Community Conversations

Please click on one of the dates to join us for a series of Community Conversations: 

Sunday, Dec 6 - Augusta
Monday, Dec 7 - Ogunquit 
Tuesday, Dec 8 - Ellsworth
Thursday, Dec 10 - Bangor
Tuesday, Dec 15 - Lewiston*
Wed, Dec 16 - Portland**

* Note: The Lewiston / Auburn Community Coversation was originally scheduled for Wednesday, Dec 10 but due to the massive snowstorm it has been rescheduled for Tuesday, December 15. 

**Note: The Portland Community Conversation was previously scheduled for Tuesday, Dec 15 but is being rescheduled to accommodate for the Downeast Pride Alliance event the same night.  

Executive Director Betsy Smith on marriage

 2008 Annual Dinner Remarks

Whether or not you agree that the freedom for same-sex couples to marry is a worthwhile goal or appropriate strategy, or perhaps it’s just not your issue, one thing is clear—marriage is here to stay.

In some form or another, every state is talking about marriage. So let’s look at the bad news first, and then the good news. The bad news is that there are constitutional amendments in 26 states and another 19 states that have laws restricting marriage. Some quick addition tells us that that’s 45 out of our 50 states. Okay, that’s really bad news. But let’s look a little closer, and we’ll find some good news.

Of the 26 states that have a constitutional amendment, 14 of those happened immediately after Massachusetts won marriage in 2004. Was it a backlash? Absolutely. Is that an argument for not working to win the freedom to marry in other states? Absolutely not. That backlash was the peak of our opponents efforts to turn this country against equality for LGBT families. It will never happen again.

Our opponents had a moment of brilliance. They capitalized on anti-marriage sentiment from Massachusetts and a presidential campaign in which a popular (at that time) ultra conservative pro-war anti-gay president was running for re-election. Since that time their efforts have declined, their support has declined, and the sky hasn’t fallen in Massachusetts. Since those 14 amendments in 2004, nine were passed over the next two years and none in 2007.

Even more encouraging, there’s a clear trend of increasing support for marriage in this country—with , of course, a negative blip in 2004. In 1996, 65 percent of Americans opposed marriage for same-sex couples. In 2001, that number fell to 57 percent. In 2003, it fell even further to 53 percent. Then in 2004, as couples in Massachusetts were planning their weddings, it spiked to 63 percent. But in 2006, after the sky didn’t fall in Massachusetts and our opponents ran out of every desperate argument they could come up with for why same-sex couples should be denied protections for their families, it hit an all-time low of 51 percent. Still a majority, but barely, and that was two years ago.

On our side? In 1996, 27 percent of Americans supported full marriage rights for same-sex couples. In 2001, that number grew to 35 percent. In 2003, it grew even more to 38 percent. Then in 2004, again at the height of anti-marriage sentiment, it dipped to 29 percent. But in 2006, it hit an all-time high of 39 percent.

So the good news is, we’re on the way up, and they’re on the way down.

There’s more good news. Since the backlash in 2004 when we won marriage in Massachusetts, six states have adopted some sort of statewide relationship recognition—civil unions in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New Hampshire; civil union equivalents in California and Oregon; and domestic partnerships in Washington state. That makes 11 states that have some level of statewide relationship recognition.

More good news is that after four long, arduous years, opponents of marriage equality in Massachusetts finally went up in smoke. Since 2003, marriage opponents have been fighting tooth and nail to repeal Massachusetts freedom to marry. It was a grueling, exhausting four years for everyone.

On June 14, 2007, Massachusetts legislators showed up to take their 17th and final vote on whether to support a constitutional amendment on marriage. It was a do or die moment for everyone, with the advantage going to the opponents—they needed only 25 percent of legislators to send a constitutional amendment to the voters for repeal. Our side needed 75 percent. The odds were stacked against us. You can imagine the intensity in the room, while hundreds and hundreds of supporters waited for the vote to take place, just not knowing which way those last few legislators were going to vote.

I know most of us weren’t there, but such an historic moment should not be missed. We bring you, although a bit amateur, the reaction to the final vote of Massachusetts’ effort to protect the freedom to marry. [Video clip plays]

It was the applause heard ‘round the world. All of us were affected on that day, whether we knew it or not, because protecting marriage in Massachusetts was absolutely necessary in our community’s journey to be recognized and valued as LGBT families.

Southern Maine Pride was just days after that vote and the importance of that vote was not lost on the media in Maine. Channel 8 caught up with us while we were out collecting postcards on the freedom to marry. [Channel 8 clip plays]

So to repeat: whether or not you agree that the freedom to marry is a worthwhile goal or appropriate strategy, or whether it’s just not your issue, one thing is clear—marriage is here to stay.

And since it’s here to stay, we have two choices: we can get out front and frame the issue of marriage ourselves, or we can let our opposition do it. Hark back to ‘97-‘98 when our opposition got out front and framed the issue of non-discrimination as “special rights.” We lost two referendum campaigns because voters thought the non-discrimination law provided special rights to LGBT people.

We must never let this happen again. From now on, we frame our own issues—and we do this by getting out and talking about marriage—about our lives as loving, committed couples, about our children and relatives, our dogs and cats, and our tragedies and joys.

One of our strategies for framing marriage is the creation of a storybook: real-life portraits of LGBT families, to be shared with allies, people of faith, elected officials, and the media. This storybook will be an important piece of our public education campaign on marriage. We encourage all of you to be a part of this project, and to help us spread the word. In your program book, you’ll find a postcard that tells you how you can participate.

Tonight we’ve talked about our progress as a community, and how when we work together we can accomplish many things. Whether it’s non-discrimination protections, family medical leave, trans inclusion, hate crimes protections, adoption, civil unions, or marriage—it’s about you, it’s about me, and it’s us standing together as a community.

I leave you with one last thought. In 2005, during the final Maine Won’t Discriminate campaign, fully half the volunteers on the campaign were non-gay allies. Non-gay people were already protected from discrimination, so the campaign wasn’t about them, it wasn’t going to affect them, and they could easily have said “it isn’t my issue.” So why did they volunteer? They volunteered because we are all affected when people in our communities are confronted with discrimination. As friends, as neighbors, and as citizens, we need to look out for each other. And that’s what a civil rights movement is all about.

Marriage, for better or worse, is the next great civil rights movement.

 

2009 Annual Dinner Remarks

EqualityMaine, Maine Women’s Lobby, Maine Civil Liberties Union, and GLAD began a journey to win marriage three years ago, just months after winning non-discrimination protections for LGBT people. On plenty of occasions, I’ve had to explain that while the 2005 campaign provided us with very important non-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals, it did not provide us with protections for LGBT families.

So winning the protections of marriage was absolutely and unapologetically the course we began in the early months of 2006.

By that time, the stories of harm experienced by LGBT couples in Maine were multiplying. Our hearts were torn hearing about the couple, together for 14 years, who had built their home from the ground up, but when one of them died, his family took possession of their home.

Or the couple who had been together for 30 years, one of whom lost her health insurance because her partner’s employer suddenly reversed its policy of including domestic partners in its benefits policy.

These are just some of the harms that come from not having the protections of marriage. So people would argue, “okay, we’ll give you the protections of marriage, but let’s call it something else.” The problem is: if we call it something else, it is something else. And something else is not what provides us with the protections we need as couples, as families, and as a community.

The fact that people would work so hard to give us the protections of marriage without calling it marriage shows just how important the word “marriage” is. In addition to the legal protections, marriage conveys respect and dignity for one’s family. It conveys an understanding — that you’re a loving and committed couple, that you’ve made a commitment to care for each other through sickness and health, and that you may be raising children together.

Some people don’t want to believe that same-sex couples have the same kind of loving and committed relationships that they do. So while they’re happy to give us legal protections — to visit our partners in the hospital and make funeral arrangements — they don’t respect our relationships enough to call it marriage. And that respect is exactly why we are fighting for marriage, and not for something else.

So here we are, in 2009, with a coalition of 22 organizations, a voter file of 45,000 pro- marriage voters, and a marriage bill with 64 legislative co-sponsors.

The time has come for legislators to do what’s right for all Maine families. And what’s right for all Maine families is ending the exclusion of marriage for same-sex couples.

We're helping legislators understand this by identifying and mobilizing thousands of Maine voters in support of marriage. As an example, our lobbyist called one day to say that a legislator who we had hoped would co-sponsor the marriage bill said that there wasn’t enough support in his district to co-sponsor. Our lobbyist wondered if there was something we could do to change the legislator’s mind. 

That evening we had volunteers on the phones calling every pro-marriage voter we had identified in that district. By the end of the night, 142 constituents had agreed to contact the legislator by phone or email. 

Two days later our lobbyist called back to say that the legislator had received more phone calls and emails than he could count — and that he had agreed to co-sponsor the bill.

We didn’t always have the capacity to mobilize hundreds of constituents within 12 hours, but knowing that marriage would be the fight of our lives, we ramped up our campaign operations in January to meet the challenges. EqualityMaine now have 17 staff members working on marriage, including our campaign manager Monique Hoeflinger, Darlene Huntress, Matt Moonen, our lobbyist Kate Knox, eight field organizers, three data managers, our head of technology, our finance director Alan Lindquist, our communications coordinator, finance assistant, and administrative assistant. And that’s just the EqualityMaine team.

We also have a very strong coalition including Mary Bonauto from GLAD and several staff from GLAD,  Pat Peard, Shenna Bellows from MCLU and several staff from MCLU, and Sarah and Laura from the Maine Women’s Lobby.

This is the team that wakes up every day thinking about how we are going to win marriage in Maine.

And as strong as this team is, we cannot win marriage without you. Whether you want to marry or not, this issue affects all of us — gay, straight, trans or queer — because marriage is about respect and dignity for who we are as human beings, and that is worth fighting for.

So the first thing you need to do when you get home tonight, is to circle Friday, April 24 on your calendars. That is the day of the public hearing for the marriage bill, and we need you there. We also need your family, your friends, your co-workers, and your neighbors. We need 2,000 supporters there. If we don’t, the opposition will outnumber us. And if the opposition outnumbers us, the next day’s newspapers will be plastered with photos of them and their hateful signs, and that is the image that will stay with Mainers for the rest of this campaign.

We cannot let that happen. We need you to come to Cony High School in Augusta on Friday, April 24. The hearing begins 9am, but we need you there early. Seating will be limited, and we need to make sure that our supporters are the ones who make it into the hearing room and onto the front pages of the newspapers.

And so on this, our 25th anniversary, let us seize the moment. Join EqualityMaine and our dedicated coalition partners as we take this historic step forward for equality and fairness for all families in Maine. Thank you very much.

EqualityMaine at 25

This year, EqualityMaine celebrated 25 years of progress for Maine's LGBT community. Check out our 25th anniversary celebration video.

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