Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Maine and Maryland Say "We Do".


Maine and Maryland Say ‘We Do’

[Ed. note. . Plus Minnesota and Washington State!  jos]


Updated | 1:55 a.m.
Updated | 2:31 a.m.
SEATTLE — In the debate over whether two men or two women should be able to make the same kind of legally recognized commitment to each other that a man and a woman routinely (and often cavalierly) do, opponents have leaned with particular enthusiasm on one argument:
The American people just aren’t ready for this. Progressives are getting way ahead of them, showing contempt for true democracy and trying to subvert it. Same-sex marriage has been enacted only where legislatures or judges swooped in to make it happen. When citizens themselves, in referendums, have had a voice, they have said no, no and no yet again, more than 30 times in all, even in feel-good, sybaritic California. They have resisted.
Well, not anymore. Not even close. For making history today, for providing what I think will long be remembered as a crucial turning point, Maine and Maryland deserve a round of applause and our heartfelt thanks. They were among four states with same-sex-marriage referendums this Election Day, and if official projections are correct, they just approved it at the ballot box, where it had never succeeded before. More than that, they guaranteed an entirely different conversation from now on.
Opponents can no longer broadly and blankly say that the growing number of politicians who support gay marriage are outside the mainstream; that President Obama is outside the mainstream; that opinion polls charting a rapidly increasing favor for same-sex marriage are somehow not reflective of the mainstream.
While Maine may not be the most representative state in America, it’s also not some goofy, freaky, Bohemian tributary of the mainstream.
Tuesday night was what history looks like: the passage, for the first time, of same-sex marriage by popular vote; the reelection of the president who became the first to support same-sex marriage; the first-ever election of an openly gay or lesbian person to the U.S. Senate. That last distinction belongs to Tammy Baldwin, of Wisconsin, a Democrat who defeated Tommy Thompson, the state’s former governor and no political slouch.
The other two states with same-sex marriage on the ballot were Washington, where I watched the returns nationally and results weren’t expected Tuesday night or even Wednesday morning, and Minnesota, where voters were deciding not whether to approve gay marriage but whether to ban it in their state constitution, as 30 other states have done.
Naysayers will look at Maryland and Maine and claim that they’re exceptional, far from the heartland. Don’t listen too hard to this. Maryland may be a bluer-than-blue state, but it’s also a state where African-Americans, who have been less supportive of same-sex marriage than whites, represent 30 percent of the population. So the same-sex referendum was far, far from a slam dunk there, and its success suggests that citizens elsewhere may be ready at last to endorse same-sex marriage—that other states are ripe. It may well be that a popular wave in this direction began on Tuesday night.
And while Maine may not be the most representative state in America or an incessantly ballyhooed bellwether like Ohio, it’s also not some goofy, freaky, Bohemian tributary of the mainstream. It’s largely rural. Has a Republican governor. And for the last 18 years, both of its two senators have been Republican.
Just three years ago, when Mainers previously weighed in on the question of same-sex marriage, the vote was 53 percent against and 47 percent for. The change owes much to proponents’ organization—they ran a focused, determined, well-funded campaign, spending more than opponents and putting advertising up much earlier. But it also reflects changing attitudes among Americans as time passes.
So does Baldwin’s election. I’m struck less by the milestone she represents, an inevitable one, than by the campaign that preceded it. Her sexual orientation never became a big issue, eclipsed by concerns about the economy and misgivings about the lucrative lobbying career that Thompson had forged by himself, exploiting former government connections. In an election year of close attention to issues of economic fairness and income disparity, Baldwin’s sexual orientation was peripheral, and she steadfastly kept it that way, not inviting gay and lesbian advocacy groups to speak up loudly for her or link themselves too visibly to her bid. I liked all of that, because it tracked with who we gay and lesbian people really are. Our sexual orientation is a part of us, not the sum of us, and not always the focus of our social, legal or political concerns.
In the wake of what happened in Maine, Maryland and Wisconsin, there really is no turning back, and that’s because with the exception of a band of religious extremists and theocrats who read their ancient texts selectively and apply them inconsistently, displaying nothing that I can recognize as the true Judeo-Christian spirit, most Americans are coming to realize that to claim acceptance of gays and lesbians as equals and then deny them state-recognized marriage is a contradictory, untenable position. What makes us different is that we form our romantic partnerships with people of the same gender. If those partnerships are deemed less worthy and honorable than heterosexual ones, then we’re being deemed less worthy and honorable than heterosexuals. It’s that simple, and it’s the pained and accurate assessment I’ve heard, in different language and various forms, from gays, lesbians and our supporters in Maine last month and here in Washington over recent days.
Our sexual orientation is a part of us, not the sum of us, and not always the focus of our social, legal or political concerns.
“That says to me, ‘I’m OK with you existing, but you are not equal to me, I do not consider you the same level of human being’,” said Molly Fitzpatrick, 19, a college student in Spokane, Wash., who is lesbian and began to accept that fact when she was 15 and realized that the intense crushes she’d been having on other girls for weren’t going away. “And when a government denies marriage, it says to me, ‘You are not actually citizens. You do not get to participate in this country’s traditions the way other people do’.”
That’s what’s still being said by the federal government, despite Obama’s position. Same-sex couples cannot file joint federal tax returns; are not treated the same way as straight couples when it comes to estate taxes; do not get the same consideration from immigration officials that heterosexual couples do; do not get the same survivor benefits if one of the two of them was a federal worker, with a federal pension.
And that remains the separate-and-unequal status of same-sex couples in more than four out of every five states. Maine and Maryland bring to eight the number of states, along with the District of Columbia, that permit same-sex marriage. Washington could—and, I think, will—bring the number only to nine. There’s much progress still to be made.
But the trajectory is clear, and on Tuesday night, as marriage-equality advocates here in Washington absorbed the news from the East, cheers went up. I saw tears in people’s eyes. And I recalled a visit I made early last month to an 80-year-old gay man in Maine who was stunned — just stunned — at the prospect of his fellow citizens affirming his identity at the polls. He’d lived through so many decades of lesser regard, of undignified treatment.
He compared a successful referendum for same-sex marriage to a man setting foot on the moon: something once unthinkable, something wondrous, something exhilarating, not a step but a leap.
We took a big leap on Tuesday night. It was wondrous and exhilarating indeed and—trust me—more of a beginning than an end.
Update | 1:55 a.m.
Overnight Tuesday, as more and more returns came in, the news got even better.
According to the Des Moines Register, Iowans voted not to oust David Wiggins, an Iowa Supreme Court justice who was part of a 7-to-0 unanimous ruling three years ago to make same-sex marriage legal in that state. The justices ruled at the time that barring gay and lesbian couples from marrying violated the equal-protection clause of the state’s constitution.
Supreme Court justices in Iowa, who are appointed by the governor, come up every eight years for what were once pro forma retention votes, and the state’s citizens can weigh in. The year following the 2009 marriage ruling, three of those justices, including the chief justice, came up for such a vote, and all of them were booted from the bench. Wiggins faced the same possible fate this Election Day, when he came up for his retention vote. And like his ousted colleagues, he was targeted by religious conservatives.
But what a difference just two more years make. With nearly all of the votes counted, it appeared that Wiggins would retain his seat on the court. That development underscored the theme of the night: this country is changing, and it is changing in the direction of treating gays and lesbians—and the people who recognize them as equals—with a full measure of dignity.
Updated | 2:31 a.m.
Here at the Westin in downtown Seattle, where the people who campaigned so hard for the Washington referendum for same-sex marriage are watching national returns, there’s a potent sense of optimism.
They don’t see how the attitude shift reflected in the Maine and Maryland victories won’t shape what happens here in Washington, too. They don’t see how they fail to become the third state—from zero states to three, in one fell swoop!—to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote.
Washington doesn’t have polling stations per se; residents by and large mail in their ballots, which can be postmarked on Election Day. That means there are too many still to be counted for a definitive call to be made right now on any but the most lopsided local contests.
So we’re probably going to have to wait a bit on Washington.
Polls just before Election Day and ballots counted so far suggest the referendum has a very good chance of passing. And all I can say to that possibility is: wow. If Washington joins Maine and Maryland, the number of states permitting same-sex marriage will have climbed from six before Election Day to nine afterward. That’s one hell of a jump, one hell of an indication that Americans have really come around to an understanding that marriage for gay and lesbian couples is the only just course and that anything less is unequal treatment. I feel so proud of this country, for all its flaws. It has such an enormous capacity for change, and such a profound inclination toward fairness.

4 Comments

Share your thoughts.
    • Bosco Ho
    • Boston, MA
    • Verified
    Congratulations, Mr Bruni. Some progress. But remember, like women's right, Gay marriage is a right of being American as well as about fairness. The road is long but the struggle includes a reach out to its opposition by way of education and reasoning. So, this is just the beginning
    • Kofender
    • Rockaway, NJ
    • Verified
    I was going to say something profound, but why bother. Hurrah! Thank you Maine. Thank you Maryland. Go Tammy! It's a wonderful day in the neighborhood--for full civil rights for ALL Americans. Next stop: DOMA declared unconstitutional.
    • sdavidc9
    • Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut
    • Verified
    Anti-gays have mostly accepted the fact that sexual orientation is not something we can control. All we can do is control its manifestations, which can hide but does not eliminate the orientation. Once they accept that, it no longer makes logical sense to demand that the orientation be fixed.

    So what the anti-gays owe is a coherent account of how gay people should live. Should they stay in the closet, or live open but celibate lives? Should they have torrid but temporary affairs, or longer unions based on more than their sexual sides?

    Anti-gays used to say that God wants them to stop. But since this is not in their power, we need to know what God wants them to do that they can actually achieve. Here anti-gay forces supply no coherent answers for the simple reason that there are none. Once they face this (which may never happen) they will be much more receptive to gay marriage.
    • Stu Freeman
    • Brooklyn, N.Y.
    • Verified
    Thank gosh! So long as any one sector of our population is denied the rights that are supposedly granted to all, none of us can say we are truly free. And- as is now perfectly clear from the results of this election- the Republican Party will have kicked the bucket unless it breaks entirely free of the bigots, the haters and the homophobes.

3 comments:

Gary Kelly said...

Ya know, if Romney hadn't asked God to bless America, he could have been president elect now.

JustinO'Shea said...

ho ho ho ho

Coop said...

Sheesh-- put this in the wrong column yesterday:

Neither Obama nor Romney deserved my vote, so neither of 'em received it. :-)
The victories in Maine, Washington, Maryland and Minnesota were the best part of yesterday's election.

I said, on this very blog no less, that the "majority of American people" may not support gay marriage but it will change in time. So all the high and mighty arrogance about gay marriage failing at the polls and the "majority" this and majority that...

Told ya so :-) I love it when I'm right.