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What Marriage in Maine Meant for Me


COMMENTARY: The grand ballroom at the Holiday Inn by the Bay will forever be etched into my memory. It was here in Portland, Maine, that history tiptoed its way past the door and snuck down the street to celebrate victory two blocks away.

I arrived at the press table to cover a story close to my heart: Maine's fight to be the first state in the nation to successfully defend same-sex marriage at the ballot box.

Yet I am not "one of them."

I arrived at the press table as one of those "straight allies" discussed so much. I am a straight, white, married mother of two young children. There's hardly a minority bone in my body. I married my husband of six years in a Catholic ceremony -- something impossible for a gay or lesbian couple to even dream of today. It felt like a bruise on my shield of activism as I began my night, but I was accepted with open arms by the pro-gay bloggers in the press.

The crowd was also full of people like myself. Parents with their children, couples of all ages, both gay and straight, single friends, and campaign staffers walking on air. This was the night we had all been waiting for.

"This campaign has been very well run," beamed Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Political people here in Maine have never seen anything like this. I think it's going to go our way."

That was the consensus of everyone I spoke to. We were headed for victory. Volunteers and campaign staff arrived energetically as the polls neared closing time. There were many shared hugs between friends, strangers, and bloggers meeting for the first time. Drinks were being poured and the band began to play. It was a place that held big promises and excited the hearts of those people who worked so long for this day. Even for a straight ally like myself.

"Being here on the verge of a celebration is almost surreal," said Betsy Smith, Equality Maine's executive director. "Here we are in the fight of our lives."

The numbers began to pour in from the polls -- favoring our side to protect same-sex marriage. The crowd would cheer louder each time as we neared the finish line. I began to relish the thought of beating our opponents and toasting with my new friends at the bloggers' table once we claimed our victory. Not to mention the hugs I would give my friends back home tomorrow.

Speakers took the stage to rounds of applause, called out favorable poll numbers, and gave victory speeches, although cautious.

Bill Whitten of Yarmouth, who appeared in a No on 1 ad, spoke to the crowd about his revelation that afternoon. He said he used to feel guilty for being discharged from the Marines and not serving his country.

"I realized this is what I was meant to do for my country. Thank you to all of you, to make me a better person," Whitten said.

Gov. John Baldacci arrived and also thanked the volunteers and supporters gathered for their dedication.

"[Thank you] for helping our state to be able to lead and make sure we are sending a ripple across the rest of the country. We couldn't do it without you," Baldacci said. "I'm very encouraged by the results that we're getting. The turnouts have been enormous."

So we waited for a victory announcement. At least half an hour went by, and it was after midnight, nothing. The stage grew bare and the crowd mingled. Some danced, some sat cross-legged on the carpet, sleepy-eyed and anxious.

I grew suspicious. Most of the numbers were in, and we were trailing behind. Could these few percentage points mark defeat? Then we saw teary eyes from those close to the campaign. By the time campaign manager Jesse Connolly took the stage flanked by his supporters, I was almost in tears myself.

"We always said this was going to be a razor-thin election and that's exactly what it is," Connolly said, clearing his voice. He looked sweaty, pale and shaken. "If you ever doubted for one moment the power of a single vote, well, tonight should dispel that notion. Voting does matter."

He didn't concede -- instead, he promised to make sure every vote and every absentee ballot was counted. But those around him did. If not in quiet words, in their faces.

"We're not supposed to lose when we do everything right," said Jenna Lowenstein, communications director for the National Stonewall Democratic Federation.

People began to cry, and I sat frozen, glued to my seat. I lost my breath and dropped my head. I couldn't believe it.

Steve Ryan and Jim Bishop of Bar Mills appeared in one of the televised ads for the campaign. They have been together for 34 years and hoped to one day be married in their home state.

"The same people who didn't want to give women the right to vote are the same people who don't want us to get married," said Ryan.

Both of them stood tall and said they are determined to not give up.

"I feel very affirmed," Bishop said. "I can't tell you how proud I am of my community."

The room emptied and the cameras, lights, and media exited the building. As the hotel staff broke down tables, one man sat motionless in his seat in the middle of the room in tears.

Eben Chadwick is a female-to-male transgender resident of Portland.

"Where do you go now?" he asked, crying. "I just don't know what to do after a loss like this."

Chadwick said he was hoping this win would help change the minds of his girlfriend's family, who voted yes on Question 1 and do not approve of same-sex marriage.

"We were winning and then all of a sudden ... a big jolt. How can this happen?" he asked.

He walked out of the hotel alone and scared.

As I walked back to my hotel room that evening, I saw other supporters crying together. One gay couple hugged and held each other up as they sobbed in the hallway. I cried too.

In the early morning hours, Connolly admitted the campaign's defeat in a press release. I sat in my hotel room and watched the sun rise from my eighth-story window and cried. I wished I had done more.

But a new day was dawning. A different day and a new fight for marriage equality. It will soon be time again for us as Mainers and as a nation to come together. Gay or straight, the fight is in each one of us, and we must take it. We must.

Because let's be honest. We are all one of them.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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