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Mixed Returns: Election Day Yields a Loss in Maine, Victory in Washington

By L. K. Regan

Several gay rights measures were on state and local ballots in Tuesday's election, and the results were heavily mixed. From disappointment to signs of progress, and from Maine to Washington, here's what came of election day.

In May, Maine's legislature approved a gay marriage bill. But the law never went into effect because opponents managed to get a referendum on the law onto yesterday's ballot. If the law had been sustained by popular vote it would have been the first time that an American electorate chose to institute same sex marriages, as opposed to legalization via a legislature or court. But the opponents' efforts appear to have had success: Maine voters have chosen to revoke their state's gay marriage law by a vote of 53 to 47 percent. This is clearly a huge blow to gay rights activists, not only in terms of the loss of Maine, but also in terms of the damage to a larger strategy of creating a gay marriage haven across the New England states. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire already have legal gay marriages.

Having failed at the ballot box, Maine's gay citizens will have to turn to the courts for recourse, and some gay activists are suggesting the need for a national as opposed to state-by-state strategy. Either way, prominent supporters of the Maine gay marriage law have renewed their commitment to the fight. "We're here for the long haul and whether it's just all night and into the morning, or it's next week or next month or next year, we will be here," said Jesse Connolly, manager of the pro-gay marriage campaign. "We'll be here fighting. We'll be working. We will regroup." A similar view was expressed by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, who signed the bill into law last May, and who said on Tuesday night, "If we don't get to the top of the mountain tonight, we've made a significant stride. And we're going to get there. We will get to the top of the mountain."

While the Maine result has depressed gay activists, results in places where gay rights were considered without the loaded "marriage" question showed much more auspicious signs. In Washington, ballot measure R-71 put the state's recent "everything but marriage" domestic partnership law to a popular vote. Gay rights opponents hoped that the electorate would overturn the legislature's decision to expand the rights and responsibilities of domestic partners (including gay couples) to inheritance, adoption, and a variety of other marital bonds. But the voters of Washington spoke clearly in favor of the state law, approving "everything but marriage" at the ballot box by a margin of 51 to 49 percent. While the law does not grant marital rights to gay couples, it comes right up to that line, and clearly threatens gay marriage opponents, who can see the writing on the wall.

In local returns, voters in Kalamazoo, Michigan voted to preserve a city ordinance that would protect LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations. And not only did the measure pass, but it did so overwhelmingly, with a 3,000 vote margin among 12,000 votes cast. “Our campaign started with a very basic idea, and today voters confirmed that we are One Kalamazoo,” said Jon Hoadley, manager for the "One Kalamazoo" campaign. In similarly promising local returns, Houston, TX may soon have its first lesbian mayor, as Annise Parker received the largest percent of the vote in that city's mayoral election. Her 31 percent was not enough to win outright, but sends her to a run-off election next month against the nearest candidate, who got 23 percent. If she can repeat her leading vote tally, Houston will be the largest city in the nation with an openly gay mayor.

Here's hoping that these local results signal change at the ground level, and that the state-level laws on gay marriage will soon follow their lead.