The Pain In Maine II

A reader writes:

My straight son worked for the marriage equality campaign in Maine. I just got off the phone with him. He is sad and started crying. Not for himself but for those whose rights have been taken away and those who have been fighting for those rights for years. I have seldom been so proud as a Mother. I told my son that we should be satisfied. People like us who work hard for our ideals and follow our hearts have nothing to be ashamed of.

I also don't believe that the campaign has anything to be ashamed of. I was worried about the early ads, but they improved. The campaign organization, by all accounts, was superb. The money was there. The enthusiasm was there. The turnout was spectacular in an off-year.

The hard truth is: people are still afraid of this, and our opponents knew how to target their fears very precisely. They have honed it to an art - their prime argument now is that although adults can handle gay equality, children cannot. And so they play straight to heterosexuals whose personal comfort with gay people is fine but who sure don't want their kids to turn out that way. One way to prevent kids turning out that way, the equality opponents argue, is to ensure that they never hear of gay people, except in a marginalized, scary, alien fashion. And this referendum was clearly a vote in which the desire to keep gay people invisible trumped the urge to treat them equally.

The truth about civil marriage - why it is the essential criterion for gay equality - is that it alone explodes this core marginalization and invisibility of gay people. It alone can reach those gay kids who need to know they have a future as a dignified human being with a family. It alone tells society that gay people are equal in their loves and in their hearts and in their families - not just useful in a society with a need for talented or able individuals whose private lives remain perforce sequestered from view.

This is why it remains the prize. And why our eyes must remain fixed upon it. In my view, the desperate nature of the current tactics against us, the blatant use of fear around children (which both worries parents and also stigmatizes gay people in one, deft swoop) are signs that what we are demanding truly, truly matters.

You can always tell what matters because it is the one thing our opponents are desperate to prevent. That is why, even in Washington State, even when they dilute marriage into "domestic partnership", the Christianist right is already promising to mount another referendum to repeal it again. They know that once civil marriage is accepted, the bigotry toward gay people has been dealt a terminal blow.

But guess what? Civil marriage is already here. It exists in several states already, it exists in the consciousness of an entire generation. It exists abroad in America's closest neighbor and in America's closest allies. The speed of the movement towards it is unprecedented in modern civil rights movements, even as it may seem crushingly slow to those who live under discrimination's weight. These defeats - even narrow defeats as in California and Maine - should not discourage us. The desperation and fanaticism of our opponents proves they know that this is the crucial battleground. And they're right.

But civil rights victories, the final and enduring ones, are always built on the foundations of defeats. Sometimes, the defeat of a minority's sincere aspiration to equality helps reveal the injustice of the discrimination and the cruelty of the marginalization. Sometimes, it helps show just how poorly treated we are, and galvanizes a community to fight back more fiercely as we saw in that amazing march on DC last month. That has certainly been true of previous civil rights movements. It is just as true of ours.

So congrats, Maine Equality. You did a fine job. Congrats, HRC. You helped. No congrats to Obama who is treating this civil rights movement the way Kennedy first treated his. But we don't need Obama.

We are the ones we've been waiting for. And we will win in due course, with a good spirit and keen arguments, and with passion and conviction in our hearts. We will win.