As a native Mainer, I was vastly disappointed by the referendum vote repealing Maine’s gay marriage law. As a hopelessly straight woman who has had every relationship dissolve into an ugly, slimy pile of goo, I often don’t understand why anyone wants to get married. But, as a former pre-law student who loved constitutional law, I believe that we have constructed marriage in such a way that it confers certain legal rights and privileges, and that it is unconstitutional to deprive a certain class of people of those legal rights and privileges.
But the argument apparently didn’t work in Maine. The influx of out-of-state money and propaganda aside, what I really think hurt the state on this issue is, frankly, what’s been hurting the state and will continue to hurt the state for years to come: Maine is the “oldest” state in the nation, with fully 15% of its population over the age of 65 (US Census). Simply from a generational context, the older demographic is less likely to embrace major social change, particularly an issue such as gay marriage because they grew up in a time where homosexuality was not at all embraced. They are also statistically the demographic most likely to vote. The problem is, it’s a catch-22: if they keep making decisions like this, Maine will continue to lose younger people who are more likely to choose to live in places that are tolerant and accepting of alternative lifestyles. This has enormous implications for the state’s economy and workforce -- Maine already is at a competitive disadvantage with its aging and under-educated workforce. Giving younger people additional reasons to leave the state, or to not come back, is the last thing the state needs. What the “No on 1” campaign should have done is run ads that said, “Uphold gay marriage so there are people to work at your nursing home in 10 years" -- because our generation has and will continue to vote with our feet.
Sort of ironically, before I left Maine (for the second time, I should mention…) I served on the Realize!Maine steering committee, which is an initiative committed to retaining and attracting people under 40. I felt like a traitor for leaving, especially for NYC and then Boston…and I still have days when I think about moving back. In fact, the proliferation of “I’m glad I don’t live in Maine anymore” proclamations onFacebook and in newspaper comments today makes me wonder if maybe us not living there anymore is actually part of the problem. We weren’t there to vote no. But we also won't be there to support the state's economy, either -- and that's not something the state of Maine can afford to lose.