As Goes Maine, So Goes The Dialogue

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Mainers say “I do” to marriage equality on Nov. 6, 2012

As 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 next to nothing else.

But as goes Maine, so goes marriage equality? Perhaps it’s safer to say this: as goes Maine, so goes the national dialogue.

Three years ago, Mainers said “no” to marriage for same-sex couples. This year, they joined two additional states in saying “I do” when asked to ratify this right at the ballot box. That same night, voters in two Kansas towns had their own proposition. When Hutchinson and Salina were asked if gay people deserved protection from being fired from their job because of their sexual orientation or from being evicted out of their home because of who they are, they said “no”. The reasons why have little to do with red state/blue state schizophrenia. They have everything to do with a basic tenant of democracy: dialogue.

After voters rejected Maine’s gay marriage law in 2009, gay rights organizers shifted focus. Rather than talk about “rights” and “benefits” LGBT folks felt entitled to, the conversation shifted to something much relatable: “love”. It turns out that straight people get a bit confused and rather uncomfortable when we start demanding our civil rights; but when we talk about the universal need of love, we can win over their sympathy. The reason why is simple. Love is something everyone can understand. If you frame the issue as saying “yes” or “no” to someone’s own personal happiness, you sort of look like an asshole voting in the negative.

We’re a long way from joining the nine states that have enacted marriage equality here on the range. Given the current political dynamics in our states, we’re a ways off from basic civil protections, too. What we do have is something quite potent: our voices! When these two small cities in Kansas voted on gay rights this past November, it was the first time either community had ever talked about who LGBT people are. There were LOTS of misconceptions, fears, and stereotypes; but there were also a lot of minds opened up, conversations had, and attitudes changed. When we step out of our comfort zones and start talking about who we are, we let people see our lives. We demystify misconstructions, alleviate anxieties, and tear apart typecasts.

Neither city should have voted the way that they did, but the fact that the pro-equality side garnered 46% in Salina and 42% in Hutchinson is measurable progress. Ten years ago, support would likely have been mired in the low to mid-30% range. The Kansas Equality Coalition, the only statewide LGBT advocacy group, is only 7 years old. The states that legalized marriage equality all have had persistent gay rights movements that date back three of four decades. We’re really just starting the dialogue in Kansas and in many of the surrounding states.

November 6, 2012 was perhaps the best night ever in American LGBT history. Three states legalized marriage equality by popular vote, and voters in one state beat back a proposed ban. The first sitting President to support marriage equality was re-elected. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay person to win a seat in the U.S. Senate. Voters sent five openly gay men and an out bisexual woman to Congress. This was the night when “the new normal” ceased to just be a wittily crafted sitcom and started to be how Americans feel about LGBT people.

In that regard, the country is now taking Maine’s lead. We’re going to have to be a bit more patient and a lot more persistent here on the range. But, we will get there. As went Maine on November 6, 2012, so, too, will one day go the entire Midwest—but only with lots of dialogue. So open your mouth and start having those conversations!

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