Maine Looked Like Promising Ground for Gay Rights, Until Tuesday

Maine should have been an example of strength in numbers for gay-marriage proponents but instead turned into heartache. If you don't count the District of Columbia, according to Gary Gates of the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA's school of law devoted to gay-rights policies, Maine "has the highest number of same-sex couples per 1,000 households (so the highest per capita) of any state." So what happened?

With gains on the national front, such as gay marriages being officially counted (with figures released) for the first time in the 2010 census and the recent passage of hate-crimes legislation that includes protection for gays, the movement is seeing more momentum in the past half year than it has in decades.

Maine should have been part of that momentum. The state is known for its moderate, independent electorate, and gay-right activists had mounted a sophisticated media campaign in support of same-sex marriage. But movement on the national stage, it seems, is not translating into progress on the state level.

Just this week the Williams Institute released a widely reported survey, which found that same-sex couples, who say they are spouses, look quite a bit like their different-sex married counterparts.

"A basic argument used by traditional marriage proponents is that allowing same-sex couples to marry will bring about this fundamental change in how we think about marriage," says Gates. "They say that allowing same-sex couples to marry amounts to decoupling marriage from procreation, yet nearly a third of same-sex couples are raising kids. With same-sex spouses looking in almost all other demographic ways almost exactly like married couples, that argument seems to be put into question."

But the argument lost. And the loss is especially deep, given that a win would have lent serious legal weight to the same-sex-marriage argument. A a success in Maine would have blunted conservative claims that same-sex marriage is being pushed on them by judges and lawmakers against the will of the public. Instead, yesterday's outcome marks the first time voters have rejected a gay-marriage law enacted by legislature (when California blocked gay marriage a year ago that was in response to a court ruling), handing another significant victory to supporters of traditional marriage.

To find out why Washington's passage of a referendum on same-sex partners is as big a victory for gay-rights supporters as the Maine measure is a defeat, check out this Gaggle post.