After 3 years of campaigning, Beth and Valerie look back on winning marriage in Maine
Dec 14, 2012 at 01:45 pm
In two weeks, same-sex couples across the state of Maine will finally have the freedom to marry.
It's been a long time coming.
In 2009, the Maine legislature passed a bill to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, but the law went to a referendum, and anti-gay forces managed to pass discrimination at the ballot.
This year, pro-marriage Mainers took the fight back to the ballot - and this time, we were successful. Maine became the first jurisdiction in global history to win marriage in a pro-active popular fight. The law will take effect on December 29.
No one knows the struggle in Maine better than the loving and committed same-sex couples who saw their freedoms granted, denied, debated, and finally embraced by a majority of Mainers. One of these couples - Beth Allen and Valerie Frey - have been intimately involved in the Maine campaign since the beginning. Here, they've shared their story with Freedom to Marry, excited that their state has affirmed, at last, that it is on the Right Side of History.
Beth and Valerie have been together for over five years. They met through work - both women worked in the children's mental health field - and they began dating shortly after meeting.
Val easily connected with Fiona, Beth's daughter, and the two women began living together in Fletcher's Landing Township, Maine. In May 2009, Beth and Valerie were thrilled when a bill allowing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples passed out of the state legislature and was signed into law by Governor John Baldacci. However, they knew that a referendum by anti-gay activists in the state would quickly follow, and they joined the effort to defeat the referendum by volunteering together for the No on 1 campaign.
Beth took six weeks off from her job in Fall 2009 to contribute to the No on 1 campaign and protect the freedom to marry in the state. The women devoted significant time and energy to the campaign, and as they worked, they talked about what they wanted their wedding to look like. A beautiful ceremony in Maine in the Fall, they thought. A rustic autumn wedding with all of their friends and family members. The thought of being able to share in the freedom to marry powered them through the 2009 campaign.
On November 3, 2009, however, anti-gay forces in the state managed to pass their discriminatory ballot measure. Beth and Valerie were crushed. They knew that they could get a domestic partnership in Maine, but they also knew that marriage matters, and that they didn't want to settle for a lesser status than marriage. "Fiona asked me a little while ago what a civil union was," Beth explained. "She asked why Val and I needed to have something different from marriage. It broke my heart to have her think that her family is somehow different from the families of the kids she goes to school with."
After the election, Beth and Valerie realized that their plans - to get married, to fully protect their family, and to extend their family with another child - were derailed by the loss. "We were really struck by this feeling that we weren't allowed to move forward with our lives as we had planned," Beth said. They decided not to let the loss stop them. "We decided we would still move forward - and that involved having a baby." In October 2010, they welcomed a new daughter, Oakley, into their lives.
"Fiona is such a great big sister," Beth said, describing how close-knit her family is. "And Val and I can't compete with how much Oakley adores her sister," she joked.
Almost two years ago, shortly after Oakley joined the family, Equality Maine began mounting a campaign to place the freedom to marry back on the ballot. The organization felt confident that they had learned from the loss in 2009, and they were ready to regroup and establish that Mainers supported all families. Beth and Valerie got involved again in the campaign, with Beth leaving her job and signing on full-time to work for the campaign. "I felt like I spent twelve years advocating for other people's kids," she said. "I knew that it was time for me to go and advocate for my own family."
Beth became the Deputy Regional Field Director for Mainers United for Marriage, the coalition that formed to proactively win marriage for all couples at the ballot. Throughout 2011 and 2012, Beth had hundreds of personal, one-on-one conversations with Mainers about why marriage matters. She shared her own personal narrative as a mother building a life with her long-term partner and two children. She knew that her story mattered and could show Mainers why the freedom to marry is so essential.
On November 6, 2012, Beth, Valerie, and the hundreds of volunteers and staffers on the Maine campaign celebrated a monumental victory: The freedom to marry had passed with majority support. All same-sex couples in the state would soon be able to share in the joy of marriage. "When Mainers United called the election, we were ecstatic," Beth said. "Val and I hugged each other, and Fiona was so excited to call her favorite volunteer team and give them the information." As the results came on TV, the volunteers in the room with Beth, Valerie, and Fiona began shouting with excitement, and some people broke out in tears. "I thought we won - why is everyone crying?," the 8-year-old Fiona asked her mother. "It was great to be explaining happy tears to her that night," Beth laughed.
A few days after Election Day, still basking in the glow of victory, Beth and Valerie made plans for a weekend getaway, just the two of them. "I agreed to go away for the weekend as long as it was a nice bed and breakfast, with a fireplace, and with no cell reception," Beth said. That weekend, the women talked for the first time about when they wanted to marry, and what the wedding would look like. "It was just really starting to sink in - there was some lag time for us to digest it all. We started talking - 'What does this mean? What will a wedding look like? When should we have it?"
Beth and Val decided to have a wedding next year, in February 2014. Their plans for a rustic fall wedding have shifted into a rustic winter wedding - they plan on renting out a cabin in Maine for the week and sharing an amazing ceremony with their family members, friends, and home minister. In the meantime, they'll be helping their friends celebrate on December 29, the first day of marriages in Maine. "We'll be the cheering section for our friends," Beth said, discussing their plans to travel from Portland to Northern Maine and Bangor to see several of their friends tie the knot. By 2014, we're sure they'll have their own cheering section at their own wedding.