Saying their ‘I don’ts’

Diverse City
By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  November 11, 2009

In case it slipped by one or two of you out there, Maine is a pretty homogenized state overall, even more so than a carton of Oakhurst or Hood milk. And no, despite the dairy analogy, I don't mean the whiteness of Mainers, though that's a big part of it.

While it is true that things are changing in Maine, racially, religiously, and otherwise, it's a slow process. Sometimes, it seems the biggest differentiator between most Mainers — at least where I live — is whether they speak that bastardized form of French or not.

With homogeneity often comes a distrust or even fear of outsiders. Of difference. And of change.

And that, I think, is why the "No on 1" folks lost, and why same-sex marriage will not be a reality in Maine right now.

Among those in the majority, there is a tendency to fear what is different — Blacks, Latinos, and most recently gays and lesbians — and that's the kind of sentiment that undermined the push for diversity training in the 1990s. Such training forced people to face their fears and to see a twisted vision of themselves in the metaphorical mirror. That made them uncomfortable. It was easier, I think, for such people to dismiss diversity training as inherently divisive or unnecessary. Question 1 had much the same effect, I suspect, on a little over half of Mainers who went to the polls this month.

Much like interracial marriages, same-sex marriages will almost certainly become a reality around here in the relatively near term, and elsewhere in the nation, unless the planet gets walloped by a huge meteor. But many, myself included, felt let down by last week's vote.

In fact, since Question 1 passed, I have witnessed many online and real-life buddies express anger and disgust over the situation, along with a feeling that those who voted against upholding the same-sex marriage law — which had been passed by legislators — were small-minded bigots.

It's an easy answer, and a tempting one to accept. But I don't think it speaks to the whole truth of why people voted the way they did.

I think many of the people who entered the voting booth and voted "yes" on Question 1 were operating from a place of ignorance and fear. Those two factors are what mostly create bigotry, I think, and not necessarily small-mindedness or meanness.

The ignorance and fear come about because in many cases, these people don't know anyone who is gay or lesbian. They have no real-world reference for them as people who want to commit, want families, and want what is best for those families.

Instead, they often have images of what flash across the screen during the gay pride time of year, when some men wear ass-less leather pants in public. It's a skewed image, but having grown up around annual gay-pride parades in Chicago, I have seen my fair share of flamboyant and in-your-face gay folks. They are the minority, but much like the stereotypical Black criminal, it's an image that sticks with people who fear change and difference.

One of the popular themes of the same-sex marriage opponents was to say, "Gay marriage would be taught in school." Predictably, many Mainers didn't see that as a positive form of diversity and acceptance of families of difference, but instead as a prelude to men in ass-less leather pants showing up on career day and talking to their kids.

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