine is a big exception)

    But in the end, like you said, we have to find a way to get people to care to vote in our favor. Make it personal. Make it matter. We can stop coddling, but we also have to motivate. It's the latter that's the challenge.

  3. I certainly like the hard-hitting ad from New Jersey, with the Black woman expressing incredulity that anyone could be so silly as to oppose marriage equality. I think we need more ads like that and fewer touchy-feely ads. We may have to accept the fact that we are not going to be able to make a majority of the people like us so much that they are going to let us marry. But perhaps we can appeal to their self-interest: either by making them feel foolish to oppose something so obviously right or by letting them know that there are economic consequences to not letting us marry. I was struck by an article on the advocate web site by the guy who led the Kalamazoo fight. One thing he mentioned was that Kalamazoo had to reinvent itself economically and in doing so transformed itself from a right-wing bastion by recognizing to to be successful economically they had to present themselves as a progressive community. We have to work on making that same argument extend to marriage equality.