Waking up Wednesday morning this week I had to face the disappointment and the noise. The disappointment was clear enough. The turnout in Virginia and New Jersey ensured that the progressive wave some of us last year thought might wash across the country had a strong undertow, or at least a rip current. The noise came from the shrill predictions that now there is a fresh conservative tide returning to wash away the hopes for change. If two governor races were all there was to talk about, then they just had to become bellwethers for pundits without a clue.
The morning after Election Day I felt disappointed and puzzled, but then I remembered the Maine elections and called my friend Joan. For Joan Wednesday morning's question was not just about how worried to be about gubernatorial races, or about the full employment program for loud TV journalists. For Joan, Wednesday morning's news was that her wedding in Maine planned for this spring could not take place because voters in that state had decided that people like her were no longer welcome to have their ceremonies and celebrations there. Maine voters, who many had seen as open-minded and fair when it came to social issues, had decided that gay people were not welcome to marry in their fair state.
Some months ago Joan and Mary, after many years together, had decided to publicly affirm their commitment and to celebrate with their friends and large extended families. Long devoted to the natural beauty of the Maine coastline, they had picked out the perfect spot for their ceremony and celebration. We received the "Save-the-Date" card so that we could plan, with siblings, and cousins, uncles, aunts and other friends, to gather together to mark this very happy occasion. My wife and I wondered how to pick out the right wedding present for our friends.
Normal stuff right? When two people in love decide to tie the knot, the community around them is filled with joy and support, right? But then on Election Day the voters of Maine decreed that Joan and Mary shouldn't be able to save the date, plan the meals, send the invitations, hire the band, and join with family and friends in affirming their commitment to one another. On Election Day, under the paranoid banner of defending marriage, the voters of Maine decided that Joan and Mary were not welcome to come with family and friends to the beautiful coastline. Maine voters would protect marriages between men and women in their state by excluding my friends who thought to bless their own union on Maine soil.
When I spoke to Joan on Wednesday morning she was in tears. I realized my own disappointment with the winds of political change was trivial in comparison to how she felt to be told, "You are not welcome here." I realized that my fears about some conservative tide were silly in comparison to my friends' hurt at being publicly told that their family would be excluded from publicly sanctioned marriages.
By Wednesday afternoon the tears had changed to anger. Joan and Mary would find another place for their ceremony and celebration. We all agreed that this was Maine's loss, but we also all knew that this meant that the struggle for basic rights like the right to marry who you want can not be taken for granted. We all remembered what it was like to be told "your kind is not welcome here," and that we must commit ourselves to eradicating this close-minded bigotry in the future.
Joan and Mary will marry, and friends and family will celebrate with them. But we will remember the Maine elections.
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