I got home from work last night just in time to watch the initial results trickle in from Maine. Although many issues were on the ballot last night, the one we were all watching was the referendum on marriage equality - the so-called "people's veto." The state legislature in Maine approved marriage equality last summer, and the governor signed it into law, making Maine the 5th state in the US to grant marriage rights to all its citizens, not just its heterosexual ones. No sooner did this happen than those opposing it started rallying the troops and put the rights of a minority to an up/down vote.
We all know how it turned out, even though it was a real nail-biter for awhile. 52% of those voting chose to strip Maine's gay and lesbian residents of the right to marry, and in so doing, ripped away the privileges that all those in heterosexual marriages take for granted. Although these results make me sick, the fact that the majority was allowed to vote on whether or not a minority gets to have certain rights makes me even sicker. It is safe to say that most of those who voted yesterday in Maine's election were not gay or lesbian, yet here they are, determining what gays and lesbians should or should not be able to do, many (but not all) driven by fear, misinformation and religion which honestly have no place in making policy decisions.
One of the most frequent arguments I hear against marriage equality is that "it's against God's law!" I'm always amazed to hear that. I do not currently identify as a Christian, so that argument holds not one drop of water for me and the millions of others who do not subscribe to either an institutionalized religion or even to the simple concept of a God. Talk about forcing your beliefs on others. That's not to say that all Christians are against marriage equality - quite the contrary. There are many examples of that in Maine and elsewhere. What I would remind those that would be so quick to judge based on what their religion tells them to do is to remember the Great Commandment: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. And yes, that includes your gay or lesbian neighbor whether you like it or not.
It is not until people who enjoy the invisible privilege of being in the majority are prevented from deciding that other people are second class citizens or not worthy of the same rights that they currently enjoy that this nonsense will finally stop. I think that will eventually require some kind of US Supreme Court decision which is certainly a long ways off. There was no up/down vote to abolish slavery, nor was there a ballot initiative asking that women's right to vote be rejected after it was granted. Were we to propose either of those, I'm sure it would elicit gasps of incredulousness from those who voted to reject Maine's marriage equality law. But there is no difference. Civil rights issues are civil rights issues.
I hope that the No on 1 people take this through the courts now. It is certainly an option, and one that will likely be heard. It is the job of the judicial system to protect a minority from the tyranny of the majority. While my choice of words may seem overdrawn, you may want to ask a same-sex couple in Maine if they feel that I'm being dramatic in my word choice. Chances are high that they'd feel exactly the same way. And in case you're wondering why I give a shit, as I'm neither a resident of Maine nor gay, and I currently enjoy all the benefits of a legally recognized marriage, it's about being empathetic for your fellow humans, especially those that may be experiencing a different life experience than you. Just because the system is working fine for you doesn't mean that it's working well for everyone.
Maybe it's time to get rid of marriage altogether, to chuck that word on the scrap heap of history so that those that oppose equal rights for gay and lesbian couples can stop being hung up on it. I'll gladly redefine my relationship with my wife so that my gay and lesbian friends can enjoy the same rights I have. But if we did that, those that oppose marriage equality would be forced to look at the real reasons that they oppose equality, which I bet are 100 times uglier than the religious beliefs they hide them behind.
There's no doubt that this will fade from the news cycle by the end of the week, but remember that here in Iowa, we're gearing up for a new legislative session and those that oppose the marriage equality we have here in Iowa will have a new target in their sites. To those of you reading that live within the state, I encourage you to donate time or money (or both) to One Iowa. Hell, do it even if you don't live here. The fight in Iowa is going to look a lot like the one in Maine. Outside money will pour into the state (admittedly, on both sides), and unless our Democratic leadership in the statehouse hold fast, opponents of marriage equality will demand a vote on a Constitutional Amendment here in Iowa, which is a much bigger deal than what was passed in Maine.
Time is ultimately on our side. Opposition to marriage equality will look antiquated in 50 years. But that doesn't mean we have to wait for it. And I will continue to do my small part to make sure that all citizens will be equally protected under the law.