The unexpected victory in New York last week revives prospects for same-sex marriage in other states, including Maine. Some will say voters less than two years ago rejected same-sex marriage so it is too soon to reconsider the contentious issue. When it comes to constitutionally mandated equality, there is no reason for delay.
In New York — and in Maine, if a campaign to legalize same-sex marriages takes off as planned — Republican leaders will play leading roles. The Republicans in New York were a key to victory. They will also be crucial in Maine now that Republicans control both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office.
A big difference is that New York had strong help from a Democratic governor, while Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage is adamantly opposed to marriage equality.
The New York vote by a Republican-controlled Senate was 33 to 29 with only four members of the Republican majority joining the Democrats in supporting the measure. A reorganized advocacy coalition rallied wealthy Republican donors and flooded Republicans with postcards from voters. Even so, a New York senator visiting in Maine says the outcome was in doubt right up until the vote.
In Maine, the Legislature’s 2009 vote favoring the “Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom” was opposed by most Republicans. Only two of them in the Senate and five in the House voted “aye” with the Democrats.
In New York and now in Maine, the task was and is to reassure Republican legislators that their donors and constituents support the change to marriage for everyone.
But the issue will ultimately be decided by Maine voters, who overturned the 2009 law by 53-47 percent in November of that year.
A leading advocate of universal marriage, Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, says the decision in Maine must come from the voters. She says that “hearts and minds are changing.” But the question is whether they have changed enough to assure that marriage equality will win on the ballot.
EqualityMaine has 100 to 150 paid people and volunteers conducting one-on-one conversations throughout the state, with a goal of 40,000 interviews this summer. When the Maine coalition decides that a majority agrees that equality matters, they will press for a new vote.
Ms. Smith says that many of the objections are on religious grounds, especially among Roman Catholics. But, as in New York, the objective is to persuade the many Catholics who lead their lives as they think is right despite the dictates of the hierarchy. Language protecting the rights of religious institutions to follow their beliefs are also critical.
Asked about the New York vote during a Wednesday news conference, President Barack Obama listed his administration’s gay rights credentials before saying that each community and each state is different. This may be true, but allowing discrimination to persist while each state and community discusses the matter is simply wrong.