The legalization of gay marriage in Maine will be decided on November 3 and student groups are mobilizing. Members of the No on 1/Protect Maine Equality Campaign, in opposition of the people's veto against gay marriage, are seeking support through a grassroots campaign that has pervaded the Bowdoin campus.
Bowdoin students are eligible to vote as residents of Maine, and the Bowdoin Queer Straight Alliance (BQSA) will be working in conjunction with the Bowdoin College Democrats (BCD) to register students in the weeks leading up to the referendum. Both groups have been working with Protect Maine Equality to promote awareness in Brunswick.
BQSA member Chris Houdlette '12 said that some of BQSA's efforts are aimed at "clarifying" the legislation, because students from outside the state of Maine may not know the details of the bill. The student-run organization is looking to raise awareness and provoke discussion of the issue on campus through flyers, e-mails and merchandise; they will be tabling in Smith Union leading up to the vote, offering bracelets and pins with the "No On 1" slogan.
BQSA and the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity are both seeking to "get people to talk about it and get excited about the issue," said a BQSA member Olivia Orr '12.
According to Director of the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (RCSGD) Kate Stern, the effort to promote discussion, however, must be coupled with sensitivity to the controversial nature of the bill.
"It's important to remember as a community that while we want an open and respectful dialogue, you're potentially debating someone else's rights directly in front of them," said Stern.
The RCSGD is making a concerted effort to make the Bowdoin community a respectful and safe atmosphere for out students, as well as those who are not openly gay.
"It isn't easy for all students to be out, many are struggling in quiet," said Stern in an e-mail to the Orient. "A student can find confidential support by either contacting me directly or contacting an OUT Peer, and looking for posters around campus."
According to Stern, "Bowdoin has been excellent in embracing more out students than in the past," in adding resources that support Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) students.
BQSA's membership has noticeably increased this year this year and the group has a stronger presence on campus. The group is sponsoring Out Week from October 5 to 11, and aims to promote tolerance and raise awareness of LGBTQ social issues. The Bowdoin College Democrats have also seen an influx of new members, as political engagement on campus increases.
Brandon Asemah '12 said the marriage equality vote "is an opportunity for Bowdoin students to rally behind this effort...to be involved in human rights issues going on where we live."
Both the BQSA and the BCD will be canvassing door-to-door in the Brunswick community in an effort to identify supporters and encourage voters to go to the polls on November 3.
Co-Chair of the Bowdoin College Democrats Caitlin Callahan '11 reported that while canvassing, she was "struck by how tolerant Mainers are" of the issue and of the meaningful dialogue she encountered about the legislation.
The College Democrats, BQSA and the Office of Residential Life will be registering people to vote in the weeks leading up to November 3, and Co-Chair of the College Democrats Catie English '10 reported that it is "not a difficult process at all, but Bowdoin students have to re-register every year in order to vote."
On November 3, shuttles will be available to bring students to the appropriate precincts.
Co-Chair of the Bowdoin College Republicans John Cunningham '10 said that the group is "not taking an official position on Question 1."
The College Republicans "will be educating and registering voters for the other questions on the ballot," said Co-Chair Steven Robinson '11. "Questions 2 and 4 are of particular importance to conservatives."
The BCD also emphasized the importance of Questions 2 and 4; Question 2 proposes a reduction of the excise tax on energy-efficient vehicles, while Question 4 offers a new version of Maine's Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
And yet, Question 1 is the "driving issue that will get people to the polls this year," said Callahan.
"The vote in Maine is coming at a pivotal time," said Houdlette.
Orr added that the repeal of gay marriage in Maine "would be a setback for the gay community in the U.S., as the movement currently has a lot of momentum towards legalization."
Stern represented the viewpoint of the RCSGD and the BCD when she said that marriage equality is "not an LGBTQ issue, it's a civil rights issue." She added that voters have "a responsibility to make laws equal for all people" in the state, regardless of sexual preference.
"We are confident that No On 1 can succeed," said Callahan.
As November 3 approaches, political activism as well as events addressing Question 1 on campus will reach new levels.
At 4 p.m. this Sunday, October 4, there will be a benefit concert and reception featuring pianist Martin Perry at Studzinski Recital Hall. Proceeds will go toward Project Maine Equality, and tickets are $50. The fundraiser is open to the public and is meant to promote awareness of the issue on campus in conjunction with the efforts of student groups.