After Defeat, What Comes Next for Gay Marriage?

Maine's repeal has backers saying the gay rights movement is in need of a strategy shift

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Same sex marriage was struck down in Maine this week, but gay rights supporters and conservative groups alike believe the fight over gay marriage is far from over. The defeat was distressing to backers because it revealed that American voters — even moderately libertarian ones who support relaxing marijuana laws — are more conservative on gay rights than many believed. After a year of losses at the polls in California, and now in Maine, the gay right rights movement is considering a shift in strategy. Here's where gay marriage supporters may take the fight next:

  • To the Supreme Court  Andrea Stone of Politics Daily says the gay rights movement may push the issue into the courts, where they have had the most success. "Voters in Washington state approved a measure to give gay couples all the rights and benefits of marriage, only without the name, but gays have prevailed most often in the courts. It was a decision by the California Supreme Court to allow same-sex marriage there that sparked last November's Proposition 8 ballot initiative that repealed the ruling after more than 18,000 gay and lesbian couples had legally tied the knot." But Stone says that may not be a good idea, because the Supreme Court is unlikely to jump so far ahead of public opinion. 
  • To the President  Geoffrey Stone of The Huffington Post says President Obama could be a real advocate for the gay rights movement, but has so far been silent on the issue. "It is especially shameful that our President remains silent. Barack Obama the politician may find it expedient to hedge his position, but Barack Obama the man knows, he must know, that this position is morally wrong. It is time for him to say so, and it is time for him and other political leaders across the nation to step up on this issue and lead. That, after all, is what leaders do." Ashley Surdin of The Washington Post says such a tactic is a real possibility. "The increasing push for change on the federal level has been heightened by arguments that President Obama has not adequately addressed gay rights. One group, Equality California, has urged him to file a brief in federal court challenging Proposition 8."
  • Nowhere. The People Have Spoken  RealClearPolitics columnist Maggie Gallagher says advocates for gay rights should take Maine's vote on its face. "Even Americans in liberal states do not believe that two guys pledged to a gay union are a marriage. Politicians can pass a bill saying a chicken is a duck and that doesn't make it true." Gallagher argues that Americans simply believe marriage is between a man and a woman. "Americans have a great deal of goodwill toward gay people as friends, neighbors and fellow citizens. Most of us do not want to hurt them or hate them or interfere with anyone's legitimate rights to live as they choose. But we do not believe gay marriage is a civil right; we think it is a civil wrong." 
  • Focus On Younger Voters  Katie Connolly of Newsweek says gay marriage is a "generational issue." The problem, she says, is that while younger people are more likely to support gay rights, they are less likely to vote, especially in an off-year election. "It was an off-cycle vote, and such elections always have lower turnout than presidentials. Off-cycle demographics also tend to skew older, into demographics far less supportive of gay rights."
  • Target Soccer Moms  Matthew Gagnon of Pine Tree Politics, a Maine political blog, says that's the real lesson of gay marriage's defeat in Maine. Gagnon says it wasn't "back country hicks" who struck down gay marriage in the state, because there simply aren't enough votes in those areas. Instead, it was suburban women. "In other words, many of them work white collar jobs, live in mostly nice neighborhoods within striking distance of a city, and are pliable for whichever side makes the better case. We are not talking about culturally conservative 'Deliverance' type areas here – this is the home of Maine’s soccer moms." To win, Gagnon says gay rights groups will have to convince these voters that gay equality is a cause worth supporting.
  • Kill the Ballot Initiative  At TrueSlant, Allison Kilkenny says it's time to stop allowing the majority to vote on the basic rights of the minority. "There was also a time when citizens would have voted to keep their slaves, and then later voted to keep white kids in white schools and black kids in black schools," she writes. "That’s a good argument for why we shouldn’t allow proposition votes to dictate human rights matters, and why federal legislation is needed to protect civil liberties — including gay citizens’ rights to marry, raise families, and be left the hell alone."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.