Hero of the Month: The state of Maine

My 81 year old ex-Catholic father lives in Portland, Maine and has been keeping me up to date about the signature gathering there to put marriage equality back on the ballot. He was pleased to report that they were on track to gather about 90,000 signatures and would almost certainly qualify. He has been doing office work at Equality Maine twice a week for a couple of years now and has also gathered over 300 signatures in this latest campaign.

Although my dad’s motivation no doubt derives partially from having a married lesbian daughter, it also comes from wanting to stick it to the Catholic hierarchy. He used to be a devoted churchgoer, but that stopped years ago with the first wave of sex abuse scandals. He has channeled his disgust and anger into concrete political action, not only for Equality Maine, but also for other Democratic causes.

As might be expected of a man formed by the Great Depression, my father is not one to analyze his emotions or engage in finger-pointing when things go wrong. When Maine lost the last referendum, he was disappointed, but he did not wallow in it or look for people to blame. Instead, his attitude was “we’ll win next time.” And he went to work right away for a Democratic candidate for governor.

Although my dad’s unwillingness to process his emotions has sometimes frustrated me over the years, it looks like a helpful characteristic in political campaigns. He, and apparently Maine activists in general, have dusted themselves off after the last defeat and simply gotten back to work. They are organized and focused on their goal of bringing back marriage equality. Victory is not certain, of course. It never is. But the only way to get there is to try.

What a contrast from the mood here in California where there seems to be little stomach to go back to the ballot. Perhaps it is the right political calculation not to go ahead, but the decision feels more to me like it derives from a sense of fear and defeatism. The state’s most influential LGBT rights organization, Equality California, is in disarray and incapable of leading the charge. Perhaps Love Honor Cherish, a smaller, LA-based organization, can pull off a miracle. Undaunted by a failed attempt to gather signatures in 2010, the group has vowed to press forward again this year.

When I moved to California from Maine 23 years ago, I never thought I would be looking to my old home state for inspiration on how to move forward on LGBT rights. But here we are. Maine’s state motto is “Dirigo.” It means “I lead.” Go Maine. Show us the way.

Liz Newcomb is an attorney by day and committed LGBT activist by night and weekend. She has worked as a researcher at the Williams Institute. While in law school at UCLA, she was Articles Editor of the LGBT law journal. Liz lives in West Hollywood with her wife, Lynne. They are one of the 18,000 California same-sex couples who got married during the summer before proposition 8 passed. Liz has lived in California for over 20 years and brings a left coast perspective to AMERICAblog.

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