No to Gay Marriage in Maine, Yes to Domestic Partners in Washington State

Largely lost amidst the hullabaloo of Republican gubernatorial victories in New Jersey and Virginia and a Conservative Party defeat in New York's 23rd congressional district was a successful citizens' veto in Maine of a state statute recognizing gay marriage. At the same time, citizens in Washington State approved a statute making "the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of same-sex and senior domestic partners" the equivalent to those of married spouses, without calling the relationships marriage. The margins were nearly identical. In the Pine Tree State, 52.8% of voters approved Question 1, rejecting state recognition of same-sex marriage. In the Evergreen State, 52.56% voted to approve domestic partnerships.

This split decision, if you will, could have tremendous reverberations in the current debate on gay marriage, particularly as it relates to the strategies gay activists employ to secure state recognition of and legal benefits to same-sex couples. With Maine voters' approval of Question 1, the Pine Tree State becomes the 31st state to either reject same-sex marriage or accept the traditional definition of marriage by popular initiative. No state has recognized same-sex marriage at the ballot box.

By contrast, Washington State became the first state to approve state recognition of same-sex domestic partnerships at the ballot box.* It's only been ten years since California became the first state to recognize same-sex relationships when the state legislature enacted the Domestic Partnership Act of 1999. While some state courts (e.g., Vermont that year and New Jersey in 2003) mandated the state legislature enact legislation recognizing civil unions, until last Tuesday voters, via a statewide initiative process, had never previously approved such legislation.

If we were living in a normal world, this would be heralded as a landmark election and a sign of how quickly attitudes toward gay people have changed in the United States. But so beholden have gay activists become to their notion of "marriage equality" that they have lost sight of how far we have come in such a short time. They lash out at Maine voters without thinking that ten years ago it would have been all but inconceivable that 47% of the people in any state would vote in favor of state recognition of same-sex marriage.

And while a solid majority of Americans still disapprove of gay marriage, our views on civil unions have changed markedly, particularly in the past decade. According to an October Pew Research Center poll, 57% of Americans favor civil unions, the same percentage which, Gallup found, opposes same-sex marriage. The number becomes even more striking in historical context. Just six years ago, a slight plurality (47%) opposed same-sex civil unions, while 45% supported them.

Interestingly, while the Pew poll shows an increase in support of civil unions in six years, Gallup shows that opposition to same-sex marriage has pretty much remained constant over the same timeframe.

One could almost say that the "split decision" rendered last week by voters in Maine and Washington State reflects the emerging consensus in the nation as a whole, a readiness to recognize the reality of same-sex couples, but a reluctance to call such unions marriages.