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.


Anonymous said...

Read comments about this blog at: said...

Ok, my comment got out of control.

Check my blog tomorrow! LOL

Anonymous said...

This article makes good sense to me. Do we really have all this money to fight this kind of "marriage' battle, when we could have civil rights in all 50 states?

I was horrified watching millions of dollars spent over TV ads etc., when lesbians I know are on the streets. I am horrified at how conformist our movement has become: we want to call each other "wives' and join the military? And I fought the great lesbian feminist battle for that pathetic lump of social conformity?

Oh well.

Davina Kotulski said...

I totally disagree. If we had not been advocating for marriage equality we would never have made the strides we made with domestic partnerships and civil unions. We are also not choosing to fight these battles. We have been granted these rights by the courts and legislature and how foolish we would be to stand by and not work to keep these rights, as we did in California, Maine, and Washington state where anti-gay people initiated taking away rights granted to us.

We must continue to advocate for full equality!

Davina Kotulski, Author of Why You Should Give A Damn About Gay Marriage, Marriage Equality USA Advisory Board Member, and 10 year love warrior for equality!

Anonymous said...

Actually, nothing the government does can have any power over my lesbian life. I chose my own life, I risked everything coming out of the closet, and continue to be out everywhere.

There is this so called lesbian and gay civil rights movement, but you know, I don't think we have the originality of a true lesbian feminist community anymore, we attend fundraisers instead of creating new worlds.

I don't pin my self-worth on what a patriarchal male dominated government ever does, and I think our movement is making a great mistake in our conservative obsession with single issues like marriage. I just don't want to put my energy there, if nothing else, because I'd rather have lesbian nation instead, and wondered why we kind of dropped the ball to become the LGBT conglomeration that is empty, artifical, and not really celebrating lesbian power and life anymore. The movement became banal.

terry d said...

This is complicated. I agree with the writer, but take exception with the representation that there was nothing critically wrong with the recent California campaign. I think it was badly managed and amateurishly run, but that's water under the bridge. Social change is incremental, and same-sex marriage is no different. We will prevail. A critical factor in getting the votes we need is tied to those old folks you are suggesting we wait to drop from the voting roles, which is a legitimate, but limited and limiting, strategy. History always teaches us what we can and perhaps do in the future, though timing is critically important. We had a HUGE opportunity with Proposition 8, and we blew it. Look back. How did we get equal housing protection? How did we get equal job opportunities in many states? We stopped doing the same thing over and over again, as the author suggests we stop doing now. We took polls. The polls said that most Americans perceived that gays and lesbians wanted "special rights", and as long as that was the case, young or old, they would vote us down every time. Once we learned that Americans DID NOT KNOW that we were being denied equal housing and job rights, they thought we were seeking "special" rights, we were able to turn the poll numbers around, because most Americans - no matter how they feel about gay people, or how they feel about gay marriage, or how they feel about homosexuality from any perspective, including religion - believe in the fundamental fairness of people being able to live where they want and can afford, and people being able to get jobs for which they are qualified. To deny a man or woman a job or a place to live, is anathema to Americans. Once voters understood that gays and lesbians only want the same thing as other Americans, they swung in our favor. The arguments were, and remain, about sameness and difference, and that's the crux of the matter. The real question on every one of these initiatives is, should gays and lesbians be protected because we are a part of society or should gays and lesbians be protected because we are different from society and that difference should be protected? More blogs and postings could follow from this one, about the sex-panic crowd's belief that the safer-sex advocates are wrong by failing to celebrate the difference that is a wonderful part of being gay; about the radical lesbians' militancy about what a waste it is to seek gay marriage in the face of the oppression that we suffer as women and as lesbians; about the risks and rewards that go with marriage, including being assimilated in ways that large numbers of gays and lesbians do not want; and about the place that trans people have in this debate. I think that it will not be enough to put the "M word" on the shelf for a decade, but I think that position is one well worth debating and discussing. Unfortunately, our "leaders" do not seem to feel the need to debate and discuss. Rather, they "lead" irrespective of the feedback they get from the body politic. Too many individuals feel the need to go forward with their own personal agendas, no matter the potential for bad case law that could endure for decades. There seems no way to head them off from their determination to be "the one(s)". At the same time, I think the "M word" is more than just a word. I think it represents a fullness at the table, and should be the goal. Jeanne Cordova is right that we should go forward with efforts in every state to secure equal rights, but not at the expense of the larger issue of equal MARRIAGE rights. That has to be the eventual goal, or not only will we remain second-class citizens in our own country, it will appear that a rise from steerage class to second class is actually our goal.

Anonymous said...

I think what rang true for me in Terryd's post was "leaders" totally disconnected with grass roots lesbians. I don't dispute the bungled No on 8 CA campaign, but again, I believe the one thing that changed everything was not a law, not a government approval rating, but the radical act of hundreds of thousands of lesbians and gays coming out of the closet.

It was coming out that changed attitudes, not opting in to a repulsive heteropatrirachal lifestyle that has over a 50% failure rate for straight people.

We still have hundreds of thousands of lesbians and gays who are still closeted or living in "don't ask don't tell worlds."

That's where the real power is. I'm not so sure what the real benefits that lesbians will get out of all of this. I think obsessing about marriage actually will homogenize and dull lesbian creativity. Nightmares of baby strollers and toys in suburban driveways come to mind.

As women, what is the true nature of marriage? And I think we know how crazy that institution has been for hetero women. Di we really believe that lesbians will become more visionary by copying this institution? And for what, a few "benefit" crumbs, the millions we spend on legal fees that could have gone to building women's institutions, where the word lesbian once stood alone rather than being lumped in with a bunch of other initials?

Do lesbians have buckets of money to pay the legal fees after they split up? With our meager resources, non existent lesbian exclusive gathering places, and "top down" CEO social service centers, I see lesbians doing less, being less, and falling for the patriarchal bait yet again.

Our grassroots visionaries are settling for crumbs, when we could have created mountains.

We have more non-profits and CEOs than we have dreamers, and as the legal bills pile up as lesbians split up, we'll become poorer for immitating hetero institutions.

Not many women are even thinking about the implications of lesbian divorce and the effect this will have on women. Not many women are even there yet mentally. But even the Goodrich case in MA resulted ultimately in the plaintiffs getting a divorce.

Coming out of the closet and continuing to come out is what changes society, not yet another walk down some dusty patriarchal isle.

Del W said...

HI Jeanne,
I totally agree with you on the M word. I have never wanted to combine church and state and invite either into my bedroom.
As you say we have much to do:
1. Get help for glbtq kids and youth coming out ASAP to stop the suicides, self-mutilations, drug abuse and other self-destructive behaviors... and to provide a full range of basic social services
2. Get binding legal contracts for our relationships under law, i.e. civil unions
3. Stop hate muggings and scapegoating and murdering of glbtq folks
4. Get rid of legalized anti-glbt discrimination in the armed services
5. Get civil rights for all glbtq folks. Thanks for your blogspot, Del