Last night, 53% of Maine voters won the right to dictate whom their fellow citizens can marry, voting to repeal a state law that would have allowed same-sex marriage.
Gay marriage opponents in Maine used the same strategist who got the job done in California, and the same bullshit. The Associated Press reports that the organization "Stand for Marriage based many of its campaign ads on claims - disputed by state officials - that the new law would mean 'homosexual marriage' would be taught in public schools." Apparently, not enough voters asked the obvious question: What the fuck does that even mean? They just heard "homosexual" and "schools" and decided it was worth showing up to take a stand against equality. Again.
National Organization for Marriage director Brian Brown "was elated by Tuesday's result, saying it shows that 'that even in a New England state, if the voters have a chance to have their say, they're going to protect and defend the commonsense definition of marriage.'" Which is exactly the problem. The states that have legalized gay marriage have done so "through legislation or court rulings, not by popular vote," while all 31 states that have put it to a popular vote have shot it down. Opponents of marriage equality see this as evidence that legislators are out of touch with the people and have no business telling folks what should and shouldn't be legal, conveniently forgetting that actually, that's what we elect them to do. Also, that when it comes to securing rights for an oppressed minority, if the majority would rather just keep on with the oppressing, our elected representatives and courts have a duty to stand up and protect more vulnerable citizens.
In The Daily Beast, Linda Hirshman lays out a persuasive argument for getting gay marriage off the ballots. Noting that the ostensibly liberal "Bow Out" movement opposing federal court involvement in gay marriage was founded by people who thought the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds when it insisted that public schools be racially integrated — and p.s., they've also got a big beef with Roe v. Wade — Hirshman underscores the absurdity of their position. "Painful as it is to them, as sincere supporters of abortion rights/gay marriage/your issue here, these wise ones think the federal courts should follow the election returns. Only when a majority of states have legalized something should the federal courts find that it was a fundamental constitutional right all along." If that seems even the tiniest bit logical to you, try this: "Imagine what the law would look like if the Brown court had waited until a majority of states were ready to pass the Civil Rights Acts."
The idea that we should just be patient until hateful bigots naturally come around to accepting the full equality of all citizens, and not rush into any crazy measures like writing that equality into law, is almost certainly not, despite the claims of said hateful bigots, what the founding fathers had in mind. On the output of legal scholars waving the Bow Out flag, Hirshman writes:
What these academic treatises ignore is the concern that Madison and others had that what they called the tyranny of the majority was legitimate. A majority, Madison predicted, often whipped up by demagogues, would oppress a helpless minority, a group so naturally small it could never hope to protect itself at the polls alone-using the government to deprive them of those aspects of life fundamental to a free society. No kidding.
According to the AP, "Richard Socarides, who was an adviser on gay-rights issues in the Clinton administration, said the loss in Maine should prompt gay-rights leaders to reconsider their state-by-state strategy on marriage and shift instead to lobbying for changes on the federal level that expand recognition of same-sex couples." At this point, it looks like he may be right. The fear, of course, is that it will backfire and leave the whole country farther behind, instead of just 31 states with a slight bigot majority. But given how successful demagogues have been at whipping those majorities up, and that — as Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, put it — "lies and fear can still win at the ballot box," waiting for reason and compassion to prevail among voters doesn't seem like the way to go.