I don't believe in gay stereotypes. With one exception.
For a long time, I've been convinced homosexuals make lousy political strategists.
Yes, I saw Milk, the movie about assassinated San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man ever elected in California. But before redistricting allowed Milk to squeak into office, he lost three straight (oops, sorry) elections.
Yes, I've followed the career of former state senator and unsuccessful congressional candidate Dale McCormick, the first openly lesbian member of the Maine Legislature. Today, McCormick heads a state agency in charge of weather-stripping or something. Like many of the local gay activists who've followed her, she never quite made it out of the minor leagues.
Yes, I've watched groups fighting to end discrimination based on sexual orientation finally gain approval of a state civil-rights law. But only after failing more times than Harvey Milk and for reasons — incompetence, arrogance, naivety — that were mostly their own fault.
Is it genetic? Is it environmental? Is it because one of their parents wasn't a good role model? Whatever the reason, the history of gay political activity in this state has been characterized by a bumbling ineptitude of a magnitude that makes the Maine Republican Party look functional.
OK, I'm exaggerating. Not even a comparison to Circuit City makes the Maine GOP look functional.
Given this background, I had low expectations for the proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in Maine. I figured our legislators, leery of the hysterical reaction elsewhere and distracted by this state's fiscal crisis, would have little time and less stomach for such an emotional debate.
Bad guess on my part.
Because Equality Maine isn't your lesbian grandmother's gay-rights group. EM is the entity once known as the Maine Lesbian Gay Political Alliance (MLGPA, initials some believed stood for Most Likely to Get Pummeled Again). In remaking itself, the organization has proved that gayness and successful political strategizing can co-exist.
Consider me enlightened. I'm even canceling plans for a TV series in which I'd have given gay office-seekers advice about winning elections. It was going to be named Straight Call For The Queer Pol.
The marriage-equality bill sailed through the legislative process not because it wasn't controversial, but because Equality Maine had carefully laid the groundwork.
At every step, the process was managed by the group not only for maximum political impact, but also to address broader concerns. EM has obviously been thinking outside the State House and preparing from the beginning for a public vote on the issue if opponents gather enough signatures to force a people's veto referendum. That's something MLGPA and its offspring Maine Won't Discriminate lacked the foresight and the savvy to accomplish.
EM and its allies in the Maine Freedom to Marry Coalition started their campaign with a couple of smoothly coordinated moves. In November 2008, they sent volunteers to dozens of polling places to collect signatures supporting same-sex unions. In one day, they gathered 33,000 names. A week later, liberal clergy members held news conferences in several locations to endorse the marriage plan.