Thursday, May 07, 2009

Maine OK's Gay Marriage

The Globe article here (by Jenna Russell and Eric Moskowitz) has a nice, in-depth coverage not only of Maine's governor signing same sex marriage into law there, but also the status of New Hampshire's bill (voted through the legislature and nobody knows what the gov. will do), and update from D.C.: Pelosi says Congress won't meddle.

Governor John E. Baldacci of Maine yesterday became the first governor in the country to sign a same-sex marriage bill into law without being spurred to action by a court decision. Also yesterday, New Hampshire legislators approved a gay marriage law, raising to five the number of New England states that have legalized marriage between same-sex couples and bringing the region closer to uniform acceptance.

Both states face more hurdles before couples may wed there. In Maine, where the law will not take effect for 90 days, conservative groups have pledged to bring the measure to a statewide vote. They are expected to collect 55,000 signatures in the next three months to challenge the law on the ballot in November.

In New Hampshire, Governor John Lynch, a Democrat, will have five days from when he receives the bill to veto it, sign it, or let it become law without his signature. If he does not block it, it would take effect in January 2010. Lynch has not signaled his intentions, but has opposed same-sex marriage in the past.
The Maine governor was formerly an opponent of same-sex marriage (he preferred civil unions), but said his views had evolved over time -- he no longer sees civil unions as equal to marriage. Proponents had been working on moving gay rights forward in Maine for a number of years. In 1998 and again in 2000, the legislature had voted to include sexual orientation among the classes which it would be illegal to discriminate against. In both legislative years, the effort failed in a state-wide referendum. Finally, in 2005, the law was changed to include a ban on discriminating against people based on sexual orientation.
The success of the 2005 campaign - as well as the swift recent progress of the gay marriage bill, which was introduced for the first time four months ago - followed a change in the strategy of equal rights proponents, said Amy Fried, a political science professor at the University of Maine in Orono.

"They showed real families, in real situations, so instead of a theoretical argument, it was about real people," she said.

The recent referendum battles in the state forced more gay people to identify themselves and talk about the issue, said Mary Bonauto, the civil rights project director for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the Boston-based group that campaigned for the change. The debate made more Mainers aware of their gay friends and relatives, a powerful tool in shifting public opinion, according to specialists.

"Once people know somebody who's out, they can't have the same stereotypes," Fried said.

Supporters also traced the sea change to Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, in 2004.

"Once there was marriage in Massachusetts, people could see what it looked like, and the truth emerged, that these families were not taking anything away from anyone else," Bonauto said. "Massachusetts obviously moved the conversation forward."
I was very much struck by these last paragraphs in the article. I believe that this is the key to both moving forward with gay rights, but also with all civil rights. When people know that they have a friend, a sibling, uncle, aunt or cousin who is gay, it is much harder to demonize or stereotype gays. The same also works with getting to know people of other races and ethnicities, I believe. This was one of the important achievements of busing. When children went to school with children of other races, classes, ethnicities, they (at least a bit) got to know (and sometimes befriend) them. It's much harder to stereotype, demonize and degrade a group when you know and care about somebody who turns out to be a member.


The other important change is seeing that Massachusetts has not fallen apart any faster than the rest of the nation, after instituting gay marriage. Instead, we actually got something of a tourism boost. And then things settled down, pretty much to normal. It's not a big deal any more. And now, more states are getting used to the idea and starting to agree to "live and let live." That's more like America.

GLAD (mentioned above in the article) has a very nice link on their page about the Maine success here. Their home page, linked in the article, above, has lots of other useful links. Always a helpful site.

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