It was a Super Tuesday for Democrats. Gubernatorial candidates Jon Corzine (D-NJ) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) trounced their Republican counterparts, and California voters terminated all four of Arnold’s initiatives. Buried beneath the headlines, however, was another crucial victory for the progressive movement: Maine became the sixth and final New England state to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The ballot measure in question–which was was backed by conservative religious groups–would have repealed an amendment to the Maine Human Rights Act passed earlier this year by the state legislature. Yet, 56 percent of Mainers voted to uphold the amendment, which protects gays, lesbians, transsexuals, and transvestites from discrimination in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and education.
For gay rights activists, the victory has been a long time coming. The first gay rights bill in Maine was introduced in the state legislature 28 years ago; and in 1998 and 2000, voters struck down similar measures that would have banned discrimination against gays and lesbians. The movement to defeat the measure was led by Maine Won’t Discriminate, a coalition composed of grassroots progressive groups, the Democratic Party, union members, and local business associations. “On Tuesday, we ended a 28-year struggle in Maine to make sure all Mainers are treated equally and fairly under the law. We are so thrilled that it’s finally happened,” said Jesse Connolly of Maine Won’t Discriminate.
“It was a much needed victory for the national movement because we’ve experienced so many defeats over the last year over marriage equality,” says Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which boosted Maine Won’t Discriminate’s efforts with $170,000 of funding, trainings, and hours of phone banking. “It shows that dogged grassroots organizing can lead to crucial wins at a statewide level.”
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Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.