This is a second piece of analysis on what happened in Maine, organizing by the campaign and progressive allies, and where the LGBT movement goes from here. For Part 1, click here.
There is a great deal of soul-searching and strategy questions that have come out in the wake of the loss in Maine on Tuesday. I have some thoughts on them all:
1. The LGBT movement is powerless and handcuffed on marriage referenda. A number of very smart people have argued to me the following: that in California, we had a terrible No On 8 campaign and lost by four points, and in Maine, we had a near-flawless campaign and lost by six. The problem, the argument goes, isn't the execution of campaigns but that we are powerless to win these votes until the elderly, who tend to be far more against marriage equality, die off, and the young open-minded supporters of marriage equality take over.
Not only do I think that's wrong, I think it's a very dangerous assumption. In the first place, I, and many close observers, do believe a better No On 8 campaign could have won the vote. We led by as many as 14 points and 17 points in two different reliable polls as late as September. I don't believe those leads are entirely because of some kind of LGBT-specific version of the Bradley Effect. In the second place, these campaigns aren't hopeless. Although the result was reversed in 2008, don't forget we won a statewide marrage vote in Arizona in 2006- not exactly a bastion of liberal college towns and LGBT people- in fact, considering the retirement population, far from it. A switch of 31,909 votes would have won in Maine. Fixing some of the problems I outlined in my earlier post, many of which are execution issues rather than long-term obstacles, would bring us closer by itself. I look at it the same way I do Obama's campaign- lots of people said an African-American could never win until the demographics change or race relations are improved over a long period of time. In the end, he got far more votes from places many never thought he would. We don't need to wait years to switch 31,909 votes. In the third place, the attitude that the LGBT movement is handcuffed by demographics demobilizes supporters who, now more than ever, need to be mobilized and active.
2. Complaints about tyranny of the majority. Others have rightfully complained that the rights of the minority should never be put to the vote of the majority. I fully agree with this. When I testified last week at the DC Council hearing on our own marriage legislation, I thought one of the best points made was by Councilmember Catania, who pointed out to Bishop Harry Jackson, the local majordomo homophobe, and a black man, that the last time civil rights of a minority was put to a vote in DC was Dec. 21, 1856- the right to vote of African-Americans. He's absolutely right that it shouldn't happen.
My problem with this complaint is that it distracts from the issue, and leads to the same lamenting in the LGBT community that these things are hopeless in the short term because so long as these ballot votes exist, the game is fixed. It discourages participation. Look, that is the world as it should be, and not the world as it is. As Adam Bonin at DailyKos commented to me, the nature of democratic self-governance is such that citizens will always be able to amend their constitutions and laws, for better or for worse. The rules of the game are set and we must play within them.
3. Approaches to showcasing gay couples. There is one very notable difference between the No On 8 campaign and No On 1 that advances our cause. A colleague and friend who was on the ground in Maine and ran a 1995 ballot campaign there, which pertained to restricting the state's ability to enact pro-LGBT measures, said something very interesting to me. In 1995, she said, their campaign- like No On 8's refusal to include gay people in their TV ads- made every effort to hide gay people in their campaign, and that was a big reason why they won. They won, she told me, but they didn't advance the overall opinions and attitudes. Contrast that and the similar approach of the No On 8 campaign with the No On 1 campaign, which had married couples, some with kids, out in front at every turn- in TV ads, on their direct mail, on the website, you name it.
There were two completely different approaches from California and Maine, and both got at least 47% of the vote. But for our movement to advance, it is far better to have No On 1's approach. They proved you don't have to hide gay people like it's 1995. A win in Maine would have been the best thing, but it is a strong second choice to move the ball forward in terms of attitudes.
4. Moving the ball forward in steps. I think there is another victory we are overlooking here. People don't always jump from one end of the spectrum to the other in terms of not being in favor of any "special" rights at all to being supportive of marriage equality. Many people are moved from the anti-equality end to grudgingly (or willingly) being supportive of civil unions, for example. They are the folks you hear saying "just don't call it marriage". It's not a perfect situation, but it's a step forward. I've experienced the same thing on a personal level in terms of family and friends being completely opposed to my sexual orientation, who moved to being "okay, just don't tell your grandparents" to inviting my boyfriend to their home to asking if they can help plan a wedding. This is a process, and not only did we get 260,000 people to vote in favor of full marriage equality, but the conversations we started moved people more than if we didn't. Not only is this important to remember, but it is another point against the "we are handcuffed by old homophobes and the rules of the game, so we're not going to win for a long time" argument.
We didn't win in Maine, but our chances are not handcuffed. Let's remember what could have been done better, remember the take-away lessons from these recent campaigns, and rededicate ourselves immediately.