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Who’s to Blame for Maine’s Marriage Failure?

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After yesterday’s voter-approved rape of our marriage rights in Maine, the obvious question to ask is: How’d this happen? And next: Who can we blame? It’s a natural instinct. Surely there must be someone or something out there to direct our anger, our frustration, our disgust. It’s the same thing that happened exactly one year ago in California, when Prop 8 took away the M-word from gays and lesbians. Fingers started pointing, and not in very nice places. Race and religion were blamed. So, too, was the “No On 8” campaign, accused of misguided direction and ineffective outreach. Now here we are in Maine, wondering aloud, “WTF?”

So: WTF?

How much responsibility does Obama have?

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An obvious candidate for our ire, President Barack Obama has publicly ignored the marriage battle in Maine. Though he is not a supporter of same-sex marriage, even on the campaign trail he said he wanted states to be able to choose whether to endorse or delete discrimination. Before the November 2008 election, he voiced — albeit quietly — his opposition to Prop 8. This letter is the evidence he’ll point to, years from now, defending his gay rights record.

But here’s what happened over the past few weeks: Obama remained painfully silent when we needed him the most. Sure, his approval ratings are lower than they once were, but Obama retains an amazing ability to rally people to the polls. Had he maintained his “fierce advocate” status and called on Maine voters to defend our rights, we might not be looking at a four-to-five point losing margin.

And yet, we’ll never know how much Obama’s voice might have helped. If he allowed Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to say something about the issue, rather than ignore it entirely, would that have changed things? What if he went so far as to star in a television ad for Protect Maine Equality? How about if he called on the DNC to back up PME in its fight?

So unimportant were our rights to the president, he supposedly didn’t even watch the returns. We like to think Obama’s stamp of approval could have moved the needle just a little bit. But we would’ve (almost) settled for him giving a damn, at least in private.

How much responsibility does Gay Inc. have?

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We’re told to look to organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD to see what can be done to further gay civil rights. Except these two organizations, and their brethren, were horrifyingly silent on Maine.

Yes, there were “partners” with PME, and sure, they sent out email blasts to supporters — to raise money for their own organizations. But wait, what’s this? Our inbox shows the most recent email from HRC’s Joe Solmonese appeared on Oct. 28 — to celebrate good friend Barack Obama’s signature on the Matthew Shepard Act. There’s been nothing about Maine’s fight. Today, a single article on HRC’s homepage reads “Maine Families Denied Protections in Marriage Vote”; the organization says it “expressed profound sadness and anger at the passage of Question 1 in Maine.” Crocodile tears?

Meanwhile, neither HRC nor GLAAD, in a message from president Jarrett Barrios today, mentions Obama’s name once. HRC points out the good that did happen last night: Washington’s Referendum 71, some triumphs in local elections. But there is nothing about the Democratic National Committee, or the failures of elected officials, in either message. It’s a political correctness move — neither group wants to point out the obvious: that our officials and party leaders purposefully dropped the ball on this one.

And it leaves their supporters wondering: Seriously, where the hell were you on this one?

Did Protect Maine Equality/No On 1 not do enough?

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This is a very difficult question, but one that must be asked. The obvious answer is: Under the leadership of Jesse Connolly, they busted their asses as hard as possible. We know this to be true. PME’s teams on the ground worked endless nights for weeks on end, trying to prepare Maine to become the first state with voter-approved marriage rights. There was blood, sweat, and tears. People flew in from around the country to help the effort. From phone banks to door-to-door canvassing to flyers, PME seemingly did everything right. But if that’s the case, does it mean there was just no convincing enough Maine residents that our rights are worth protecting?

We hasten to believe so. So where were the cracks? On this website, we’ve faulted PME for its weak advertising campaign. One television ad after another “played nice,” showing normalized families that don’t deserve to be discriminated against, rather than painting a doomsday scenario of what will happen if Question 1 passes: voters will approve discrimination. Our criticism was panned by some readers, who claimed Mainers were different, and these soft ads were exactly what appeals to them. But maybe human instinct is universal after all. Without a dire call-to-action, what if some of our would-be supporters simply stayed home to let others fight the soft fight?

The effectiveness of PME’s advertising campaign may never be known; that’s an intangible that polling might try to gauge, but not perfectly. But its TV ads were the most public forms of outreach from the pro-marriage camp, and our fists were not raised.

Did Stand For Marriage Maine simply do a better job?

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They must have, right? They won, after all. With the backing of Prop 8 group the National Organization for Marriage and the support of conservative Catholics, S4MM used mostly out-of-state money to create a campaign based on fearmongering and misinformation. Again, did the ads work more than the actual message of the legislation? Maybe. But it’s hard to argue their scare tactics didn’t influence a decent portion of Maine voters into saying Yes On 1.

It’s becoming clear: NOM has bigot campaigns down to a science. And they won’t end stop with Maine.

What about the media?

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Oh, the left-leaning mainstream media. Surely they were there to highlight what was at stake in Maine, right?

No. And it wasn’t just during last night’s returns that made it clear, when — with the notable exceptions of some CNN segments and Rachel Maddow’s show — all attention was paid to Virginia and New Jersey, and not a civil rights battle.

Imagine if Maine’s voters were deciding on interracial marriage? Or whether Catholics had the right to marry? There would be story after story, “objective” of course, but pointing out how nonsensical the issue was: Of course this nation shouldn’t endorse discrimination.

While a few Maine newspapers were covering the issue, it didn’t pop up on larger papers’s radar until the final days before the election. And even then, stories reporting on anti-gay issues were centered around Virginia.

What does this mean for California’s Prop 8 repeal? Will there be motivation to wait till 2012?

It could go either way. Advocates of waiting until 2012 might say Maine shows that we don’t have the public with us just yet. Meanwhile, 2010 repeal supporters will point out that Maine’s result is just the latest reason why we cannot wait to battle for our rights. The bigger factor, as always, is money: Donors, big and small, can be swayed either way based on Maine’s vote; it’s all in how you present your case.

What about Rhode Island? New Jersey?

Rhode Island’s gay marriage fight has always been an uphill battle, because of the Catholic Church’s influence there. You thought S4MM’s leg up from the church was a big deal? Just wait till you get into Rhode Island’s true Catholic territory, where in-state money will flow more freely. Unlike Maine, Rhode Island’s governor actively endorses discrimination. On our side, failing to learn from Maine’s mistakes will prove detrimental. Our opponents waged war with lies and less cash, and still won.

As for New Jersey, without Gov. Jon Corzine serving another term, we’re left with weeks to get a same-sex marriage bill through the legislature and on his desk. If that doesn’t happen, lawmakers will have a helluva time passing a veto-proof bill while Chris Christie is in office. And even if that happens, expect Maine redux: a petition drive to give voters a chance to decide on gay marriage.