Morality, Maine, and Marriage Equality

Pat Gozemba

November 3rd in Maine is nearly upon us. As we close in on yet another election that will determine if LGBT people are really deserving of the rights of all other citizens, I turned once again to literature for insight and solace.

Sarah Orne Jewett’s American classic The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896) and Elizabeth Strout’s  Pulitzer prize winner Olive Kittredge (2008)—both novels set in Maine—capture what I have come to think of as the quintessential characteristics of the state’s people: decency and a regard for the well-being of one’s neighbors.

In both of these novels there are characters who are “different” but the guiding ethos of the communities that Jewett and Strout write about is a compassionate caring and a determination to live and let live. No orthodoxy makes the beliefs of any of their characters more compelling than those of others.  Spirituality, not religion, is the moral force.

Folks in Maine are generally thoughtful and forthright and that’s why when I read today’s editorial in the Biddeford Journal Tribune, “Question 1 denies Maine’s same-sex couples equal rights,” I wasn’t surprised. Biddeford is a small old mill town of just over twenty thousand people, 97% of whom are white. It’s not San Francisco or Los Angeles. It’s not edgy or hip. It’s classic Maine and its newspaper offers a view that I wish could have resonated in California last November:

“The arguments against same-sex marriage seem hollow and some of them reminiscent of the arguments of old, against interracial marriage: It’s not natural, it’s immoral, it’s bad for the children.

It might not be something we’re used to – just as people once were not used to seeing a white hand and a black hand clasped firmly together – but that doesn’t make it wrong. Some people may still be uncomfortable with those of another race, culture or lifestyle, but it has largely been agreed that the predominant race or culture’s “comfort zone” should not dictate everyone else’s rights.

We agree with Marvin Ellison, the Presbyterian minister who is active in the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, who said that the ultimate human right is the right to choose whom you marry.”

The dignity and civil rights of LGBT people and indeed all people are safe in the hands of thoughtful editorial boards such as the one at the Biddeford Journal Tribune. The simple and powerful arguments that they offer for full equality, full personhood would have meaning in the spiritual worlds of the characters in Jewett and Strout.

The introspection of the people of Maine and their sense of decency give me hope that the dashing of the LGBT community’s hope for equality under the law in California will not be repeated in Maine.

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