In Washington State, another referendum on gay couples' equality was also a squeaker. But in this one, gay couples won. The state's domestic partnership law grants gay couples all the rights of married couples at a state level. The usual forces tried to reverse it, as they tried in Maine. But in Washington, the gay side won by 51.1 to 48.9 percent. Again, it's such a slender margin, it's stupid to draw any vast conclusions.

But I do want to point out that, from the perspective of just a decade ago, to have an even split on this question in a voter referendum is a huge shift in the culture. In Maine, where the Catholic church did all it could to prevent gays from having civil rights in a very Catholic and rural state, gays do have equality but may now merely be denied the name. The process itself has helped educate and enlighten and deepen the debate about gay people in ways that never happened before the marriage issue came up.

I am heart-broken tonight by Maine, and I'd be lying if I said otherwise.

Somehow losing by this tiny margin is brutalizing. And because this is a vote on my dignity as a human being, it is hard not to take it personally or emotionally. But I also know that the history of civil rights movements has many steps backward as forward, and some of those reversals actually catalyze the convictions that lead to victories. A decade ago, the marriage issue was toxic. Now it divides evenly. Soon, it will win everywhere.

I know for many younger gays and lesbians, this process can seem bewildering and hurtful. But I'm old enough now to be able to look back and see the hill we have climbed in such a short amount of time, and the minds and hearts we have changed. Including our own.

Know hope.

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