Supporters of the freedom to marry took a monumental step forward last night, while simultaneously stripping away the final talking point opponents of marriage have used to undercut our progress and diminish our relationships for years.
For the first time ever, the voters of a state -- in Maine, and later in the night, in Maryland and Minnesota and Washington -- stood up for their gay and lesbian friends, neighbors and family members and declared their support for same-sex marriage.
Thanks to the hard work of so many supporters in Maine and across the country, we've made it possible for every loving, committed couple in our state to obtain a civil marriage license and pledge to be there for one another through good times and bad, through sickness and health for the rest of their lives.
I could not be more proud of the fact that it was voters in my adopted home state of Maine who did it first.
Opponents of marriage came into the state using the same recycled scare tactics and misleading ads they've dragged out time and time again. They made false claims about the "consequences" of marriage for children, churches and business leaders while suggesting that allowing same-sex couples to marry would somehow weaken the institution of marriage.
But voters have heard those lies before.
Last night, the voters of Maine sent a clear message that truth and love are more powerful than fear and deception.
I know there are some in our movement who believe that same-sex marriage should not be voted on at all. As part of the campaigns to defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and stave off a statewide constitutional amendment in Massachusetts in 2007 -- indeed, as one of people who coined the Massachusetts slogan, "It's wrong to vote on rights" -- I still share this position when it's the majority (e.g. a legislature) putting the rights of a minority up for a popular vote.
But even if we had repeated our success in passing a marriage bill through the Maine legislature as we did in 2009, our opponents would have gotten the signatures (as they did in Maryland and Washington this year) to repeal the bill, leaving us at a significant disadvantage when it came to the more challenging referendum vote.
Instead we made the strategic decision to take this issue directly to the voters who would ultimately have the final say. The added time we gained from this proactive approach allowed us to experiment with new strategies, cutting edge message development and a level of sophistication in our voter targeting and field testing that will hopefully serve as a model for other states to follow in the years ahead.
It also allowed us to adopt a grassroots approach that included more than 250,000 one-on-one conversations about why marriage matters to all families. Because many of these conversations were conducted by trained volunteers, this approach can still be applied to states whose populations dwarf Maine's. The larger your state's population, the larger the pool of potential volunteers.
In the states that have a process in place for citizen-led initiatives (including those that allow citizens to overturn constitutional amendments), I hope our community will look to Maine as an example of how we can possibly benefit from this proactive approach. By starting early, in the calm before the heat of a campaign and without the deadline of a looming vote, we can change hearts and minds on our terms and on our timeline, rather than playing defense against anti-marriage referenda.
Opponents of marriage have long used the ballot process as a weapon to strip away our rights and attack our families. Where it's possible, it's time that we begin looking at the ballot process as a possible tool instead.
However, states, national organizations and even donors should be very cautious and deliberative when considering this approach. It takes a significant infrastructure, months or even years of grassroots organizing, and a willingness to learn from other states and the body of extensive data that has been accumulated in Maine and other places for more than three years.
There is no "one size fits all" approach to winning marriage at the state level, but we have learned so much over the last few years that we now have a playbook for how it can be done.
Anti-marriage demagogues will try to downplay this victory, writing Maine off as "another liberal New England state" despite our Republican-controlled legislature, Tea Party Governor and the fact that we have one the oldest electorates in the country. Indeed, Frank Schubert, who ran the opposition campaigns in all four marriage states, recently claimed that Maine's relatively small population somehow makes today's unprecedented achievement less meaningful. Such obvious spin should be dismissed for what it is: the "sore loser" rumblings of a movement that just witnessed the end of its winning streak.
There's a change that's happening across the country, and last night we saw that change reflected here in Maine.
Every day more and more people are coming to realize that allowing loving, committed couples to marry strengthens our families and our communities. It takes time for change to occur. But whether it takes a decade or the length of a single conversation, we know that change is only moving in one direction.
To all the states out there that have seen marriage stripped away or blocked at the ballot box, take hope from the change that's taken place over the last three years in Maine. You too can hit the reset button and advance marriage if you take the time to talk about why marriage matters to your family, and to all families.
Maine is the first state to win marriage at the ballot box, but it is not the last.