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November 11th, 2009 HENRY STERN | News Stories
 

The Maine Event

What elections elsewhere might mean for same-sex marriage here.

     
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JEANA FRAZZINI

Last week Maine joined Oregon as one of 31 states where residents have voted to ban same-sex marriage.

That didn’t stop Basic Rights Oregon from starting its campaign to ask Oregon voters in 2012 to undo a ban on same-sex marriage. As launches go, BRO’s timing suffered from the Nov. 3 results 3,000 miles away. But BRO executive director Jeana Frazzini stressed results closer to home—Washington voters’ preservation the same day of domestic partnership rights for gay and lesbian couples.

“I’m a half-glass-full kind of person,” Frazzini says.

A general takeaway from the Maine and Washington results is that voters appear comfortable with domestic partnership but can’t get there yet with the words “gay marriage.”

Maine’s same-sex marriage backers enjoyed a fundraising advantage and a seemingly tolerant electorate. (Maine voters OK’ed retail medical marijuna dispensaries.)

Marriage rights advocate Evan Wolfson rejects the idea that “gay marriage” is a lexicographic barrier, contending instead that Maine shows “a small slice of people whose discomfort and ... fear can still be stoked.” Oregon voters banned same-sex marriage five years ago with 57 percent backing Measure 36. So what’s the chance of change in 2012?

Portland pollster Tim Hibbitts says data show younger voters far more at ease with same-sex marriage. There’s no guarantee that generation will retain those views. But the similarity of Washington’s culturally liberal electorate to Oregon’s should cheer same-sex marriage supporters in Oregon, especially in a presidential year like 2012, when younger voters are more likely to turn out.

The question is whether demographics will have changed enough by 2012 to undo Measure 36. The answer is uncertain.

“This is incremental,” Hibbitts says. “In 10 to 20 years, it’s going to be a moot point. But I don’t think in three years it’s going to be a moot point.”

 
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