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UUs celebrate historic wins for marriage equality

Popular votes in Maine, Maryland, and Washington approve same-sex marriage; Minnesotans reject marriage ban.
By Donald E. Skinner And Michelle Bates Deakin
11.12.12

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UUs rallied for marriage equality on the lawn of the First Universalist Church of Pittsfield, Maine, which had its rainbow flag vandalized prior to the November 6 election. (Lucky Hollander)

Marriage equality took a dramatic leap forward on Election Day as voters in three states, Maine, Maryland, and Washington, approved ballot measures that authorized same-sex marriage. In a fourth state, Minnesota voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have blocked same-sex marriage.

This election marked the first time that same-sex marriage was approved by voters. Prior to that, all approvals had come through the courts or through state legislatures.

“We’re just ecstatic,” Betty Crowley, co-chair of the UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland, and a member of the UU Church of Annapolis, said on the day after Election Day. “Yesterday was just a wonderful experience. It was just so great to be part of this historic campaign.” The measure passed with 51.9 percent and takes effect January 1, 2014.

The Rev. Lisa Ward, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Harford County, in Churchville, Md., and co-chair of the LGBT Task Force of the UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland, said marriage approval in Maryland sends a message that times are changing. “This really is a tide-turner. The message is becoming clear. This is becoming more and more a bipartisan issue,” she said. “People are starting to get that.”

For Dan Furmansky, Maryland’s approval of marriage was a long time coming. Until recently he was the UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love campaign manager. Now he’s a political and communications consultant, including to SSL, and a wedding officiant. He’s been working on marriage issues in Maryland since 2003.

“We were on the defensive then, focused on making sure the constitution wasn’t amended to ban marriage equality. It took years of sweat and toil and incremental changes . . . until we could get the [Maryland] General Assembly to approve a marriage equality bill earlier this year.

“The victory hasn't even set in yet,” Furmansky said Wednesday, “but what I am feeling is relief and gratitude. My husband and I profoundly love Maryland, and we didn't want that to change in any way. Now, our pride in this state has increased exponentially. And yes, it feels amazing to know I was a part of building this movement that made marriage equality in Maryland a reality.”

Maine

In Maine, 53 percent of voters approved Question 1. UUs were instrumental in the grassroots effort to put the measure on the ballot, according to the Rev. Sue Gabrielson, faith director of the Mainers United for Marriage campaign and half-time minister of the Sanford, Maine, UU Church.

A similar measure failed narrowly in Maine in 2009. A big difference this time around, said Gabrielson, was that “this campaign was all about people’s hearts and building relationships,” and it focused on one-on-one conversations with people. The previous campaign was more focused on matters of the head, she said, emphasizing rights and benefits.

Maine UUs rallied hard as Election Day drew closer and money poured in from out of state to bolster the “No” vote. In rural Pittsfield, Maine, vandals ripped the rainbow flag off the First Universalist Church, and covered the church lawn with signs opposing marriage equality. UUs and supporters from around the state rallied on the church lawn the Sunday before the election to show support for the church and for marriage equality. “They’ve done such amazing work being this state hub for LGBT people in a very rural area,” said Gabrielson. “They’ve shown such courage, and we wanted to make sure they weren’t alone.”

The UU effort was inspiring, Gabrielson found, and so was the coming together of so many denominations. At an interfaith service in Portland on the Sunday before the election, faith traditions from across Maine came together to worship. “Most of us didn’t know each other before we started this work,” Gabrielson said. “We’ve created this network of relationships among people of faith that we will be able to translate into any kind of justice work.”

Marriages are expected to begin by early January. Gabrielson is excited by the idea that she may get to perform weddings for many of the couples she worked side by side with on the campaign.

Washington

In Washington State, Referendum Measure No. 74 was approved by more than 51 percent. Marriages could begin by early December. “We worked the phones even on Election Day,” said the Rev. Carol McKinley, a UU community minister who is coordinator of Washington State UU Voices for Justice, a state social justice network of congregations. “We felt pretty confident, but we weren’t taking chances.” Early in the year the legislature approved same-sex marriage and Governor Chris Gregoire signed it into law. It was blocked immediately when opponents gathered enough signatures to require a referendum on the November ballot.

“This vote is tremendously important,” said McKinley. “More than half the people in this state have now affirmed the importance of relationships and their belief that good relationships need to be supported and recognized. It makes me feel good and not just because our side won. This is a huge justice issue. There’s a great deal of joyousness here today.”

Minnesota

Minnesotans voted down a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as being a union solely between a man and a woman. The state became the first in the country to vote against such an amendment on the ballot when results were announced early Wednesday. Since the late '90s, a total of 32 states have held votes on same-sex marriage, and each time voters have opposed the measure. Fifty-one percent of voters voted to block the amendment.

The Minnesota UU Social Justice Alliance organized congregations to oppose the ballot measure. There was a focus on “storytelling,” inviting people to share stories with people they encountered in their daily lives, about the importance of marriage for everyone. Many thousands of conversations were held, said Jane Bacon, state UU co-chair of a marriage equality working group.

“I’m still overcome with emotion that we did this,” Bacon said. “It’s hard to put into words how wonderful this is, to be the first state to turn back one of these amendments. I felt it was going to happen, but because it’s lost 32 times, you wonder.” She said UUs and the rest of the marriage coalition partners in Minnesota are energized now to think about promoting a same-sex marriage measure. “I think that’s doable here now.”

The Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, issued a statement celebrating the marriage votes in the four states and thanking UUs for their involvement. “Today, we celebrate these historic steps toward full equality for all Americans. Tomorrow, we continue our important work in the fight for marriage equality. On behalf of our Unitarian Universalist Association, I reaffirm our commitment to stand on the side of love until the freedom to marry is the right of every American."

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