My little state doesn’t make the national news much, after all with a population of only 1.5 million, it’s a pretty small state. Yet today all the nation is abuzz with the fact that the gay marriage law was repealed, it’s been pretty heart breaking because many know Mainers to have an independent streak and felt confident that the law would not be repealed. Yet the vote while close in the end the folks who were against it prevailed….
Today, I have seen many online and real life buddies express anger and disgust over the situation and a feeling that those who voted against upholding the law which had been passed by legislators were small-minded bigots. While it’s most easy to lay the blame squarely on the fact that folks are small-minded bigots, I have spent the day thinking that is not necessarily the answer. In the end there is no answer but as someone who has spent my life as a person of difference, I find myself thinking the bigger reason people voted as they did is fear.
As a Black woman, I have come across too many instances where people fear me, see people fear what they do not know. In my years in Maine, especially in the early years here, I have seen the faces of people who have looked at both me and my interracial family with fear. Fear because maybe the only ideas they have of Black folks are those flashed on the tv, images that show Black women as screaming bitchy shrews. Images that show our children as less than manageable, images that show our young men as perpetrators of crime. After all even in Maine, the nightly news half the time shows the alleged perpetrator as being Black, granted this is better than when I was in Chicago. Back home, the alleged perpetrator was Black 9 out of 10 times.
Yet the longer I live here, the less I see that fear. I go places where folks once looked tentative when I entered and now I am greeted with the same greeting that others receive. I know that Mainers are capable of embracing those who are different from them yet it takes time and exposure to build those relationships.
Maine is a fairly homogenous state, by and large there is little in the way of diversity here. I think for many of those who entered the voting booth and voted yes on 1, they were operating from a place of ignorance and fear. Ignorance because in many cases they don’t know anyone who is gay or lesbian, they don’t realize that just like they want what’s best for their families that gays and lesbians want the same thing. I think for many the images they have of gay and lesbians is steeped in bad stereotypes of the images that flash across the screen during gay pride time of men wearing ass-less leather pants. I realize that sounds bad yet as someone who grew up going to gay pride parades in Chicago, I have seen my fair share of gay folks who are flamboyant and while there is nothing wrong with that, the fact is it’s an image that can come across as negatively as images we see that portray all Black men as being the perpetrators of crime. In the end, we cling to those images and never allow ourselves to get to know the gay and lesbians who are mothers, fathers, workers, etc…folks just like us. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know gay marriage is an issue I have grappled with because of my faith, yet in the end it has been knowing gays and lesbians and their families that truly changed my mind. It was seeing that their families are no different from my family, it was knowing that less than 50 years ago, there were folks who thought I did not deserve to marry my husband, that changed my mind. In the end we all want what’s best for our families.
So we let the fear take over, fear that is played up by those who take our ignorance and twist it for their own agenda. In Maine, the opponents started saying gay marriage would be taught in school, as I can imagine, there may have been those who started thinking of images of their children being exposed to men in ass-less chaps and who decided that was enough to make them vote to repeal the law. In the end is it right? Of course not, but its the only explanation that makes sense to me. People bought into fear instead of using reason. It’s funny because Maine is not even a terribly religious state so the argument about religion being the reason for this decision doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. No, it’s gotta be fear…fear of the unknown.
I don’t know what the future holds but I do believe that if we start to see people as people and accept and respect them for who they are, that we will break down the walls we have put up that divide us. Sadly change does not always happen as quickly as we want but that does not mean it won’t happen.