Who Gets Blamed for Maine Losing Gay Marriage?

By Guest Columnist Nov 06, 2009

By Kalpana Krishnamurthy This blog post originally appeared on the Western States Center blog. Let me first admit, it’s taken me a day to recover. The loss in Maine on Question 1 is painful to me; I had hoped that New England would become a bastion of support for marriage equality. I also hoped that we would win our first ballot based victory on same sex marriage. Doing so in Maine would have given me hope that it’s possible here in our region, which is also dominated by a ballot measure process that’s been used as a weapon against the LGBTQ community. But Maine might offer some hope, right? So the loss is big for me. And it got me thinking. Because the second I heard we lost, I began to wait for the inevitable backlash. The naming and blaming of communities. The "whose fault is it" that we lost. Why, you ask? Because the fallout from Prop 8 in California was horrific. Within hours of the polls closing, we were hearing armchair analysis from pollsters, California power players, and (my personal favorite) sex columnist Dan Savage that blamed California’s communities of color. The same group that had helped to elect Barack Obama was blamed for its homophobia and accused of not standing for social justice and for ruining the progressive movement’s moment in the sun. And the sad reality is that most people believed the hype. We believed it because it plays into our cultural stereotypes that people of color are more homophobic, more religious, and more willing to stand for a person of color (Barack) than for the gay community. Now we have Maine rejecting marriage equality. The results in Maine, a state that is 95.3% white, make it clear that we can’t blame the people of color who live there. So who do we blame? My hunch is that rural white voters are on the hook. But the blame placed on rural white voters will be very different in its tenor and tone than Prop 8. Blaming rural white voters for their perceived conservatism, religiosity, and class difference will inevitably occur as we look at what happened to Question 1 in Maine. But how we as progressives deal with it will be interesting to watch — because rural white voters in Maine will not be blamed for their whiteness, they will not be called out for abandoning a civil rights struggle, and they will not be accused of prioritizing their whiteness over their straightness. All of which happened in the analysis of the Prop 8 fight. I think the post election analysis is important – it helps us figure out what happened, what messages worked, what techniques for engagement worked. But too often, the story that gets told in the first few days only reinforces our beliefs about voters, reveals a thin racial justice analysis, and is incredibly difficult to change once it’s out in public. Kalpana Krishnamurthy is the Gender Justice Program and RACE Program Director at Western States Center.