Health & Human Services

Gay Marriage at a Crossroads

Other than the presidential election, no vote last November drew more attention than Proposition 8, California's ballot measure on gay marriage. The result, a 52 percent verdict...
by | August 31, 2009
 

Other than the presidential election, no vote last November drew more attention than Proposition 8, California's ballot measure on gay marriage. The result, a 52 percent verdict to ban same-sex marriage, prompted widespread protests and a reassessment of the progress of the gay rights movement. This fall, with Maine set to vote on a similar question, the issue is whether the choice there will have an impact comparable to the one in 2008.

The Maine legislature voted earlier this year for a law allowing gay marriage, and Governor John Baldacci, a one-time opponent of the idea, signed it. Under Maine's "people's veto" rule, any new law can be challenged on the public ballot if opponents gather enough signatures. Opponents needed around 55,000 signatures to challenge the gay marriage law and submitted 100,000 to the Secretary of State, setting the stage for the fall campaign.

The vote comes at a key moment in the gay marriage debate. Proposition 8's passage in California was a major victory for social conservatives, demonstrating that even voters in blue states still have misgivings about same-sex marriage. However, gay marriage advocates forged ahead, winning passage of favorable laws in New Hampshire and Vermont, in addition to Maine. The Iowa Supreme Court also ruled in favor of gay marriage. Larger states, including New Jersey and New York, seem close to legalizing gay marriage legislatively, and the Maine vote may help determine whether that momentum continues.

Such is the thought process of national pressure groups on both sides of the issue, who are turning their advocacy attention to Maine. While no one expects an $80 million blitz like the one that took place in California last year, the Maine campaign will be expensive. Like Proposition 8, it also will be hard to predict. A plurality of Maine voters aren't registered either as Democrats or as Republicans, a reflection of the state's quirky and independent-minded politics.

On another people's veto vote in 2005, Maine did uphold a law that barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation--the fourth in a series of votes on the subject over the course of a decade. But no one is quite sure whether that result foreshadows the one coming this November. "I'm at a complete loss for what will happen in November," says Mark Brewer, a University of Maine political scientist. "I don't think anybody knows."

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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