New England’s GLBT community and allies felt the chill this morning as results were declared on Question 1 in Maine. By a vote of 52.6% to 47.4%, Maine’s gay marriage law was repealed by popular vote.
Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, Washington State voters passed Referendum 71 by an equally narrow margin of 51% to 49%, meaning that same-sex couples get to keep the domestic partnership benefits previously granted by the legislature. (Stats courtesy of The Bilerico Project.)
Let the post-mortems begin…
These results, coupled with the unwelcome success of Proposition 8 last year by a nearly identical margin, suggest two things to me: First, that nearly half the population supports gay marriage, but perhaps we could pick up some crucial swing voters by not calling it marriage. Whether this is a sacrifice worth making is not for me to judge, since I’m straight and have never had to weigh the burden of second-class symbolism against the fear of losing financial security for my family.
Second, the poll numbers suggest that mainstream GLBT activist groups aren’t reaching Christian voters. We’ve been treating this as a lobbying issue when it’s a spiritual and cultural one. A hundred get-out-the-vote calls won’t convince someone who answers to a higher authority. Our ads speak the secular liberal language of tolerance and diversity. “Yes on 1” voters probably feel frightened that mainstream culture doesn’t value, and in fact actively assaults, marital fidelity and children’s innocence. To them, more sexual freedom seems like a wrong turn. Of course, scapegoating gays isn’t the answer, but we first need to show that we heard the question.
A conservative Christian friend of mine believes that the Bible calls gays to celibacy, but she’s not interested in legislating away their rights. The Bible’s rules only apply once you’ve made a commitment to Jesus, she says. For the general public, the state should legislate according to secular principles.
I think this is a potentially useful argument for swaying those voters who will never personally feel comfortable with gay marriage. If it’s framed as a question of church-state separation, they might be persuaded to leave the issue up to personal conscience, like pro-lifers who believe abortion is immoral but aren’t inclined to use state coercion to worsen a tragic situation.
At the same time, “open and affirming” Christians need to make specifically Christian arguments for a gay-friendly reading of the Bible, and publicize them through sermons, mailings, and videos, just as their Catholic and Mormon opponents did. I’m working on some ideas in this area. Contact me if you want to help.