Elections: Backward Progress

If you’re a progressive activist, last Tuesday’s election results were, to put it mildly, crushing. Of the four big races receiving major national attention, three of them were clean victories for conservatives: Virginia’s gubernatorial election, New Jersey’s gubernatorial election, and Maine’s Question 1, a measure to overturn Maine’s newly passed same-sex marriage law. While progressives and Democrats could downplay the results in Virginia and New Jersey (Creigh Deeds was a very flawed candidate and Jon Corzine has suffered from numerous ethical and economic issues), the results in Maine could not be ignored.

Maine’s Question 1 brought the same emotional reaction and anger that the passage of Proposition 8 created in our own state. Yet again, marriage equality opponents used vicious attacks based on fear and mistruth. Rural conservatives came out to vote on the issue while liberals in Maine’s urban areas stayed mostly at home. Worst of all, you could not blame the No on 1 campaign since, unlike the No on 8 campaign leaders, they ran a tip-top operation to mobilize Mainers on this issue.

However, through all of this heart-wrenching, progressive and LGBT activists missed some really good results from election night. Voters in Kalamazoo, Michigan overwhelmingly voted in favor of a non-discrimination ordinance that would extend protection in employment and public accommodations to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. Thus, the first time that non-discrimination has been put up to a vote, it has passed, even in a critical area like a city in the Midwest.

In Washington state, however, there was another victory. Washingtonians voted in favor of Referendum 71, which kept Washington’s very progressive domestic partnership law in place. Even though the vote was closer than expected, the people from Washington voted firmly in favor of protecting civil rights for same-gender couples.

Even in Maine, there are still signs of hope. The election was really a question of turnout, and in the end it was those in rural, conservative Maine that came to vote. If voters in the cities, especially Portland, Maine, turned out to vote, marriage equality would have been protected.

Clearly, Maine was a setback, but Tuesday’s results show that LGBT equality is still moving forward. Mainers are already planning to put same-sex marriage back on the ballot in 2010. In our state, we are already winning more hearts and minds for marriage equality. Progressives took two steps forward and one step back on Tuesday, but it’s evident that the future will hold progress.

Jon Wong is a recent graduate of UCI. He graduated in June 2009. He can be reached at jonwong87@gmail.com