“Go back in time 30 years, 20 years,” Gorman says the day after the Maine vote. “If you had said that in 2009, 47 percent of Mainers would say it’s all right for same-sex couples to get married, they would have said you are out of your mind. It was politically inconceivable. So to say that last night was a loss for us, it’s kind of a very narrow picture. It’s a snapshot. This is not a snapshot. This is a movie. This is a Ken Burns documentary.”

In every recent race, the opposition has run ads claiming that gay marriage would be “taught” in schools—in Maine, they even implied that gay sex would be explicitly described to kindergartners. The strategy has been effective. Voters have opposed same-sex marriage in 31 separate state elections, starting in 1992. Religious organizations such as the Catholic Church, Focus On the Family and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have sunk millions of dollars into the races. To some, this is a war that can only be won in Congress or in the courts.

“The fact that we’re okay with people voting on our rights this way is kind of identifying ourselves as second-class citizens,” says Chelsea Salem, a San Clemente native who helped organize September’s National Equality March on Washington, D.C. “There’s been this idea that if we just tell our stories and be honest, and that we say we are just citizens and we are living the same lives as everyone else, then that message has to get through. . . . But I think Maine shows us we have to do more.”

Play pals: OCEC board members (front) Cas Gregory, Archer Altstaetter and Felicity Figueroa with (back) Equality California's Elizabeth Aversa and Daniel shad
Jennie Warren
Play pals: OCEC board members (front) Cas Gregory, Archer Altstaetter and Felicity Figueroa with (back) Equality California's Elizabeth Aversa and Daniel shad
Altstaetter, in his dance studio
Jennie Warren
Altstaetter, in his dance studio

Others insist that storytelling and conversation remain the best ways to shift societal attitudes. Courage Campaign’s canvassers are encouraged to come up with a “story of self” to tell at doorsteps, putting in personal terms their beliefs about why same-sex marriage should be legal.

OCEC has its own “storytelling committee.” “It’s really the power of emotion, the power of expression, that can change someone’s mind,” Davis says.

On the Friday after the Maine vote, OCEC sponsored an event at Chapman University reflecting on the year since Prop. 8. Eight of the OCEC storytellers stood in front of a lecture hall, each seat filled. One by one, they spoke.

The first, now engaged to another man, remembered wanting to die after being taunted in junior high for walking “like a girl.” The second described why he spent years pretending to be straight—“I want to be normal; I want to be like everybody else. I want to have a girlfriend.” The third recounted her daughter crying, “Mami, no one will love me again,” when she realized she was a lesbian. On down the line they went. When the eight were finished, the audience answered with a standing ovation.

After the storytellers, a few high-profile LGBT-rights lawyers spoke. Katherine Darmer, a Chapman law professor and chair of OCEC’s legal committee, gave the closing speech.

“I’m pretty open about my views on these issues, and my issues are not the same as everyone at Chapman or here in Orange County,” Darmer said. “People often say to me, ‘Why are you in Orange County? Why are you at Chapman?’ And in all honesty, what I want to say to you is this is where there’s work to be done.”

“It is here, in Orange County, that we have to change hearts and minds,” she said. “Think of it as a challenge. Here, you can make a difference—and we have made a difference.”

skornhaber@ocweekly.com

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