Four historic wins
for marriage equality
by Chuck Colbert
Maine made history on election night as voters approved a ballot measure granting gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. Unofficial results, with 87 percent of the vote tallied, showed Question 1 passing by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin.
The measure asked voters, "Do you wish to allow the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?"
Adding to the historic night, voters in Maryland also approved a same-sex marriage law that the Legislature had passed earlier this year, while in Minnesota, a constitutional ban went down to defeat.
A referendum in Washington state that would uphold that state's marriage equality law also won, the campaign said Wednesday morning, meaning same-sex marriages will take place there, too.
In Maine, supporters were overjoyed at the victory.
"Supporters from Portland to Presque Isle thought that truth and love are more powerful than fear and deception," Matt McTighe, campaign manager of Mainers United for Marriage, told hundreds of jubilant supporters who gathered in Portland at the Holiday Inn by the Bay.
McTighe, who is openly gay, thanked Maine voters who "put family over politics by voting 'Yes' on 1 tonight."
He added, Maine has "proved that voters can change their hearts and minds if we tell them our stories" and "give our fellow citizens a personal connection to people whose lives and families are touched by this issue."
The Associated Press projected the win about midnight, Eastern time, with opponents conceding the race shortly after 1:30 a.m.
Meanwhile, in Maryland voters gave their approval to same-sex marriage by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent with nearly all precincts reporting.
In Washington state, Washington United for Marriage Wednesday morning declared victory, stating that the referendum would pass. With 60 percent of the vote in, R74, as the ballot measure is called, was ahead with 65 percent of King County and is performing well in eastern parts of the state.
"This is a clear win," campaign manager Zach Silk said in a statement. "We have run the numbers every which way, and we can now confidently say that we have won." Statewide the measure was leading 52 percent to 48 percent.
In Minnesota, a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage was defeated, 51.3 percent to 47.6 percent.
End of long losing streak
For LGBT rights activists and same-sex marriage advocates, the likely four-state sweep ends a ballot measure losing streak in 32 states.
Victory in Maine was a reversal of fortunes. Three years ago, Mainers overturned a same-sex marriage law that had been passed by the Legislature and signed into law by then-Governor John Baldacci.
Just as having lead time for conversations with voters and the financial resources for a sustained campaign make all the difference, taking matters of faith seriously also provided an essential ingredient of a winning strategy.
"We had 250,000 conversations with Mainers and expect a turnout of 750,000. Do the math," said McTighe in an interview. "We were everywhere in the state because we had more time to go out and have those conversations."
Mainers United also started running ads in early July and kept them on the air, both television and radio, all the way to Election Day. The ads, said McTighe, were the most "amazing and powerful ads our movement has put together, telling powerful, honest stories from real life Mainers about why marriage matters."
Altogether, social media networking, phone banking, face-to-face conversations, canvassing neighborhoods, and door-knocking enabled Mainers to connect their personal experiences of marriage and family with those of same-sex couples who seek to make the same kind of lifetime commitment.
Mainers United also raised more than $3.4 million for a sustained campaign.
Unlike 2009, Question 1 was placed on the ballot by marriage equality advocates. And this time, they also included a faith and religion component in the campaign strategy and collaborated with independent faith coalitions.
"The 2009 campaign was basically a secular campaign," said the Revered Marvin Ellison, president of the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination, one viewing "support for marriage as a basic civil right for all.
"When RCAD showed up [in 2009], the campaign was grateful but did not know what to do with us," Ellison said. "This time around the campaign understood from the beginning that religion would be a decisive factor."
The campaign early on decided to tackle the religious issue.
"While religion would fuel the opposition, it would also provide the energy and perspective to support marriage equality," Ellison explained. "Instead of avoiding religion the campaign wisely had learned to draw upon it and rely on the partnership and support coming from the faith community."
Organization also helped.
"We were much more organized, better staffed, more visible and vocal" too, said Ellison, "encouraging people to do the grassroots conversations and holding educational forums."
RCAD is a statewide, multi-denominational organization of clergy and faith leaders.
It was not surprising that opposition came from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Bishop Richard J. Malone released a pastoral letter late in October, urging the faithful "to vote your faith," adding "Any Catholic who supports a redefinition of marriage – or so-called 'same-sex marriage' – is unfaithful to Catholic doctrine."
But Catholics for Marriage Equality had a message of its own, taking out quarter-page and half-page ads in all five of Maine's major newspapers on the two consecutive Sundays before the election.
"Two people of the same sex can and do fall in love, feel deeply the natural human impulse toward lifelong commitment, nurture children steadfastly, and yearn for the societal recognition of their commitment," nearly 200 signatories stated in their advertisements, adding, "This truth does not dishonor marriage, it reveres it."
Catholics for Marriage Equality held conversations among the faithful, too. Members held discussions about "love, commitment, family values," said Cynthia Murray-Beliveau, a board member. "We didn't argue with what the bishop said," she explained. "We came to much more of an understanding with many people of what family values truly are."
Apparently, those efforts paid off. Unofficial results show that in the localities of Augusta, Biddeford, and Lewiston, same-sex marriage gained ground from three years ago. In fact, marriage equality won by more than 1,000 votes in Biddeford, both heavily Catholic and Franco-American.
Catholic University junior Ryan Fecteau, a Biddeford native who logged more than 200 days with the campaign, explained, in speaking with voters, "I stressed the importance of being Catholic and supporting marriage equality were not mutually exclusive."
In the cases of Franco-American voters, "I handed the phone to a volunteer who spoke French," Fecteau said. "She'd be persuading people who would probably not have been persuaded if there had not been a French-speaking person in the room."
Overall, "No matter how you do the math, more than half of Maine's Catholics had to have voted 'yes,'" said Anne Underwood, co-founder of Catholics for Marriage Equality.
Matters of faith played out in Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State.
"The win for marriage equality in all four states is a clear faith victory," said Sharon Groves, director of religion and faith program for the Human Rights Campaign.
"The growing edge," added Groves, who worked with all four campaigns, "is how to work with diverse faith communities in culturally competent ways."
The outcomes of the four marriage equality ballot battles Tuesday will likely influence the U.S. Supreme Court, which is set to decide November 20 if it will hear several cases dealing with anti-gay marriage laws. One is an appeal seeking to overturn federal court rulings that California's ban on same-sex marriage known as Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
"Obviously, the Supreme Court justices pay attention to elections. It is clear there has been a tectonic shift in public sentiment on issues of marriage equality," said Alice Kessler, Equality California's legislative advocate. "The outcome of those four state ballot measures, I believe, will bode well for our litigation in California."
Matthew S. Bajko contributed to this report.