Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What the Maine Vote Tells Us

Last night, early in the night, I saw the stats trending down in Maine and called my close buddy, Ivy Bottini to tell her, “We’re losing Maine.”
I added, “The majority never votes positively on the rights of a minority. They will always protect their turf.” (That’s why we invented democracy – so that the majority couldn’t trample on the rights of the minority. )
What Ivy told me in return was an old maxim that we veteran activists know well, “We have to take power. No one is going to give it to us.”

So I called Mark Sullivan, spokesman for Protect Maine Equality, and asked him, “Do you have a back-up plan for tomorrow? Our troops should be staging protests, or a statewide sit-in tomorrow.”
But I could tell, he didn’t want to hear about defeat that early in the evening.

So I get up this morning and see that Maine lost by one full percentage point more than we did last fall in California, 53-47%.

There was nothing wrong with Maine’s campaign and nothing critical wrong with California’s either. Both struggled valiantly and brought our side up from the mid 30% ten years ago to the highs of 47-48%.
Simply put, straight people want to keep their “M” word. If gay people can get married, how can they understand their world? It’s changing too much, too fast, too soon for them. I know these are the comments of older people like my Roman Catholic parents. They don’t understand the subtlety of our argument that civil unions and domestic partnerships are not separate-but-equal categories. They are telling us, “Why can’t you just take your civil rights, since you say your fight is about civil rights, and leave us the M word?”
This sentiment showed clearly in Washington state last night where our winning ballot measure (Yes, we won in Washington!) simply elevate the status of civil unions to grant us all the rights of married couples—without using the “M” word.

What does this tell us? What is the message of Maine and Washington for our gay strategic leaders?

I think the LBGT movement should stop wasting our precious funds and energy on a strategy that leaves 90% of gays and lesbians out of the picture. We have lost in 31 states now, and the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over regardless of feedback. I think our leaders should be more concerned with winning our rights, instead of fighting paper-tiger battles around the “M” word. We should re-focus our efforts on doing what Washington did—winning. Our movement needs to be about winning civil rights for domestic partners in all 50 states. Dozens of states don’t even have domestic partnership (civil union) statues. They have nothing. Where are our big organizations and their purse strings when it comes to fighting for simple recognition of gays as couples in Kansas, Florida, or Colorado?

I say its time to re-direct the gay movement into fighting the real battle for civil rights in all 50 states. Put the “M” word on the back burner for a decade and watch—it will fall into our laps as soon as the older generation stops voting. But during this next decade, our people need REAL rights, not words, in order to conduct their lives as fuller couples, parents and human beings with practical needs.

As a movement we’ve made real progress over the last four decades. But progress means winning battles, not losing expensive wars. We cannot allow the right to define the direction of our movement as we pour millions into their coffers. If we re-direct our efforts towards writing an effective series of laws that gives gay & lesbian couples their civil rights, in much the same way as California legislators like Sheila Kuehl did over the last twenty years, gay couples in dozens of states will profit from this re-direction.