Maine will go down in the history books as the gay heartbreaker of Election Day 2009: Voters vetoed gay marriage even though it had won the approval of their state legislature and governor.
But elsewhere there were positive reminders of just how quickly the gay movement is progressing, even at the ballot box. This election also underscores how critical it is for those of us who are gay or gay-friendly to be out in all aspects of our lives — not just with some relatives or a few colleagues.
Look at Washington state, where voters, by 53 percent to 47 percent, approved a sweeping domestic partnership law, giving registered same-sex couples and older heterosexual partners the same state rights as married couples.
And check out Kalamazoo, Mich.: By 62 percent to 38 percent, voters upheld an ordinance outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
And gay candidates scored important breakthroughs. For example:
— Mark Kleinschmidt became mayor of Chapel Hill, N.C.
— Charles Pugh not only became the first openly gay person elected to Detroit’s city council but also will be its president because he was the top vote-getter. Pugh is African-American. About 11 percent of the estimated 450 openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender elected officials in this country are people of color.
— Sandra Kurt was elected to the Akron, Ohio, City Council.
Stay tuned for two runoffs:
On Dec. 1, Georgia’s Simone Bell has a good shot at becoming the nation’s first openly lesbian African-American state legislator.
In Texas, if frontrunner Annise Parker wins her Dec. 12 runoff, Houston — the nation’s fourth-biggest city — will become the largest American city to have an openly gay mayor.
Those bright spots should help us put into perspective the blocking of gay marriage in Maine and the defeat of gay-supportive gubernatorial nominees in New Jersey and Virginia. The sour economy, not gay rights, was the key issue in both governors’ races.
Meanwhile, the Democrats captured a congressional seat in New York state after Republican conservatives drove the gay-marriage-supporting Republican nominee from the contest. Grabbing that House seat away from the GOP might keep Democrats from misreading the gubernatorial losses and using them as an excuse to delay action on long-overdue gay-rights measures on Capitol Hill.
In the coming weeks, keep an eye on New Jersey. Its legislature could deliver a marriage bill to defeated Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine before his successor — Republican Chris Christie, who has vowed to veto any such bill that reaches him — is sworn in.
“We’re more than hopeful,” says Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s gay-rights group.
As for Maine, well, what a fitting irony that the same day that marriage rights slipped away there from gay couples, a Louisiana justice of the peace resigned because of the outcry over his refusal to marry an interracial couple.
That Louisiana official accidentally provided a timely reminder that some hearts change very slowly, thus the need for all civil rights movements to turn to courts and legislatures.
It took a 1967 Supreme Court ruling — controversial at that time — to strike down the last 16 states’ interracial marriage bans.
Without a nudge from judges, voters clearly would have taken quite a bit longer. It wasn’t until 2000 that Alabamans voted to erase an unenforceable interracial marriage ban from their state constitution. And, even then, 41 percent of voters objected to getting rid of it.
In many ways, getting 47 percent of Maine voters to support gay marriage is amazing, given how relatively new the concept of same-sex marriage is to most Americans.
Eventually, a majority of voters in state after state will embrace gay marriage. Already, pushes to repeal anti-gay marriage bans are under way in California, Oregon and Michigan.
Momentum is now on the side of equality, even when setbacks make the biggest headlines.
Deb Price of The Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues.
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