Maine’s narrow rejection of same-sex marriage has implications for both sides of the debate. Same-sex marriage has lost in every state where it has been subject to a popular vote, even in states that are liberal, already have redefined marriage (and in Maine’s case, did so through the legislative process rather than by judicial fiat), and where many public polls show plurality support for same-sex marriage. This is why proponents of same-sex marriage in places where the concept polls well (like Massachusetts and New York) or where there is a large Democratic majority among the voters (like Washington, D.C.) have worked so hard to keep this issue off the ballot — even in liberal areas with favorable poll numbers, they know from experience there is a good chance they will lose.
In all, 31 one states have now voted on whether to keep the traditional definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. In every single one of them, despite very different political cultures, same-sex marriage has lost. When Arizona defeated a defense-of-marriage amendment by a slim margin in 2006, it was clear that unrelated freedom-of-contract concerns had sunk the initiative. So supporters tried again with a more narrowly worded initiative, which passed easily in the next election cycle. California’s attorney general worded Proposition 8 in such a way as to reduce public support for it, yet it still defied a Democratic wave and passed.
But social conservatives shouldn’t celebrate too much. Even if same-sex marriage still loses on the ballot in blue states — even in New England, the country’s “marriage equality” zone — a red versus blue divide is starting to emerge on the issue. It will soon be acceptable for a mainstream Democratic presidential candidate to openly support gay marriage. Young voters support redefining marriage. How long can the traditional definition of marriage be sustained by small majorities of 52-53 percent, buoyed by many who cannot fully articulate their reasons for opposing same-sex marriage? The case for gay marriage, meanwhile, can easily fit on a bumper sticker.
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