Last night, in a voter referendum, Mainers narrowly, nail-bitingly voted to repeal the law extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, with the Bangor Daily News now reporting a margin of 53 to 47 percent.
It wasn't only bad news for LGBT rights on election night--voters in Kalamazoo, Michigan, approved an anti-discrimination ordinance adding sexual orientation and gender identity to existing civil rights law in their city, and Washington state's referendum to approve everything-but-the-M-word protections for same-sex couples is winning, though the race hasn't been called yet.
Still, on a morning after like this, you could be forgiven for thinking that it's the elite institutions in American life--courts and state legislatures (although, are you noticing, the sphere of what's "elite" keeps expanding?)--that are ready to contemplate marriage for gay people, and that Americans themselves (Liz Lemon's insistence that no Americans are any more real than any others notwithstanding) aren't. The State Supreme Court extends marriage rights to same-sex couples in California. Californians use a ballot initiative to take the right away. Maine's state legislature passes marriage equality legislation, and voters take the right away. In some jurisdictions (namely, Maine and California), public policy may be slightly outstripping public opinion. But the New York Times has recently taken a close look at whether public opinion on gay rights issues leads or lags behind public policy in all 50 states, sparked by a paper in the American Political Science Review (via Nan Hunter's indispensable blog). Only in Iowa does partnership recognition (in that state's case, marriage) outstrip public support. (In fact, illustrating the vagaries in polling and voting, in this survey, just over half of Mainers support the right to marry.) But the study does not stop at examining attitudes on marriage. Over 50 percent of residents in almost every state (Oklahoma and Utah being the two exceptions) support health benefits for same-sex partners, and yet only 14 states offer this protection. A few more states have enacted workplace and housing discrimination protections, but again, virtually all states see a majority supporting this protection. In fact, average Americans want gay people to have protections--not necessarily marriage, yet, but we're getting there.
Still depressed? Consider, first, that Maine didn't even have a basic anti-discrimination law until 2005--and had a number of false starts there, too, with voters twice repealing existing protections. And, on the federal level, news is better. Last week Obama signed the hate crimes bill, which, as the National Center for Transgender Equality points out, is the first time the federal government has enacted protections for transgender people. Meanwhile, Nan Hunter reports, ENDA is "chugging along;" Senate hearings are coming up this week, House hearings have already happened, and House members are planning mark-up "soon."
And on the subject of looking on the bright side: at TAPPED, Adam Serwer has a rundown of LGBT candidates who did well running for office--some--Mark Kleinschmidt in Chapel Hill and Charles Pugh in Detroit--even won! (And another, Annise Parker in Houston, heads to a run-off election.)