Yesterday in a victory that was not as close as the final pre-election polls had suggested, voters in Maine adopted a “people’s veto” to protect the traditional definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The margin was 53-47. The voting was closely watched for several reasons, as each of the other 30 states that have held popular votes on marriage redefinition has seen popular majorities approve the traditional understanding. Even more important, had proponents of same-sex marriage prevailed in Maine, it would have marked the first time that the public would have ratified a prior state legislative decision on this issue.
Supporters of traditional marriage prevailed despite being heavily outspent in the months-long campaign that led up to the vote. The issue was placed on yesterday’s ballot when a citizens’ petition drive succeeded this past summer, allowing the state’s voters an opportunity to block the same-sex marriage measure adopted by votes of 21-14 (Maine Senate) and 89-57 (Maine House) last May. The difference between the legislative margin for same-sex marriage and the popular vote against it continues to be a feature of the debate. To date, in the 30 states that have preserved traditional marriage at the ballot box, the cumulative popular vote margin has been 37,974,138 (63.6%) to 21,743,826 (36.4%). Legislative bodies in some states continue to be out of sync with the public mind on the issue.
Maine thus becomes the first New England state to hold a referendum on marriage. Earlier this year, the legislatures of Vermont, Connecticut, and New Hampshire (the first two acting at least to some degree under the influence of court rulings) joined Massachusetts in adopting same-sex marriage laws. None of those four states has a process similar to Maine’s “people’s veto,” which permits rapid voter response to a legislative enactment. The impact of the Maine vote on its New England neighbors, and the nationwide debate over same-sex marriage, remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, traditional marriage was also a feature of the political contest for governor of New Jersey, where incumbent Jon Corzine was upset yesterday by Chris Christie. Speculation has been rampant that, had Corzine prevailed, the New Jersey legislature might well have adopted same-sex marriage in its own lame-duck session before the end of this year. Corzine campaigned on his support for redefining marriage, and Christie campaigned on preserving the traditional understanding. This morning’s New York Times reports that all bets are off on the issue due to Christie’s victory.
In 1788 Alexander Hamilton spoke in New York for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution with the argument, “Here, sir, the people govern; here they act by their immediate representatives.” For the moment, it appears that the people and some of their immediate representatives have a difference of mind about redefining marriage.