Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Triumph for the Agents of Intolerance

Maine voters approved a state referendum vetoing the newly passed same-sex marriage law Tuesday, in a close election. The vote dealt a crushing defeat to gay-rights activists, not only in Maine, but throughout the nation. Had Maine voters rejected the referendum question, and preserved the same-sex marriage law Governor John Baldacci signed in May, it would have become the first state in the nation to do so. Instead, Maine followed in the footsteps of voters in California, who just one year ago, voted for “Proposition 8” which overturned the state’s same-sex marriage law.

While the vote was quite close (53% “Yes,” 47% “No”), it is worth noting Portland, and most of southern Maine primarily voted “No,” on the resolution, while it was the northern part of the state—and, the small, sparsely-populated towns in particular—that voted “Yes.” Another factor in “Yes” voters’ favor, according to the New York Times, was the underwhelming youth turnout—a disappointing contrast to the record-breaking number of college students and first-time voters who turned out in droves on Election Day, 2008.

Indeed, as a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Maine, I was particularly frustrated at the number of college students who claimed to support gay marriage, but were not planning on voting on the referendum because “my vote does not matter,” or “I don’t have time to vote.” (The latter excuse, incidentally, is the same cop-out students give me for refusing to read a newspaper, or never getting involved in activism. UMaine students, as far as I can tell, have plenty of time for Facebook, underage drinking and the campus-wide, glorified game of tag-you’re-it, “Zombies vs. Humans.”)

Of course, the religious institutions primarily fed the anti-gay marriage campaign. The insipid, demonstrably false “Yes on 1” advertisements that ran throughout the state the last month, attempted to conflate gay marriage with public schools teaching the “gay lifestyle.” All of my public schooling took place in Maine, and I do not recall once having a teacher lecture about marriage of any kind—straight or homosexual—in any mandatory class.

These religious institutions claimed their support for “Question 1” had “nothing to do with civil liberties,” and everything to do with the “definition of marriage.” Absurd. The major religious institutions cloak themselves in the teachings of Jesus, while promoting fear, hatred and bigotry.

I am, frankly, sick of otherwise intelligent people constantly making excuses for the Catholic and Christian churches that promote such hate. I am constantly told, “Not all Christians are like that. It is not fair to generalize.” But what, may I ask, are the supposedly “progressive” Christians doing to combat the bigotry of their peers? It is not enough to quietly disagree with the church’s opinions. Our government openly continues to torture people, and is waging two wars of aggression in the Middle East, slaughtering hundreds of innocents, and these “spiritual” people say and do nothing. Those Christians or Catholics of conscience who despise such atrocities should leave their religious institutions as a sign of protest against their tacit approval of them. This is what a true person of spiritual morality would do.

Despite the outcome, gay-rights activists vowed to fight-on. Last night, a large group of “No on 1” supporters stopped traffic in downtown Portland, marching and chanting for gay rights. The group briefly converged with an anti-war rally I happened to be attending, where speaker and progressive blogger, David Swanson, embraced the group as “brothers and sisters.” Swanson noted, correctly, that—whether the issue is ending wars of aggression, or expanding civil liberties to all—most citizens fighting for progressive change rarely see any in their lifetime. “Most who fought to end slavery never saw a black man freed,” Swanson told the crowd. “Most who fought for women to have the right to vote, never saw a woman cast a ballot.”

Change then, is slow and gradual. But it will come someday. While I am, of course, very disappointed in the outcome of Tuesday’s election, I know the citizens of Maine who care about civil rights (and there are many of us) will not go quietly into the night.

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