From the community

Is Maine being used in the same sex marriage debate?

Posted Sept. 30, 2009, at 8:43 a.m.

Note: Update on bottom of post in regard to how Maine is being used in the same sex marriage debate.

Talk about stepping into the lion’s den.

At first, before the legislation was signed, I was somewhat against it. It’s not that I don’t have compassion for same sex couples. I do. It’s not that I don’t worry that adverse effects could be experienced by these individuals. I do.

I thought, cumbersome as it might be, that hopefully much of this might be able to be satisfactorily addressed via civil unions, anti-discrimination measures etc. It was a somewhat unpopular position to take, as the majority of Mainers that I spoke with disagreed with me. Many strenuously.

Once the measure became law, I supported it. And if it is law when I am Governor I will support it whole-heartedly and enthusiastically. I believe in the will of the people. And I believe in the rule of law.

Some of the intensity of the repeal effort bothers me. While I realize that this may not be the first weighing in on the matter, I feel that now that the people of Maine have spoken, so to speak, through their legislature, signed by the Governor, that this should carry some weight.

More weight than it seems to be carrying to some.

While Maine has a storied history of citizen action, which I believe is overall empowering as a state, I also feel that it reflects, as well, a failure of leadership in Augusta. Apart from this specific issue, whether it be tax reform, gambling etc., the same issues come up over and over again with both sides continuing to battle over many years. In my interview on WVOM this morning I talked a little bit about how I believe a leader needs to be able to be effective in regard to working with individuals to find solutions, as feasible, beyond what might be their specific perspectives and points of view. Solutions that mark real progress and have the capability of being stepping stones to further progress and more enduring.

Certainly, we will each have, and should have, a core set of issues of such principle to us that we rightfully will not significantly bend. But I believe that when these become more than limited in scope and number that our ability to collectively find solutions that work for the community or the state can become impaired.

Rhetoric says it is a moral issue for both sides. I do believe in moral issues but that can also serve as a wedge.

Certainly in an issue as emotional as same sex marriage it can seem, on the surface, almost impossible to find common ground. My positions above may possibly have alienated either or both sides. I do not in most instances grant equivalency to all competing positions. That would be absurd. But certainly, as is the case for me also in this issue, I can see some merits in arguments to both sides.

I do want all couples to feel equal in the rights that they can enjoy. I can empathize, to some degree, also with others’ feelings about a more circumscribed notion of marriage. Beyond this specific issue, I know that some feel that our state has become “too liberal” (whatever that might mean) and I sense if I am correct that some of the resistance on specific issues might be from a more general concern of this type — a sort of slippery slope fear, or a feeling that Maine has changed in character over time.

Change is inevitable. We must accept it but we must also work together, TOGETHER, in its creation. Leaders, political and otherwise, take these reins to build bridges of understanding, and hopefully eventually policy, to positively bring shared sentiments into action.

It’s hard work. But it is necessary. It’s how we lead as a great state, and rather than coming around over and over to the same war of words and counteractions build a platform for progress. I cannot tell you what the end result would specifically look like, because that is for all of us to determine, but that is the platform, I believe, of the type of successful process involved.

Finally, I would add that these types of issues, extremely important as they are, can rise even moreso in importance when we can’t agree on, and feel disempowered in regard to, economic solutions. Sometimes it seems as though the worse we are doing economically, the more we find other issues to consume us to which we fight to the death. We should be concerned about these issues, and use good processes to make progress on them. A history of successes can provide us greater confidence also that we can find solutions, and common ground, to the types of issues, of any size, that presently seem unsolvable.

Update: The influx of money and influence from outside Maine in the same sex marriage debate raises the question of whether Maine is being used by outside interests. I have spoken with some legislators who tell me that special interests have played a substantial role in the same sex marriage debate in Maine from the beginning. From the many Mainers that I have spoken with I can tell that feelings are running intensely on both sides of the issue. What roles outside interests are playing in framing and structuring the debate I really do not know but am interested in. As I detailed in another article, “How Maine Failed”, I think that outside influences in some cases have had an undue, and negative, influence on Maine. I write in part:

“I believe that Maine has had its economy dominated, and lifestyle shaped, by outside money interests because Maine, as a state, has been unable to successfully marshal together its inherent and actualized resources to more effectively shape its own destiny.

So we’ve had our destiny shaped for us to a significant degree.”

As Mainers we are very intelligent and thoughtful individuals. There is no reason why we shouldn’t well consider the larger context and ideas of others outside Maine. But I’d like to see – if you agree – that the conclusions in regard to what we want for our state are decided by our collectively arrived at shared or honorably negotiated values and ideals that we hold ourselves as Mainers.

Update 2: Well, it looks like the Portland Press Herald agrees with me on this issue (generally speaking, in regard to outside interests). A September 5 editorial in the Press Herald is entitled “Same-sex marriage debate can, should be civil” and bears the subheading “Instead  of letting others set the tone for the discussion, Mainers must do that for themselves.”

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