We didn’t lose in Maine. We won. Eight years ago in this column, I wrote that the issue of gay marriage was many years away. What it would take is education, and education on the issue is caused by debate. The referendum in Maine on Tuesday gave us just that — a public forum on the issue, just as it did with Proposition 8 in California. Those were battles along the route to victory, which is equality. So how did we win?
This is a battle and the way to judge how you’re doing is public-opinion polls and the votes of the people. Eight years ago, this column predicted that we were about 10 years away from marriage equality. We actually did a little better thanks to states like Massachusetts and Iowa. But here’s the simple fact: When we started this struggle for marriage equality, our polling numbers were in the low 30s. Today, we’re in the high 40s: That’s a march toward victory. But it takes the long view and it’s not an overnight success just because it’s right. We have to be willing to work for it.
Let’s compare this issue with an issue we’ve been working on in this country since the late 1960s: employment nondiscrimination. In polls in the 1960s, job protection for “homosexuals” was supported by only 27 percent of Americans. You read that right. That was the major issue that we, as a community, kept our eyes on for 40 years. And guess what? We can claim victory. On Tuesday, in all places where nondiscrimination was on the ballot, we won. Again, that is backed up by the polls. Today, if you ask any group of Americans — even limit it to churchgoers — the majority do not believe in any job discrimination against the LGBT community. The latest tracking gives us support in the high 70s.
So here are the answers to Tuesday’s election. We’re gaining each time we make marriage a forum. It won’t happen overnight, but we need to use communication as the tool. Keep the discussion going. But let me point out that the best thing we can do for our community — whether LGBT, married or not, in the military or not — is to end discrimination. Not all of us are married, not all of us are in the military, but most of us are employed and need job protection. We’ve already done the education work on nondiscrimination: Now it’s time to do the political homework and bring it home.
Mark Segal is PGN publisher. He can be reached at [email protected].