Wednesday, May 22, 2013
I've done a lot of knocking on doors.
I've worked and volunteered on issue campaigns, on local and statewide referendums and on voter identification surveys for candidates up and down the ballot.
I've talked to people at their front doors in downtown Portland, in some of the smallest communities dotting the St. John Valley and in tons of places in-between. (I've found that people in The County are much more likely to try to feed you.)
I mention this so that you'll understand where I'm coming from when I say that I had one of the best canvassing experiences of my life volunteering for Mainers United for Marriage last weekend. That's when the group officially launched its volunteer campaign to reach out to those who might be against same-sex marriage, or simply haven't thought too much about the issue.
The process of people changing their hearts and minds about equal marriage is fascinating to me. The polls have shown a rapid and accelerating transformation over the past few years, with the national Gallup poll showing only 27 percent support for full legal recognition for same-sex couples in 1996, compared to a majority now in favor today.
What those numbers represent is millions of individuals wrestling with this issue, weighing the experiences of their own lives, their faith and their traditions, the happiness of their families and friends, and their own understanding of what marriage means to them.
Going door to door, I was surprised at how willing people were to talk about this internal evolution to someone that has just shown up on their front porch. I was even more surprised at how much Mainers United encouraged their volunteers to engage in these conversations on a deeply personal level.
One woman I spoke to was good enough to take a break from painting her living room to stand in her doorway with a dripping paintbrush and talk with me about her own experiences.
As a Catholic who had attended parochial schools growing up and who had made sure her children had a Catholic education, she understood the position of her church. She was personally undecided, however, because she has gay and lesbian friends and family and because the issue was so important to them.
We spent a good 15 minutes talking about the issue from a variety of directions. We talked about what marriage meant to each of us and how important it was for cementing a bond between two people and their children. She even gave some tips, learned over her 25 years of marriage, for my wife and me (hitched just two years) to keep in mind.
In the end, she decided that she would support same-sex marriage rights. Her more-conservative husband might disagree, she said. But hey, he'd have to get used to it -- and isn't that one of the great things about the commitment of marriage?
The fight for equal rights for gays and lesbians in this country is a very different struggle from the campaigns against segregation and for civil rights for African Americans in the middle of the last century. It is similarly iconic, however, and, when we look back decades from now, it likely will seem to have been similarly, historically inevitable.
The NAACP underscored that point recently when it declared that "civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law" and made a 14th Amendment case for "the equal protection of all people."
In the future, it may seem to have been inevitable; but right now, here in Maine, it's very much up in the air. Polls about this issue are notoriously unreliable. Groups such as the Christian Civic League and National Organi-zation for Marriage will spend heavily to twist the issue to their advantage. And in 32 previous referendums on marriage rights in states across the country, the pro-equal marriage side hasn't yet won once.
Someday, your children will ask you what you did during this time of national change, and you'll want to have an answer. The good news is that you don't have to ride a bus into Mississippi to face beatings and arrest in order to be a part of our country's evolution on civil rights. You just have to go to a website, MainersUnited.org, and fill out a form saying you're willing to make some phone calls or knock on some doors and have some conversations with your neighbors about what you value and why you care.
Mike Tipping is a political junkie. He writes the Tipping Point blog on Maine politics at DownEast.com, his own blog at MainePolitics.net and works for the Maine People's Alliance and the Maine People's Resource Center. He's @miketipping on Twitter. Email to email@example.com