As Goes Maine

ImageAs goes Maine, so goes the nation.

That’s the political expression dating back to the Franklin D. Roosevelt-era that prophesized a national victory for his 1936 challenger, if only he could clinch the New England state’s electoral votes. Thought to be a bellwether for how the nation was trending as a whole, this idiom turned out to be quite idiotic. Al Landon  secured Maine’s coveted votes that year, only to see Vermont be the lone state to follow suit. Roosevelt went on to win the biggest Democratic Party landslide in history. As went Maine, so went pretty much nothing else.

But as goes Maine, so goes gay marriage?

As supporters of marriage equality find themselves in the familiar place of reeling after yet another electoral set-back, that’s a story worth remembering. Like a lot of people, I hoped that Maine would live up to its Latin motto Dirigo and establish itself as the leader for where this country is headed on the issues of diversity and inclusion. After stinging defeats at the polls in 30 states, I thought we were on the cusp of breaking the trend. I was ready for a night of celebrating. I reveled in the opportunity to live history. Initial results showed the repeal of the new marriage law trailing. I ordered a martini at my favorite local bar and was prepared to toast victory the minute it was announced. As the night wore on and the refresh button of my internet browser loaded up less than promising numbers with each click, I was feeling a hang-over before I could even take a sip.

The Pine Tree State had one last chance to get it right before the decade known as the 2000’s came to a close. One year to the day that California voters overturned gay marriage with Proposition 8, though, Mainers narrowly elected for the status quo. Their vote closed the door on history books recording this decade as the one when people embraced fairness.

My mind went back to re-live the scene that unfolded on the same night in 2008. Barack Obama had just been elected President of the United States. Jubilation and mirth permeated the grand Murdock Theatre where hundreds of Wichitans gathered to celebrate as they watched history unfold on the big screen.  Barack, Michelle, Sasha, and Malia took the stage, and as they did, a dream was realized and a giant wall crumbled. Tears of joy formed an ocean that washed it away; a moment was created that forever changed the national psyche for what is possible. I held the hand of one of my best and oldest friends as we watched from the balcony above the crowd. Herself the ancestor of slaves, this was the moment Bronwen had waited for—the moment when possibility matured into reality and the moment personal barriers began to fade. We clung tightly to each other, and we let history take control of us as we cried.

Within a matter of minutes, though, those tears of joy became tears of sorrow for me. I was alerted via text message that Proposition 8 was headed for passage in California. Gay weddings, which had been legal for nearly half a year, would cease the next morning. When Obama delivered his victory speech, one side of my face cried in joy; the other side cried in grief. It was the picture of irony on that majestic balcony when my hand intertwined with Bronwen, who herself has always been a vocal supporter of equality.  As one dream was realized, another was taken away.

Since that night, I’ve wanted my own moment to claim. I was hoping that Maine could give that to the gay community. After seeing the results of this and other recent elections, though, I think it’s reasonable to assume that we’re about five years away from any state affirming our rights at the ballot box. We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time, but we still have a few more steps to travel. Though it’s of little comfort in moments like this, the fact that 47-48% of a state can vote in favor of gay marriage after this really only being a true political/social for about a decade is quite remarkable. I remember the days when civil unions almost caused civil war in Vermont. Now, many conservatives are clamoring for the opportunity to support such measures as an alternative to full marriage equality. We WILL have our moment, but we need to think about what the moment is going to look like.

The day that the first state votes to affirm the rights of same-sex couples to marry will be the day that the first domino in a deck stacked wide against equality will fall. It will be the culmination of a culture transformed by a new generation taking ownership and an older generation opening up their minds. Already, we see shades of this as the margins of these ballot defeats narrow.

The Millenniums, virtually all of whom grew up with gay friends, will become more engrained in their communities and take ownership of them through the ballot box with each passing year. Generation X and The Baby Boomers, many of whom are uncomfortable with homosexuality, have their minds opened each day as family members and friends come out of the closet. Amidst talk of older generations needing to die off before equality can be realized is the silver-lining that silver-haired grandparents often re-evaluate their own feelings after they discover a beloved grandchild is gay. We’ve got a bit more educating to do. More of us have to come out and more of us have to have conversations with people about our lives. More of us have to become forces within our churches, workplaces, and communities. People have to be ready to accept us before the rights we’re working so hard to gain will be set in stone. This will all manifest itself one day soon at the polls. That first domino WILL fall. When it does, the rest will follow fast.

No one should have to spend a restless night running back and forth to a computer in the wee-hours of the morning to check election returns to see if they have the same rights as other people. The pain these ballot measures cause in states half a coast is real. Palpable emotions ensued in all corners of the country as voters in a tiny state took away a moment so many of us hoped for.

But just like Maine failed to be a bellwether for the Landon for President campaign in 1936, so too has it fallen short of being a predictor for the national movement for marriage equality. No one state—or 31 states for that matter—can change the momentum that comes with each passing day. Those of us who are reeling today would do well to double our efforts to stand out and make a difference in the communities in which we find ourselves. That is how we change tomorrow.

Our friends in New England may have a great state for lobster, but as far as predicting social and political trends, as goes Maine, so does NOT go the future.

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