What Was Going On While Everyone Was Talking About Maine

Posted on November 11th, 2009 by Katherine Franke

Unless you were living in a cave you should be aware that a week ago Tuesday the people of Maine decided to pass on marriage rights for same-sex couples.  Commentators described it as not only “a harsh blow to the gay marriage drive,” but “a major set back to gay rights,” and “a tremendous and devastating loss for LGBT rights“.  From these reports the Maine vote served as a barometer for not only the fate of the marriage equality movement but for lgbt rights more generally.

In isolation, I don’t regard the vote in Maine to be as apocalyptic as some in the media have maintained.  After all, the sentiments of Mainers is trending, and trending quite quickly, in a favorable direction on the question of accepting legal marriage for same-sex couples.  If marriage is your issue, then give it a legislative session or two – they’re almost there.

But while we were all looking in a northeasterly direction, some very interesting things have been going on elsewhere in the country on the question of sexual rights.  Not only did the health care bill that came out of the House last weekend explicitly remove the tax penalty carried by lesbian and gay employees who put their partners on their health plans (removing its treatment as taxable income) but other important and positive legislative action has taken place since the Maine vote:

– The Fort Worth, Texas city council voted 6-3 yesterday to amend the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance to include protections for transgender people.  Fort Worth is not exactly the “Castro of the South,” and the fact that the vote was 2 to 1 in favor of the change in the law is fantastic.  But it gets even better.  As the Fort-Worth Star Telegram reports:  “A lot of the debate, though, centered on broader proposals, some of which the council has already tacitly approved.  City staffers will be trained on dealing with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and the Police Department has appointed a liaison to the community.  Other recommendations will require further study, including offering domestic-partner benefits and expanding the city health insurance plan to cover gender reassignment procedures, including sex changes.”Cynthia.Stewart

– Tharptown High School in Russelville, Alabama yesterday decided to reverse an earlier decision to bar a lesbian student from bringing her girlfriend to the Junior Prom.  After pressure from the ACLU on behalf of the student, Cynthia Steward, the school district yesterday capitulated and announced that they could attend the prom together.

– Yesterday the city council in Salt Lake City, yes Salt Lake City, voted unanimously to add sexual orientation and gender identity protections to its anti-discrimination law.  Why was the vote unanimous?  Because the change in the law had the full backing of the Mormon Church.  “The church supports these ordinances because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage,” said an LDS church spokesman.  Don’t believe it?  Watch:


This embrace of gay and trans rights by the people of Salt Lake City and the LDS church did not come as a surprise to those who have been watching the sophisticated political work being done there by lgbt activists in coalition with other progressives.  As I blogged before: Lisa Duggan’s has written in What’s Right with Utah, about the successful and radically progressive political campaign going on in Salt Lake City undertaken by the lgbt community after they lost the chance to gain marriage rights when the state constitution was amended barring such unions.  They regrouped, found straight partners with whom to work in coalition, and have taken on much broader reforms than what they could have accomplished with “mere” marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples.  Brilliantly, they found local Mormons who opposed gay marriage, but who said they weren’t homophobic and took them at their word.  They found that of this group 62 percent supported employment nondiscrimination laws, 56 percent supported fair housing laws and 73 percent supported granting adult designees of state employees health insurance coverage. They also found that 56 percent backed legal protections like inheritance rights and job protection for LGBT people.  When they could no longer ask for marriage they found unlikely partners with whom they could ask for much more than what marriage would have provided.

The marriage crusade (and I mean crusade) had a set back in Maine the other day.  But let’s not overdetermine that event as indicative of  more than it can and should bear.  First of all, the folks in Maine working on this issue have suffered a set back, but not annihilation.  But perhaps more important, the fight for marriage equality isn’t the only thing lgbt people, or queer people for that matter, care about.   Whether it’s going to the prom with your girlfriend, getting a hate crimes bill passed, changing the heteronormative bias of tax laws, or thinking outside the politics of matrimony as they have in Utah, a gay rights agenda, and certainly a queer political agenda, is undermined by reducing it an up or down vote on marriage in any one state.


  1. What Was Going On While Everyone Was Talking About Maine http://tr.im/EPTi #glbt #transgender #p2 #fem2

  2. RT @transadvocate: What Was Going On While Everyone Was Talking About Maine http://tr.im/EPTi #glbt #transgender #p2 #fem2

  3. What Was Going On While Everyone Was Talking About Maine http://tr.im/EPTi #glbt #transgender #p2 #fem2

  4. You can certainly see your skills in the article you write.
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    Always follow your heart.

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