ORONO – My generation is nearing its 1920, its 1964. These were the years, respectively, that American citizens nationalized the right of women to vote and passed the Civil Rights Act. These are proud transitions in American history, but they are also markers preceded by decades of embarrassing foot-dragging in the affirmation of human dignity.

New Zealand gave women the right to vote more than 25 years before the United States.

Now Americans, mostly the young, are beginning to show discomfort with another modern bigotry: the denial of marriage rights to gay Americans.

Data from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life indicate that 53 percent of Millenial Americans, those born in the early ’80s and after, recognize the right of homosexuals to marry, a figure which has climbed consistently over the last seven years. Millenials are the only age group Pew polled that is tolerant of gay nuptials.

It is only a matter of time until gay marriage will be legal in most, perhaps all, U.S. states. What is uncertain is how deep into the 21st century this country will continue to embarrass itself by unconstitutionally using religious traditions to exclude some Americans from entering into marriage.

The state of Maine is likely to face the issue in November 2012, if a petition to include gay marriage on the ballot amasses 57,277 signatures of registered voters by January. If so, Mainers will be asked if they “favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage.”

Maine would be the first U.S. state to approve gay marriage by ballot, as a handful of other states have done so through courts or state legislatures. The Maine Legislature legalized gay marriage in 2009, but voters struck the law down that same year, 53-47 percent.

But 2012 may be different. Timothy Rose, communications director for the gay rights advocacy group EqualityMaine, believes that Maine voters will see gay marriage once again on the 2012 ballot, adding that his organization could help gather 80,000 to 100,000 signatures by the end of the year. “More and more Mainers are saying, ‘This is an issue whose time has come,’ ” Rose said over the phone. “They want to be on the right side of history.”

A March 2011 survey by Public Policy Polling supports Rose. Forty-seven percent of Mainers polled support gay marriage; 45 percent oppose.

Gay marriage is an issue whose time has come because most Americans in their early 30s or younger simply don’t care whom people marry. Young Americans are not motivated to continue denying gay Americans the dignity of marital recognition. In Maine, 51 percent of voters under 30 favor legalizing gay marriage, and 46 percent oppose.

It is true, certainly, that many older Americans support gay marriage, just as many young Americans do not. But it is also true that various American generations bear visible smears sustained in the scuffle to keep some human rights conditional. American retirees are not the force behind gay marriage activism. My wife and I signed Maine’s gay marriage petition at a folk festival in Bangor, and the scores of clip-boarded activists all appeared too young to buy beer. In fact, only 18 percent of Mainers 65 or older support gay marriage.

The Greatest Generation showed less greatness toward racial minorities and female professionals. Baby boomers moved these interests forward, but used little of their activist energy and prosperity to defend gay rights.

I’m not sure if my generation will someday bear a stain for impeding the dignity of a particular group of Americans. But I am quite confident that, with regards to gay marriage, my generation will rebuke old-minded intolerance and expand the integrity of the modern American promise. Look for Maine to become the next state where gays can marry.

– Special to the Press Herald