On Tuesday, Maine voted to deprive people of the right to marry the one they love. Mainers struck down a law that was passed in May which gave gay couples the right to get married. It was expected to be a close vote, but many experts were expecting gay rights to squeak out a narrow victory. Instead, about 53% of voters decided that only straight people should have the right to marry.
This is depressing news. Despite many recent victories in the fight for equal rights, this vote makes clear that we still have a long way to go. This isn’t Oklahoma or Idaho; Barack Obama won Maine by 17% of the vote. If gay marriage can’t even win in liberal states like California and Maine, equal rights nation-wide look a long way off.
I see absolutely no reason that people should only be permitted to marry those of a certain gender. I’ve heard dozens of arguments for why only straight people should be able to get married, but they are all completely unconvincing. In the end, people do not oppose gay marriage because they have studied the evidence and found that it will have harmful consequences; they oppose it because it conflicts with their religious beliefs. I see no reason why I should respect these people’s beliefs any more than I respect the beliefs of those who used the Bible to support banning interracial marriage.
Of course, no matter how much I disagree with their views, everyone is entitled to a vote. What bothers me most about the situation in Maine is the amount of money that religious groups across the country gave in order to convince Maine voters to take away rights from gay people. In a recent article, Nate Silver examined where the money was actually coming from. While gay marriage supporters raised 43% of their money from within Maine, gay marriage opponents raised only 26% of their money within the state. While the pro-gay marriage side received contributions from 3,766 Mainers, only 422 contributed to the campaign against gay marriage. While the pro-gay marriage side got most of their money from small donors, much of the anti-gay marriage money came from religious groups. Over 80% of the in-state funding came from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, and almost all of the out-of-state funding came from the National Organization for Marriage, which has ties to the Mormon church.
And just as in California, this money was used to run ads playing to the fears of voters. These ads threatened that unless gays were prevented from marrying, there would be a flood of lawsuits, religions would lose their tax exemptions, and young children would be taught in school that it's okay to be gay.
The news might not be all bad though. It is looking like a referendum in Washington state which would increase domestic partner rights will probably pass, though the vote is much closer than people predicted. And even though change is coming much more slowly than I would like, it is coming. I hope that 50 years from now people will look back with shock that there was once a time when the government told you what sex your partner had to be, just like people growing up today are shocked that only 50 years ago, the government got to determine what race your partner had to be. I think that day will become a reality, but there is still a lot of work left.
I leave you with this touching gay marriage ad from Ireland:
Update: Just to be clear, I do not think that everyone who opposes gay marriage is a bigot. However, there are certainly some people who oppose gay marriage out of bigotry, though I don't claim to know how many. I have some regrets about titling this post as I did because it seems to imply that everyone who voted against gay marriage is a bigot.