As the Election Day results began trickling in Wednesday night, it became clear that gay marriage supporters had suffered another stinging defeat at the hands of intolerance. The voters of Maine turned their back on a law passed by the legislature to finally extend legal recognition to gay partners. This defeat, both shocking and distressing for gay rights supporters, makes Maine the 31st state to ban gay marriage in a popular vote. But despite this setback, gay rights supporters are, slowly but surely, gaining ground in their struggle. Advocates must stay strong and keep fighting while the rest of the country grows steadily more cognizant of the discrimination inherent in anti-gay marriage laws.
In May, Maine’s legislature passed a law giving same-sex couples the right to legally wed — a huge step forward for equality in the state. But implementation of the law was put on hold because of a conservative uproar calling for its repeal. Groups hoping to get the law repealed in a referendum launched a successful petition drive and, ultimately, a same-sex marriage ban made its way onto the ballot. The ban was approved by 53 percent of the voters, meaning that every time a gay marriage ban decision has come before a statewide vote, the ban has passed.
But no matter how many states approve them, bans on gay marriage are indefensibly morally wrong. No degree of intolerance can hide the fact that gay relationships deserve the exact same legal recognition that heterosexual marriage receives. Neither state nor federal governments should have the right to hold certain marriages less valid than others. That’s because same-sex relationships are just as legitimate and loving as any heterosexual relationship, and failing to recognize them is a travesty of justice.
But despite the fact that one more state has been added to the list of those who banned gay marriage, the movement for equality is gaining ground. Maine’s ban was passed by a much slimmer margin than California’s last year. Protect Maine Equality, the campaign to defeat the ban, raised $1.5 million more than its opponents — an impressive feat, as the opponents are usually extremely well funded. So even though gay couples might feel further away from their end goal, the tide is turning.
After all, important gains are being made across the country. A Texas court recently recognized an out-of-state same-sex marriage couple and deemed the state’s ban unconstitutional. And on Election Day in Michigan, Kalamazoo voters approved a measure banning housing discrimination based on sexual orientation. These victories may seem small, but they reflect the basic fact that the gay rights movement will ultimately prevail in convincing enough Americans that gay relationships are loving, committed and healthy.
But this truth does not excuse the actions of the voters of Maine or any of the other states that banned gay marriage — including Michigan. Same-sex marriage bans are nothing more than codified discrimination, and Americans need to realize that later generations will view these bans the same way we now view bans on interracial marriage. States have an obligation to overcome this parallel immediately.