Last Tuesday, Maine became the 31st state to put same-sex marriage to a public vote — and to have it lose. The Pine Tree State's debate over gay marriage lasted the better part of this year, galvanized thousands of volunteers, and attracted more than $9 million in contributions to both sides. In the end, 53 percent of the 567,593 voters who cast ballots on November 3 voted to repeal the gay-marriage law that the Legislature passed and Governor John Baldacci signed this spring.
Now, gay-marriage supporters (and opponents, too) are contemplating what comes next. There's been talk of "boycotting Maine," and Sid Tripp, of the DownEast Pride Alliance, thinks that Maine's tourism industry will suffer as a result of Tuesday's vote. The opposition has threatened to put forth a constitutional ban on gay marriage, depending on the outcomes of legislative elections in 2010. Some supporters are suggesting going to the courts; others want to re-examine the state's referendum system. But before they make any big moves, gay-marriage backers need to assess what went wrong.
As the No On 1 campaign and its organizational allies do the requisite post-election soul-searching, they're bound to encounter some of the following morning-after memes:
• There will be questions about how well the campaign reached out to voters in northern and rural parts of this large and politically diverse state.
• Some will wonder how effectively No On 1 responded to attacks from the opposition. Sure, the campaign responded quickly (lessons learned from California, check), but did those responses carry the right message?
• Still others will continue to point fingers at the Democratic National Committee and President Barack Obama, who failed to offer the No On 1 campaign sufficient support, financially or logistically (even as they encouraged voters to pay attention to races in New Jersey and Virginia).
• And a few might suggest (as one poster did on the conservative Web site AsMaineGoes.com) that Governor John Baldacci's involvement (as a public speaker at several No On 1 events; as a GOTV robo-caller) put off voters.
But No On 1 political operatives such as Shenna Bellows, of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, and Mary Bonauto, of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, want to avoid making any of these claims, at least until they complete what Bonauto calls a "fearless analysis" of the election data.
"We want to try to figure out why we lost," the longtime gay-rights attorney and activist says. "It hurts to lose. That said, people on our side are very happy with our campaign. We stayed on the high road." And most importantly, "I think there is momentum. There is no doubt we are moving forward."
The question is, how?
"Clearly we still have to win over another 30,000 hearts and minds, so the first thing that people can do is enlist friends and family members who are upset and grieving into this effort," Bellows says. In addition to continue public education, the next steps could come in the form of more legislation, a court case, or a citizen-initiative referendum.