Friday, June 15, 2007

Bravo MA: Politician from polygamous family upset.

Now and then are moments that make me proud of my country. Admitted they have been few and far apart in the last few years. I think there are some basic principles of life that ought to be upheld. I believe in maximum freedom for the individual in both his economic and his social life. I believe in limited government that protects all people equally. And I believe in equality before the law. No special privileges for one class of people over another.

And that is why today I’m proud of the Massachusetts. Gay marriage has been a contentious issue for some people particularly those who believe their religious definition of morality must be set into the rock of law. And for some years now opponents of marriage equality have been working to overturn the law.

But the legislature wasn’t particularly keen on the revoking the marriages of thousands of decent citizens. In the last four years since gay marriage was legalized people in the state have seen that the sky didn’t darken. Society didn’t fall apart. The much ballyhooed claim that gay marriage would somehow destroy straight marriage seemed completely unconfirmed. With none of the hysterical disaster predicted by the Religious Right materializing support for repeal was dropping almost as fast as support for George Bush.

The Theopublicans got desperate and hired people to go out and gather signatures for a referendum. People started complaining that the zealots with clipboards had lied to people in order to get signatures. Several petitions would be circulated on different issues and people asked to sign on one issue were then handed the anti marriage petition instead. Lots of money was poured by the Theopublicans into the state to try and end marriage equality.

Eventually enough signatures were gathered and the next step in the legal process began. Two sessions of the state legislature had to vote on the matter. At this point you would think it would be a cake walk for the Theopublicans. They only needed 50 legislators to approve the measure. That is only 25% of the legislature.

If two sessions passed the measure with 25% approval then it would go to a public referendum. At this point the plan was for the fuming fundamentalists to inundate the state with millions of dollars to drum up a hate campaign against gay people. A gay person to a fundamentalist is like a Jew to a Nazi. The same sort of irrational, visceral hatred comes out.

The last session of the legislature voted on the matter giving it just 62 votes in support. That was a safety margin of 12 votes over the very low threshold set by law for such referendums.

And in the last few months the lobbying got intense. Catholic cardinal Sean O’Malley spent his time lobbying for the ban on gay marriage. O’Malley said it was an issue of fairness. Pardon me while I laugh.

The argument has been that the public should vote, it’s only fair. Why? Why is it fair for majorities to vote on whether or not minorities should have the same rights as them? Should a town with a majority population of fundamentalist Baptists be allowed a vote on whether Catholic marriages would be recognized? When it comes to equality before the law, on any issue, is it ever proper for the majority to have the opportunity to deny this equality of rights to a minority? Could a majority white state deny rights to black people? O’Malley’s political lobbying statement would seem to indicate he’d support that.

Of course he wouldn’t. He would argue it’s different. Why? Because his church doesn’t say it is a sin to be black but it is a sin to be in a gay relationship. Acknowledged or not the real issue here is whether or not certain theological views about people ought to be the basis of law in non-theocratic state.

Representative Paul Kujawski is a Catholic. And he voted against gay marriage the last time. Since then, he says, he has met a lot of gay couples and spoken to them about the problems they faced before the law was changed. With each person he spoke to he found himself more sympathetic to legal plight imposed on gay couples. The Boston Globe reported:

Kujawski appeared to be heading toward a change of heart. He talked about the gay partners who were not allowed to see one another in the hospital after a near-fatal accident, because they weren't yet allowed to marry; about how the daughter of a former conservative lawmaker begged him to vote for the amendment on behalf of her lesbian daughter. He kept thinking, he said, about how it would feel if he couldn't get married or if one of his sons couldn't.

In other words he was thinking about the real fairness issue not the twisted sense of fairness promoted by Cardinal O’Malley. Today Kujawski went with his own sense of fairness and changed sides. He joined eight other legislators, 7 Democrats and two Republicans, who changed their minds to support gay marriage. About two-thirds of Republicans legislators voted against marriage equality. In the end only 45 legislators supported the ban with 151 opposed and it was defeated. This makes it unlikely to rear its ugly head again.

The voters of Massachusetts knew this matter was coming. They knew their legislators would be asked on whether to drag out the gay marriage issue for another year to hold the referendum in the 2008 election. And last year in the election voters chucked out anti-marriage candidates all over the place. Over and over the voters replaced antigay marriage candidates with candidates who were supportive. Had that not have happened the previous vote would have been much higher than 62.

Perhaps the most predictable response of all came from that master political chameleon Mitt Romney, the man who never met a principle he hasn’t changed. This man, who’s faith was created by confirmed polygamists, whined about “our efforts to defend traditional marriage.” Romney now wants to strip states of their traditional control over marriage by nationalizing the institution through a Constitutional amendment.

Romney’s great grandfather, Miles Park Romney had five wives and one great-great grandfather had 12 wives. Miles Romney married his fifth wife 30 years after the US government banned the practice and 6 years after the Mormon church said they discontinued the practice (the ban was for PR purposes and to gain Utah statehood, it was not taken seriously by the church for several more decades.)

His great-great grandfather, Parley Pratt had 12 wives and it was Parley’s brother, Orson Pratt, who was the first church official to publicly defend polygamy as being the will of God. And Romney’s father, George Romney the former governor of Michigan, was actually born outside the US, in Mexico, where family had fled in order to continue practising their traditional rite of marriage. And while Romney takes gay marriage very seriously he finds polygamy a joke. He has been known to jest that “marriage is between a man and a woman... and a woman and a woman.” So the first federal marriage ban was directed at Romney’s own family.

It’s nice Romney wants to defend “traditional marriage” but whose “tradition”?