Friday, November 06, 2009

The Sanctity of Marriage is Saved!

In May 2009, the Maine legislature passed a marriage equality bill. Governor Baldacci signed the bill - ensuring that Maine gays would have the same rights as Maine heterosexuals into law. Sadly for everyone, Maine has a process known as “the People’s Veto” which means that any Maine voter may propose a veto referendum to be placed on a statewide ballot, in order to reject a law recently passed by the Maine state legislature. The “People’s Veto” may have once seemed like a swell idea in a democracy, a way to give folks at the grassroots level a voice. In terms of social issues, a referendum question on a ballot means that tons of special interest money will pour in from out of state, to influence, and (in Maine’s case) determine the outcome.

This week, Maine voters vetoed the marriage equality law. Was it because Mainers feel differently from the very people they elect to represent them? I don’t think so. For months, Maine has been subjected to ominous TV and radio ads, telling them that if they didn’t vote yes, “Homosexual marriage would be taught in the schools.” This was a message that scared people, especially in the rural (more traditional) areas of the state. Thanks to No Child Left Behind, we all have a lot of concerns about what is and isn’t being taught in schools. These ads were a constant drone in the background of the lives of folks who ordinarily might have been inclined to live and let live. Maine school curricula were not suddenly going to feature classes in “Homosexual Indoctrination 101” – but the dishonest ads certainly gave that impression.

Where did the money come from for all this advertising? The group known as Stand for Maine Marriage raised approx. half a million dollars. Over 87% of that came from religious groups, and 72% of that was from out of state religious groups. The bulk of the money funneled to Stand for Maine Marriage came from four sources: The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Knights of Columbus, Focus on the Family, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Or, to put it more succinctly: Catholics, Evangelicals, and Mormons.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland had special second collections in September, to raise money to fight marriage equality. Those collections raised $86,000. At a time when Maine has an 8.5% unemployment rate, where homelessness is on the rise, and soup kitchens and food pantries are serving record numbers of people – the Roman Catholic Diocese chose to dun their parishioners (with a second collection!) for funds to fight gay people getting married.

No one has ever been able to explain how it is that gay folks getting married will affect heterosexual marriages. If gay people can get married, will straight guys (who may have occasionally looked dreamily at pictures of gay men) suddenly abandon their wives, and run out to buy leather chaps to wear in Gay Pride parades? That seems unlikely, though there are those closet leatherboys who may long to. The reality is that nothing will change, other than more folks will be getting married. It won’t mean diddly to your heterosexual marriage. Losing jobs and homes are a lot more likely to have an impact on Maine families.

Churches all over the state had “Vote Yes” signs on their lawns – in flagrant violation of their tax-exempt status. If the Roman Catholic Diocese wants to play politics (and it seems they do), they should start paying taxes, and that goes for the evangelicals and the Mormons, too. NOM is believed to be a front for the LDS. They’re very careful to keep their donors a secret, so that no one will know where their money comes from. Maine election laws stipulate that groups raising over $5.000 have to file forms and disclose their donors. NOM is suing the state of Maine because they claim this is a violation of free speech, and all that paperwork is just too onerous. The marriage equality groups didn’t seem to have any trouble meeting the requirements. Of course, they didn’t have anything to hide.

It was an odd election. Maine voters voted down TABOR, again. The so-called taxpayer bill of rights keeps cropping up in referendum states, no matter how many times the voters kill it. TABOR has been a huge failure in Colorado, and Maine voters are wise to keep cutting that particular hydra off at the knees.

Even more interesting was the vote on medical marijuana. Less than a week after the NH legislature failed to override Governor Lynch’s veto of a medical marijuana bill that passed the House and Senate earlier in the year. Maine passed a medical marijuana bill in 1999. The sky didn’t fall, and the chronically and terminally ill were not selling pot at schoolyards. A decade later, Maine voters voted in favor of expanding their medical marijuana statute to include more heath conditions, and to set up distribution centers for medical marijuana patients. Mainers very clearly have compassion for the chronically and terminally ill people in their state, and a live and let live philosophy about the whole thing.

That kind of live and let live philosophy is part of Maine tradition, which makes the veto of the marriage equality so strange. It seems likely that once this all settles down, and the good people of our neighboring state realize how religious groups from out of state manipulated them, they will be ready. Marriage equality will be passed by the legislature again, and it will be challenged again, but next time, Maine voters will know better.

“They are preserving the sanctity of marriage so that two gay men who’ve been together for 25 years can’t get married, but a guy can still get drunk in Vegas and marry a hooker at the Elvis chapel! The sanctity of marriage is saved!"
Lea DeLaria

© sbruce 2009 This appeared as an op-ed in the November 6, 2009 Conway Daily Sun

h/t to Feministing for the picture


DissedBelief said...

I just read this article in the Sun Susan, and once more you have educated us!! Seeing all the ads, pros and cons, on ME TV the past month, I think most of us realized that the ridiculous ads against gay marriage were somehow supported by a religious group. But I had no idea of the details, which you have now supplied us with! Absolutely disgraceful and hypocritical of anyone calling themselves "a Christian". I must say however, that my encounters with the Western Maine community has not been positive. I have found the majority to have an almost "Southern" outlook attitude and mindset to the world in general. Without doubt, these individuals would have voted to refuse their neighbors equality in marriage. How do they sleep?

Nikkiru said...

It took more than one trip to the polls to get sexual minorities the protection of Maine's human rights laws, with the opposition resorting to the same kind of dishonest scare tactics. But in the end, truth and sanity prevailed. It will prevail on marriage equality too.

Nikkiru said...

It took more than one trip to the polls to get sexual minorities the protection of Maine's human rights law. But we got there, while the opposition was using the same kind of dishonest scare tactics they used this time.

We will get there with marriage equality too.