Maine’s first summer of marriage equality brings joy

On that ordinary, near-perfect Maine summer day, there was a wedding of commonplace delight and joy.

A crowd, dressed up for the occasion, awaited the ceremony. The sanctuary was packed. As the couple entered, the feeling was electric. The rabbi spoke, sharing warm and funny stories: how they met, what they said they loved about each other. Chanting the seven Hebrew prayers that accompany traditional Jewish weddings, his voice carried authority and depth. After the wine glass was crushed, the attendees shouted “Mazel tov!” and burst into song.

No wedding, of course, feels commonplace to those involved. And this one had two things making it extra special. One, my congregation’s own rabbi was getting married, so there were many rabbis there, along with hundreds from the local synagogues and the community. And, two, Rabbi Darah Lerner, and her partner of 27 years, Kelly Quagliotti, could not have been legally wed in Maine last summer. By passing Question 1 in November 2012, Mainers made this possible.

Bringing marriage equality to Maine was a big project. After the Legislature passed and Gov. John Baldacci signed equal marriage into law in 2009, it was overturned in a referendum.

EqualityMaine quickly went back to work. Mainers ambivalent about or against gay and lesbian people marrying found themselves engaged in remarkable conversations. Asked to reflect on the people in their lives who are gay and lesbian – cousins, co-workers, shopkeepers, and friends – some who had voted against their marriage rights in 2009 changed their minds.

In some ways, moving public opinion was utterly predictable. Twenty years ago I could see the wave about to push across the political landscape. Opinion surveys showed that younger voters were more supportive of marriage equality and that opposition was highest among the oldest age groups. As time went on and those most approving replaced those disagreeing in the population, it could be foreseen that eventually, majorities would approve of marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

But the change didn’t come from an automatic process. It was driven by new knowledge and action. When I grew up, people did not talk about being gay. People who were gay couldn’t hold certain jobs, couldn’t get security clearances. It took great courage for anyone to come out then, as it still does for plenty of people. Gay teens face high rates of bullying and, for those kicked out of their homes by unaccepting parents, homelessness.

Gay and lesbian people’s personal bravery and the political action of both gay and straight people in the gay rights movement created change. As more straight people learned they knew, liked and loved gay people, attitudes shifted.

Every group of Americans, no matter when they were born, moved to greater support of broader marriage rights. Now gay and lesbian people can marry in more than a quarter of states and more than 40 percent of people in the U.S. live in states with marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships. Opposing arguments look increasingly weak.

Opponents who cite religious texts don’t acknowledge there is no single religious position on marriage. All religions are free to choose whom to marry. Atheists marry without clergy.

And religious life is not static. As one study shows, “If current trends persist, religious progressives will soon outnumber religious conservatives.”

Michael Heath and Paul Madore thought they could convince Mainers to vote against marriage equality by talking about sodomy and driving around with a picture showing two male Marines hugging and kissing. While Heath and Madore believe in the power of the “s” word, most couples don’t care what others do in their bedrooms. The image they thought was a turnoff instead showed that some of our respected service members are gay. If anything, the picture promotes marriage equality.

Opponents say they are against the “gay lifestyle,” but the gay and lesbian people we know have lives that are so very typical. All of us, gay and straight, go to work and the grocery store, watch movies, make dinner, do laundry, and care for children and elderly relatives.

In years to come, marriages of same-sex couples will be as joyful as Darah and Kelly’s, and so ordinary that most will wonder what the fuss was all about. To the happy couple and Maine, Mazel tov!

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.