The minute voters ripped the right to marry away from same-sex couples in Maine, the call rang out across LGBTQ America: Let's give up on marriage.
The defeat in Maine was horrible in itself, but it was even more galling because it came as voters in Washington state were on their way to approving an "everything-but-marriage" recognition of domestic partner rights.
On Bilerico and elsewhere bloggers declared their wish to pull out of the fight. Longtime activist Jeanne Córdova, for example, argued on her blog, The Lesbian World, that "the LGBT movement should stop wasting our precious funds and energy" on a losing, limited strategy. "(I)t's time to re-direct the gay movement into fighting the real battle for civil rights in all 50 states," she wrote.
The sad reality is that there is truth in her argument.
Not all lesbians, gays or bisexuals will marry. Transgender people can't even benefit from same-sex marriage. Almost everyone, though, needs a job.
The Employment Nondiscrimination Act will touch far more lives than marriage equality ever could. In most cities and states, companies can still freely discriminate against LGBTQ workers. ENDA would eliminate that outrage.
Meanwhile, careers and families would be saved by overturning the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on LGB folks serving openly in the military. Not only does DADT grind up members of the service, it also destroys their families.
Because LGB soldiers can't be out, their spouses and children can't access any of the benefits or support heterosexual families receive. Deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are particularly hellish. Service members can't list their spouses as next of kin. When closeted troops are wounded or killed, their same-sex partners may be the last to know. Other issues are equally important.
Giving up on marriage, though, would be the dumbest move LGBTQ America could ever make.
Leaving aside the debate on whether separate (domestic partnerships, civil unions) can ever be equal, we must remember that all civil rights struggles are about perception. The opposition wins on ENDA, DADT and the other important issues when same-sex-loving Americans are marginalized. Bigotry feeds on the lie that we're frightening and alien.
At the center of every battle for LGB equality is this struggle: Are same-sex-loving people predatory sex addicts - nothing like "normal" heterosexual people - or are they regular folk who love and care for their families? Marriage explodes these nasty stereotypes by making the truth of same-sex relationships visible.
Córdova and her colleagues in despair are wrong. Walking away from the marriage fight weakens the struggle on all fronts. Same-sex marriage isn't the only battle, but it is a key one. The horrible truth about gay marriage is clear: It's an issue fair-minded Americans dare not ignore.
Photo: Jeff Belmonte shot this Wikimedia photo of wedding rings.