I'm a New Englander. I was born in Rhode Island. I've lived in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts throughout my adult life. My current home in northern New Jersey, just outside NYC, is both the farthest south and the farthest west I've ever lived. (It also happens to be one of the thousands of NJ homes still without heat and power in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which is why right now, I am writing this from back in New England.)
I know New England values. And not just the part where we replace the letter "R" with the letters "AH" for comical effect.
Yes, there's a lot of tradition involved. But that tradition comes from deeper values. Family. Community. Respect. Dignity. Freedom. Faith. Which is why I have not been surprised throughout my life to see New England leading the nation when it comes to LGBT equality.
Vermont was the first state in the country to legally recognize loving and committed same-sex couples with the creation of Civil Unions back in 2000.
Massachusetts made history when its highest court legalized marriage equality in 2004.
In 2005, Connecticut became the first state in America to do either of these without the intervention of the courts, when it created its own Civil Unions - which were then changed to full marriages in 2008,
In 2009, New Hampshire and Vermont became two of the first three states in our nation's history to pass full marriage equality through the leguslature - with Vermont even overcoming the Governor's veto to do so.
Put to a "citizens' veto" vote in November of 2009, Mainers rejected the marriage equality law that their elected officials had passed earlier that year. And honestly, speaking as a New Englander, I was shocked. This wasn't the New England I knew. When I heard the language being used by anti-LGBT activists in Maine - people like Mike Heath, who still say things like "The so-called 'gay' movement is rooted in sorcery and it is a child of the devil, and an enemy of everything that is right" - it just doesn't fit in New England. (Unless you're thinking Salem, Massachusetts ... say 1692-ish?)
But the Frank Schubert-led rhetoric coming from the anti-LGBT side sounded even less like the New England I grew up in. It didn't sound like the Maine where my friends came from, or where my parents took me shopping for back-to-school clothes at the LL Bean. It didn't make sense that this rhetoric would resonate in the fishing towns we'd drive through for hours on the way up to Bar Harbor, or with the artists we knew from Portland, or the lifelong die-hard Sox fans we knew from Bangor. It was cynical, misleading, scare-tactic politics. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, cynical, misleading, scare-tactic politics work. They did in 2009. I hope they won't in 2012.
This is why I'm so proud to see Mainers trying again. Those New England values will prevail. They have for centuries, they will for centuries more. Family. Community. Respect. Dignity. Freedom. Faith. None of those values would lead a person to reject another family for being different, or turn their nose at a neighbor. Marriage strengthens families. Strong families strengthen communities. Strong communities endure. And nobody knows that better than we do.
Maine has a chance to be the latest New England state to make history on Tuesday, when (along with Maryland, Washington and Minnesota) voters have the chance to reject those cynical scare-tactics, and truly embrace these values. Voters in three of these four states have the chance to be the first in the nation to ever affirm marriage equality at the ballot box. That's the Maine I know.
Do your part to help ensure marriage equality by visiting www.glaad.org/vote and learning how you can help voters in Minnesota, Maryland, Maine, and Washington ensure marriage equality, as well as how to ensure that thousands of transgender Americans can protect their vote.