MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Gay-marriage advocates are vowing to press on after a crushing defeat in Maine yesterday. Voters passed a measure blocking same-sex marriage. As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, it is a major setback for the cause, not just in Maine, but around the country.
TOVIA SMITH: Gay marriage advocates had ordered up a three-tier wedding cake for what they thought would be a celebration last night. They had every reason to be hopeful. They had already convinced the governor to become the nation's first to sign a same-sex marriage law without a court forcing him to, and they raised nearly twice as much money as those trying to kill gay marriage. But in the end, they couldn't get past what's called the people's veto.
Mr. JOE SOLMONESE (Human Rights Campaign): It says to me that there are big segments of the electorate that we still have a lot of work to do with.
SMITH: Joe Solmonese is with the gay-rights group the Human Rights Campaign.
Mr. SOLMONESE: There's a struggle there, particularly with older people - with my own mother, you know? It's a challenging nut to crack.
SMITH: The defeat gives a big boost to opponents of gay marriage who can now claim they've won every single time gay marriage has come to a popular vote. Their record is 31 and 0. Frank Schubert, who helped orchestrate the anti-gay marriage effort in Maine and California, says yesterday's vote in a blue state like Maine bolsters the case that only activist judges and out-of-touch lawmakers support gay marriage.
Mr. FRANK SCHUBERT (Anti-gay Marriage Activist): I think it's a signal to the rest of the country that the voters don't want politicians taking a centuries-old institution like marriage and throw it to the curb for political correctness. The fact of the matter is they're not changing public opinion. Public opinion is on the side of traditional marriage.
SMITH: Opponents say they will now redouble their efforts to beat back gay-marriage initiatives in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. Even advocates concede yesterday's defeat does not bode well for those legislative efforts.
Mr. RICHARD SOCARIDES (Former Adviser, Clinton Administration): If you're someone running for office and you want to get re-elected, you're not going to feel better today about supporting same-sex marriage. Those are the facts.
SMITH: Richard Socarides is a former adviser on gay rights to the Clinton administration. He says advocates may have to shift from a state-by-state strategy to a push in the federal courts. Two major lawsuits are now pending: One from California argues that state bans on gay marriage violate the federal Constitution, another challenges the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Mr. SOCARIDES: The right to marry seems to be a stretch for elected officials. And when it's put to popular vote - but I think we'll have a more receptive ear from the federal courts.
SMITH: Advocates say it's normal in a civil-rights movement for the courts to lead public opinion, but opponents say attempting to do what they call an end-run around voters will ultimately backfire and mobilize more opposition. Brian Brown is with the National Organization for Marriage.
Mr. BRIAN BROWN (National Organization for Marriage): Trying to force same-sex marriage on an unwilling population by using the courts as a battering ram will clearly turn people against same-sex marriage. That is an extremely risky strategy.
SMITH: Ultimately, gay-marriage advocates say their best advantage may be time. As Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank puts it: A new generation of voters is much less offended by the notion of gay marriage.
Representative BARNEY FRANK (Democrat, Massachusetts): If you look at the trend, it's true we have been losing, but the margins have gotten closer. Twenty tears ago, they wouldn't even have been this close. So the basic job we have is to continue to try to persuade people that the fears that are expressed about the chaotic effect of same-sex marriage are wrong. And I think ultimately we will succeed in that.
SMITH: Frank says the reality of gay marriage in states where it's legal slowly but surely alleviates those fears, but that remains to be seen. The most effective ads in the campaign against gay marriage in Maine were those based on the claim that making gay marriage legal in Massachusetts has led to teachers pushing the idea on kids.
Tovia Smith, NPR News.
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