I’m not going to try to spin it: Our loss in Maine yesterday, where voters rejected a law that would have given same-sex couples the right to marry, was deeply disappointing and discouraging. All of us here at the LGBT Project started yesterday hopeful and were further encouraged by reports that turnout was well above what was expected. But as the early returns showing No on 1 with a slight lead turned into a 30,000 vote lead for the Yes side, I had to concede that we’d lost (though I did keep hitting refresh on the Bangor Daily News results page until the wee hours of morning).
Now I’m here, dejected, eating consolation donuts provided to us by our friends in the Reproductive Freedom Project and wondering when and where we will finally get that first victory for marriage at the ballot box. But part of me can’t help but be excited about the many victories we had yesterday, in races big and small, that prove we’re making progress toward LGBT equality.
Approval of Washington’s Referendum 71 is NOT a done deal (don’t believe everything you read on the Internet), but with over a million votes counted, our side does have a 20,000 vote lead. The state estimates that it has almost 400,000 ballots still left to count. Add to that any ballots postmarked yesterday but still in the mail, which will also be included in the final tally. The bulk of the ballots uncounted are coming from the more liberal counties, so we’re hopeful that R-71 will be approved, which will give Washington’s domestic partners the tangible rights given to married couples there, although still not the status and respect that comes with marriage.
In spite of transphobic fear mongering from opponents of equality, Kalamazoo’s anti-discrimination ordinance was retained by the voters in a landslide, with 62 percent in favor. In addition, all six city commissioners who voted for the ordinance were re-elected (the seventh did not run for re-election). This victory, in concert with last year’s victory in Gainesville, Florida, is repudiating the anti-trans scare tactics used by our foes. Voters see through these misleading messages and vote against discrimination anyway.
There were some major victories for LGBT candidates in municipal elections last night. Annise Parker, an openly lesbian candidate, came in first in the race for mayor of Houston, the country’s fourth largest city. She and the second place finisher will advance to a run-off. In a squeaker, it appears that Mark Kleinschmidt, an openly gay man, has been elected mayor of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Detroit, St. Petersburg, Akron, Maplewood, Minnesota, and SALT LAKE CITY all elected their first openly gay or lesbian city council members.
Think about that last one for a minute. Salt Lake City, home of the headquarters of the Mormon Church, elected their first openly gay city council member. If that’s not a sign of progress, I’m not sure what is.
In Maine, despite amazing efforts by the No on 1 campaign and a host of coalition partners (including us!), we lost. Ballots outstanding and a potential recount could tighten the margin of defeat, but will not change the outcome. Rumors of low voter turnout in Portland and the youth vote not materializing abound, but the truth is that no one knows what happened yet, and we won’t for at least several days.
What we do know is that this is just round one. For those who don’t know the history, Maine voters also rejected an LGBT nondiscrimination law twice at the ballot box before passing it in 2005. In that multiyear effort, Maine leaders stayed committed to the values of equality and fairness, working and reaching out until the voters got it and agreed. That will happen again in Maine. Opponents of marriage equality may be victorious today, but they should know we haven’t given up. We will be back.
Even with lots of victories, a defeat is a defeat. Take today to lick your wounds. I know I’m going to. But don’t take too long, because tomorrow there’s a Senate hearing on ENDA (more on that in a post later today) and we all need to be back in the game for that one. There’s just too much going on to spend a lot of time on the sidelines. Every face-off, even the ones we lose, gets us closer to equality. We will get there. You can count on it.