Op-ed: It’s Time to Win in Maine 

By Advocate Contributors

Originally published on Advocate.com January 26 2012 2:13 PM ET

 

As early as 1840, Maine was seen as an electoral bellwether
for the country.  “As goes Maine,
so goes the nation,” the adage went.

Today, just a short while ago, committed gay and lesbian
couples in Maine, as well as advocates both straight and gay, delivered more
than 100,000 signed petitions to the Secretary of State in Augusta and
announced they are moving forward with a ballot measure to end the exclusion of
same-sex couples from marriage. 
The 100,000 represents a full 10% of the registered voters in the state,
double what’s required to advance a ballot initiative.

Freedom to Marry supports the effort 100%, and I will
proudly serve as an Executive Committee member of this ballot campaign. Taking
it to the people in Maine is the right thing to do.

That does not mean that we believe going to the ballot is
always the right strategy; in fact, we’re conservative about doing so. 

In order to justify the expense and difficulty of going to
the ballot, we at Freedom to Marry want to see (and help develop) a strategic
campaign plan with a pathway to victory. 
This means doing the hard work over the course of months (and ideally
years) to build public support to a percentage in the mid-50s among likely
voters, creating a realistic and achievable fundraising plan, and organizing a
smart, tight and effective governance structure for the campaign.  Boldness on its own can be powerful,
but a combination of smarts and boldness is what wins campaigns.

Over the last two-plus years, the advocates on the ground in
Maine — led by Equality Maine and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, with
many others including the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, the Maine
Women's Lobby and Engage Maine — have exercised that combination of boldness
and strategic judgment in preparing for today’s announcement, and for the
campaign ahead. 

As we all know, in 2009, the Maine legislature approved a
marriage bill and the governor signed it into law.  And as is often the case with equality legislation in Maine,
the antigay industry, their local Maine affiliates, and the Catholic hierarchy all
went for what’s called a “citizen’s veto” and they prevailed at the ballot in
November 2009. 

Since then, Maine advocates have organized a grassroots
campaign focused on in-depth conversations with voters.  They’ve done so with tens of thousands
of Mainers and have tracked carefully who has changed their minds and what
approaches are most effective. In television spots, they’ve focused on speaking
to the hearts of voters, talking about why marriage matters to same-sex couples
and their families, as well as on profiling people who have changed their
position on marriage after having gotten to know gay couples.  And we’ve worked collaboratively on
effective responses to our opponents’ pernicious and, by their own admission,
spurious fear tactics that gay couples’ marriages will somehow harm children.  

I’ve been especially impressed at the rigor with which the
Maine effort has gone about its work. 
They’ve tested and re-tested their approaches in the field and in the
media, working with independent entities like the Analyst Institute to evaluate
whether and how programs are working, and smartly figuring out how to apply
best practices from other states in Maine. 

These efforts have paid off.  While our side secured 47% support at the ballot in 2009,
support today stands at 54%. 

This effort is
bold.  In 2010, as part of the Tea
Party electoral tsunami, the pro-equality majorities in the House and Senate in
Maine were defeated, and an antigay Tea Party governor was elected.  Many would have looked at this new
governing reality and decided not to proceed, as a legislative victory was no
longer a possibility.  However, the
Maine advocates — knowing they’d face a referendum whether they proceeded
through the legislature or not — decided to use the initiative process that’s
so often been used against us to take the question themselves directly to the
people. 

As a matter of principle, I believe strongly that it is
wrong to vote on the fundamental rights of any minority group.  Yet in Maine, all realistic paths to
enabling loving and committed same-sex couples to have the freedom to marry run
through the ballot.  Securing and
protecting anti-discrimination laws for LGBT people took three referenda in
Maine.  So in this instance, I feel
that this path is the smart one. 

What’s more, Maine — along with Minnesota and other states
that face 2012 referenda — will offer a strategic roadmap to begin undoing antigay
constitutional amendments that were approved in most cases before we even had a
fighting chance. 

During the past few months, I’ve had the chance to spend
time with the Maine “Table” — the group of organizations that has been working
tirelessly since the 2009 loss to prepare to win back the freedom to
marry.  It’s an extraordinary group
of smart, savvy, strategic and thoughtful individuals who did rigorous due
diligence in preparing and reviewing every aspect of the campaign plan.  They kicked the tires, scrutinized
assumptions, and asked every difficult question.  And in the end, they concluded that it would be wrong to not
move forward, to not try to secure the freedom to marry for Mainers. 

They do not underestimate the challenges.  For starters, we’ve never won at the
ballot.  Winning is far from a sure
thing — it never has been on this cause, whether we were seeking to prevail in
the legislature or at the ballot. 
And secondly, there are many competing demands for funding and attention
this year.  But they feel confident
that these challenges can be met and that we are ready to do so. 

Freedom to Marry is proud to be a part of the Maine
campaign, and together, we will be working to put forward the best campaign our
movement has ever run, using everything we’ve collectively learned since
2009.  We ourselves are prepared to
continue our investment in the effort, and to make the case to donors that now
is the time to win in Maine.

“As goes Maine, so goes the nation.”  I invite you to join up and help make
it so.

 

MARC SOLOMON is the national campaign
director for Freedom to Marry. To learn more about the Maine campaign and to
help, go to www.whymarriagemattersmaine.com.