Voters in three states on Tuesday will
have the final say on gay rights issues.
In Kalamazoo, Michigan the backlash to
a gay protections ordinance was so strong lawmakers were forced to
rescind the law and ultimately put it up for a vote. Voters in Maine
are the first to be asked to uphold – or reject – a gay marriage
law approved by lawmakers in the spring. And whether a gay-inclusive
domestic partnership law gets rolled back in Washington State will be
decided on Tuesday by voters.
Gay foes working in each state rallied
to put the laws up for a vote. And while Maine's gay marriage law
has drawn the most attention, all three contests are must-wins for a
gay community crushed by big losses at the ballot box last year,
including Proposition 8, California's gay marriage ban.
Gay marriage has yet to win a popular
vote but advocates hope Mainers will buck the trend. Polls give a
slight edge to proponents of gay marriage. But anxious advocates
worry because they know voter demographics of an off-year election
does not favor them. Winning will hinge on voter turnout,
particularly the 18-to-25-year-olds who generally favor gay nuptials.
The Maine anti-gay marriage campaign
has been heavily influenced by Proposition 8. Stand for Marriage
Maine's largest donor is the National Organization for Marriage
(NOM), which has given $1.5 million. NOM also heavily backed
NOM's involvement has turned Maine's
debate on marriage into a California do-over. The campaign's TV ads
recycle the argument that gay marriage is about teaching children
about being gay. On November 2, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills
rejected the group's claims.
“Whatever the benefits and burdens of
the civil institution of marriage, the state's definition of marriage
has no bearing on the curricula in our public schools, either under
current law or under LD 1020 [the gay marriage law],” Mills wrote
in her response to Education Commissioner Susan Gendron, who had
requested the legal analysis.
Marc Mutty, chairman of Stand for
Marriage Maine, called Mills' opinion “a shameless political ploy
by supporters of homosexual marriage.” He went on to argue that
the gay marriage law creates an “opportunity for teaching about
same-sex relationships.” Mainers, however, might be more inclined
to reject such an argument because four surrounding states –
Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire – have
legalized gay marriage. And two nearby states – New York and New
Jersey – and the District of the Columbia are considering gay
marriage bills, making for numerous opportunities to discuss gay
unions regardless of what Mainers decide.
Washington State gay activists are
working to hold on to a law approved by lawmakers that extends a 2007
domestic partnership law for a second time, granting gay and lesbian
couples all the remaining state-provided rights, benefits and
obligations of marriage.
Opponents of the “everything but
marriage” law collected nearly 138,000 signatures to put the law up
for a vote. They say the law is unacceptable because it violates a
1998 gay marriage ban approved by lawmakers and ruled constitutional
by the state's Supreme Court.
Opponents, however, have a steep
incline to overcome. Polling favors proponents of gay unions who
have managed to outraise opponents. Protect Marriage, whose members
favor repeal, have raised $60,000, a small fraction of the $780,000
given to proponents of the law.
If rejected, Referendum 71 would only
peel back the latest expansion of the law.
Kalamazoo voters, on the other hand,
are not considering gay unions but gay protections. Voters on
Tuesday will decide whether to keep an ordinance that makes it
illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender
identity in the areas of employment, housing and public
The group Citizens Voting No to Special
Rights Discrimination turned in more than 2,000 signatures to put the
law up for a vote after commissioners approved the measure twice.
The anti-gay Christian-based group American Family Association (AFA)
supports the effort.
AFA recently grabbed national headlines
when it purchased time on various television stations to air a
controversial documentary special on the “radical homosexual
agenda” titled Speechless: Silencing the Christians.
Several broadcasters backed off from broadcasting the film after gay
activists complained. In the film, the AFA asserts, among other
things, that gay protections, such as those approved in Kalamazoo,
force churches to hire gay men and lesbians against their beliefs.
Kalamazoo's law, however, exempts churches.
For gay activists failure would be
devastating coming on the heels of last year's election that saw
approval of gay marriage bans in Arizona and California and a measure
in Arkansas that effectively bans gay adoption by making it illegal
for unwed couples to adopt in a state that bans gay marriage.