The most notable result of Tuesday's election was not the Republican wins in New Jersey or Virginia, but the continued push in voter initiatives rejecting same-sex marriage.
Voters in Maine passed a referendum defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, similar to Florida's Proposition 2, which passed last fall. This makes Maine the 31st state to reject same-sex marriage by voter referendum, according to the New York Times.
While the margin of victory was significantly smaller in Maine than in Florida (53 percent in favor, compared to Florida's 62 percent), the fact that any state in the liberal bastion of New England would pass a measure like this is surprising to some, and sends a message to gay rights advocates nationwide.
The National Organization for Marriage, a Christian conservative group that successfully campaigned against same-sex marriage in Maine and elsewhere, argues that the message sent to activists is: "Americans are not on board with this gay marriage thing."
By overturning a law passed by the Maine Legislature, which granted same-sex couples the right to wed, conservative groups hope that the referendum will serve as a warning to politicians pushing for similar laws in other states.
While it is not difficult to draw a narrow conclusion like this from such disappointing election results, we believe the message sent to gay rights advocates is slightly different: It's time to escalate your campaign.
In classic tyranny-of-the-majority style, states, one by one, are restricting the rights of their citizens. Because a slight majority of voters in Maine rejects the idea of same-sex marriage, this means that gay people in Maine should not be granted the same rights as others?
Parallels are inevitably drawn between the same-sex marriage debate and the struggle for civil rights of decades past. It is hard to imagine success for that movement in a state-by-state effort to secure equal rights.
Some states might still have Jim Crow laws on the books without federal civil rights legislation. Interracial marriage might still be illegal in parts of the country, were it not for a 1967 Supreme Court decision granting all citizens the right to marry (except those seeking same-sex marriages).
Gay rights advocates must look higher than state legislatures and state supreme courts. The only way to accomplish the goal of full rights for same-sex couples is to demand action at the federal level.
The movement to legalize same-sex marriage has the money behind it. In Maine, it raised $4 million, overshadowing the $2.5 million raised by the opposition, according to the Associated Press.
They also claim many would-be friends in the federal government, if only these officials were pressed to act. Notable among them is President Obama, who received overwhelming support from the gay community in the 2008 elections.
Activists were upset with Obama's reluctance to weigh in on the issue before Tuesday's referendum, also finding his lack of action on the promise to end "don't ask, don't tell" troubling.
By allowing this inaction to go unchallenged, gay rights advocates may be giving up their best chance ever to secure federal legislation in support of their cause. If civil rights activists had not kept up the pressure on President Johnson, the country would likely be a very different place today.