I work in construction and I try to explain to the guys that we’re all just people.
On a fall Sunday morning in Biddeford, Maine, the man whose breakfast I’d just interrupted with a knock on the door pretty much summed it up. “We’re all just people.” That was why Mainers were fighting so hard to defeat Question 1, fighting to keep the marriage equality the legislature had finally extended to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community over the summer. That was why America’s LGBT community had come to Maine, why straight allies had come, why I was there, why the 23 other Yalies were there. “We’re all just people.
Last Tuesday’s election in Maine was the 31st time gay marriage came before the people of a state for a vote. And just like the last 30 times, equality lost. It still hurts, maybe more than it did before.
We don’t know why this happened. We don’t understand this hatred. We get angry and we crave someone to blame. We can point the finger at the Catholic Church, the Mormon Church, Maine, the status quo. We can lose ourselves in the despondency of an electoral loss.
Or we can look ahead. We can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and throw ourselves back into the fray.
Will it be easy? No. Does it make this loss for equality hurt any less? No. But we should not forget what this is about: civil rights. We have a struggle to continue.
We should take heart that in the course of American history, civil rights eventually win out, the inequalities are eventually corrected. But they have never been given freely and they won’t be now. Lethargy and apathy will not suffice to achieve equality. They never have. The forces arrayed against us are organized, disciplined and passionate. And so they have always been against those striving for equality. The long march to total equality, from the Reconstruction amendments to women’s suffrage to the civil rights of the ’60s, is still going on. Our cause is in the same spirit as those, our fight in the same tradition. The banner is now ours to pick up, ours to carry.
We know the history of setbacks and we prepare for future difficulties, but Maine is past. Proposition 8 is past. Our generation is just coming into this fight. Let us not leave this problem to the next one. History will not judge us or our nation kindly if we do. We must continue this fight. We must do it for the likes and legacies of Harvey Milk and Cleve Jones, for our family and friends, for ourselves.
We must declare that we will win out. We must declare that we will not settle for anything less than full equality for the LGBT community. We must declare that we will win out no matter how many doors we must knock on, tears we must shed, hours we must sweat, calls we must make, dollars we must raise, arguments we must wage, losses we must endure or minds we must change. Equality and decency are on our side, history and our country’s ideals are at our backs. Learn from past losses, and don’t give up the fight. Remember: “We’re all just people.” Let’s go to work.
Luke Hawbaker is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College.