Category Archives: gay marriage

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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Maine: Gay Marriage and the Church

Pat Gozemba

September 9, 2009

On April 22, 2009, I watched with awe as pro-marriage equality forces gathered to testify before a legislative committee in Maine. The breadth and depth of the testimony, coming as it did in the 3 minute segments allotted to each speaker, ably represented the wide diversity of voices in Maine and this country supporting marriage equality.

The legislature later deliberated and voted to support marriage equality and the governor signed the bill. But it wasn’t long before the forces opposed to marriage equality gathered enough signatures to put the issue of equality for a minority, in this case LGBT people, on the ballot in November 2009.

Labor Day has passed and Maine, the Vacationland state, is now entering into a period of fierce struggle around marriage equality. The same hardball players who wrested marriage equality from the people of California are in Maine and spinning their old tales. Schubert  Flint Public Affairs, the major architects of the inequality campaign in California, are running the show in Maine. Major funds have come in from the National Organization for Marriage, Focus on the family, the Knights of Columbus, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, Maine.

Maine is 29% Catholic (higher than the nation at 24%) and the Catholics are organized. They are the largest religious group in the state, probably in part because of the high concentration of French-Canadians.  Mormons make up 1% of the population but they are from a religious tradition that draws heavily on Mormon resources in other parts of the country. So, factoring in the Catholic/Mormon nexus with the media and campaign savvy of Schubert Flint, Maine is bracing for what we call in New England a fierce Nor’easter. Sebastian Junger wrote about The Perfect Storm. I see another one brewing.

A small paragraph in the Boston Globe on September 7th noted:

“The Catholic Church in Maine is stepping up its effort to defeat a gay marriage law in November. The WBLZ News Center reported that the Roman Catholic diocese of Portland is asking its parishes to take a special second collection next weekend to help pay for a campaign on a referendum that could reverse the same-sex marriage law passed by the state Legislature. Money raised in the effort will go to Stand for marriage Maine, which is leading the effort to repeal the law.”

The separation of church and state has little meaning in marriage equality battles across the country.  Catholics like to call their church, The Church. Soon they may have all of us doing it. We need to stave off foes of inequality and foes of the separation of church and state. They are one and the same in Maine.

Kennedy: LGBT Equality Champion

By Pat Gozemba

Ted Kennedy, a champion of so many causes for equality for such diverse communities, is gone. But his legacy and example will continue to inspire many of us for years to come.

On November 18, 2003, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in the Goodridge v DPH decision, Kennedy was one of the first voices to speak out and laud the decision. In Courting Equality we captured that moment. “Senator Edward Kennedy greeted the Goodridge decision as ‘a welcome milestone on the road to full civil rights for all our citizens.’” He added emphatically, “Gay couples deserve these rights as well” (p. 22)

While a Catholic, he saw the problems with that faith’s discrimination against LGBT people. Like his brother, John F. Kennedy, and the founders of this country, he understood that religion has no place in government.

As the Goodridge decision captured the imaginations of LGBT people across the country to strive for the equality newly granted in Massachusetts, religion-driven conservatives threw up roadblocks in state after state. Claiming that our equality impinged on their religious values, these cultural conservatives held enormous sway. Despite their acrimonious uproar about marriage equality, Kennedy stuck with his principled position.

In 2005, he said “On the issue of gay rights, I continue to strongly support civil marriage. It is wrong for our civil laws to deny any American the basic right to be part of a family, to have loved ones with whom to build a future and share life’s joys and tears, and to be free from the stain of bigotry and discrimination.” Kennedy brought the values of Massachusetts to the national stage.

He was one of the few who voted in the Senate against DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) in 1996. And sometimes in the Senate he pushed values that Massachusetts had not quite caught up with like a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

A great champion for LGBT people is gone. The person who will attempt to fill his shoes must be as committed to equality.

Losing a Civil Right in California

by Pat Gozemba

Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis represent one of the most compelling stories in the California civil rights struggle for equality for all people. Gaffney’s parents are of mixed heritage so once upon a time in California, they could not marry. Gaffney and his partner of over 20 years also could not marry because they are a same-sex couple. They decided to fight for civil marriage for same-sex couples in California and eventually became one of the plaintiff couples.

When the historic CA Supreme Court decision came down on May 15, 2008, Gaffney and Lewis made their wedding plans for June 2008. They are one of the lucky California gay couples that is married. Their story is historic. Check them out:

Happy Five Years of Marriage Equality

Pat Gozemba

The sky has not fallen. Heather still has her two mommies. The religious right is still predicting dire consequences. Thus far their crystal ball has been very murky at best to downright wrong at worst.

As of September 2008, 12, 350 same-sex couples have married in Massachusetts. The latest reports by UCLA’s Williams Institute indicate that “after five years of extending marriage to gay couples, new studies show Massachusetts has attracted highly-skilled workers and experienced an economic boost of over $100 million.”

The Williams Institute continues to do important research indicating the economic impact of marriage equality on states like Iowa, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire. Now they have five years of data about Massachusetts and the results are convincing about the wedding industry windfall.  But even more exciting is the data they present from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey that shows the enhanced attractiveness of our state to the “creative class.”

According to the census survey, same-sex couples in the creative class are 2.5 times more likely to move to Massachusetts since marriage equality became legal in 2004. So, we have Cape Cod, the beautiful Berkshires, world class universities and research institutes, historic cities galore, museums for everything, sports teams without parallel, and marriage equality.

Who wouldn’t want to move here? Maybe the religious right who think the sky will fall any day now? But folks who are interested in contributing to an even greater Commonwealth and living where they are part of the “we” in “we the people” are coming. That’s more good news on this Fifth Anniversary.

Five by Five and Counting

 On May 13, Beacon Broadside posted this commentary by Karen. Things are changing so fast, that by the time your read this, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch may have signed New Hampshire’s same-sex marriage bill. According to the New York Times, a compromise was reached today.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, New England feels like a roller coaster hurtling toward equality. On April 6, two more states– Maine and New Hampshire– passed marriage equality legislation. The Maine bill has been signed into law by Governor Baldacci; New Hampshire awaits the governor’s signature. In addition, this year Connecticut and Vermont joined Massachusetts in recognizing same-sex marriage. Thus, at the five-year anniversary of marriage equality, five New England states have at the very least expressed strong support for a vision of inclusiveness. In addition, Iowa– smack in the heartland– allows same-sex couples to marry. Read more.

The Gathering Norm: Marriage Equality

Pat Gozemba

Book Cover for Courting Equality links to Beacon Press page for book The marriage equality victory in Iowa was greeted with heartfelt cheers on our side and an attempt to rain on our parade with a 60 second homophobic commercial, “The Gathering Storm,” from a Mormon front group, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). They want all Americans to be afraid—like them. NOM claims to have spent $1.5 million to produce and air what looks like a bad high school production. I’m afraid they got taken.  Read and see more.