Thursday, March 27, 2014

Being on the Wrong Side of History


Fellow Republicans, it is time to say congratulations to the many, many same sex couples all over Michigan who have won at least a short moment of equal access to the liberties and justice afforded to all the other adults citizens of our state.

Let us be gracious now, at least in this late stage in the game, drop the pretense and stop delaying the inevitable. There is no doubt we have written off an entire block of people from voting GOP for the foreseeable future. We deserve that. The world has changed, everyone knows it. Making people wait for their fundamental rights to live a life as they choose is just mean spirited. 

Ironically enough, it is just about the ten year anniversary of the one vote I took in the Michigan legislature that haunts me the most. The one I cannot come to terms with. Every excuse I make in my head is washed away by my conscience. Others took a principled stand and I thought they were nuts. I took the easy road. They went the other way and paid dearly.  

It was just about this time ten years ago we voted in the Michigan House on the question of whether to put the question of whether marriage should be between one man and one woman in Michigan's Constitution.

Let's take a moment to pause for some context. If you were to do a thorough research job of this issue you would find at this time in 2004- ONE jurisdiction (a county in New Mexico) in the entire country had issued a same-sex marriage license. This issue was barely a blip on the radar screen on the overall political debate. It was not an imminent threat to the economically savaged people of Michigan.  Try to remember the 1990's...do you remember even talking about this issue? But....

There was a big problem for Republicans-what people DID want to talk about was not good..Iraq and a stalled economy. 

George W. Bush had to be re-elected, Republicans had to win. We needed an issue. This apparently was the issue. 2004 may turn out to be the most expensive election for Republicans over the long haul we have ever had. It sure did not pay out dividends. It feels like we bought a mobile home on a 30 year payment plan with 50% interest. 

Campaign strategists loved the demographics of the issue. Working class Catholics would turn out and they will vote for Bush....religious fundamentalist would be fired up...and on and on...

At the House of Representatives, some people thought this was THE issue to take out some vulnerable Democrats. A Constitutional Amendment would require a 2/3 vote, the pressure would be strong on members of the Democratic minority to not give those those precious decisive votes. 

Looking back now, one of the things that bothers me the most about the whole episode was how dehumanizing it was. It was just politics. But it wasn't politics..these were people. 

We singled out a whole group of people, most of whom just wanted to be left alone, to forcefully discriminate against them for short term political benefit. 

All around us were our friends, COLLEAGUES, family members, highly valued staff members and people we care about who this clearly was going to hurt. Nobody seemed to think a thing of it. Like most people, including my constituents, I wasn't comfortable with same-sex marriage at that point but I didn't even bother to throw out a "hey we shouldn't be doing this" or "look what we are doing to the people we care about". 

The vote failed. The supporters had to go spend some money to gather the signatures. Of course, those signatures were used as a database for later campaigns. A few of my Republican colleagues, Lorence Wenke and Leon Drolet paid enormously for their courage in voting no. While they finished their 6 year runs, it was with much more effort than the rest of us. One Democrat, Jennifer Elkins, lost and theoretically this may have been the deciding factor...but there were also a lot of other factors.

Oh....and the exit polls in Michigan showed those Catholics showed up and voted against Gay Marriage and then they voted.....for John Kerry. 

My own particular purgatory is to be forever doomed to be on the wrong side of history. Ever since I can remember I have voraciously read history. Churchill in the wilderness years with his scrappy friends trying to rouse support to fight Hitler before the war. Lincoln, Daniel Webster, John Quincy Adams, Charles Sumner and so many more who fought slavery, even before it was popular. The founders meeting in secret and drawing up the plans for our country, while facing seemingly insurmountable odds. Reagan and Barry Goldwater always looking for the principled stand for the long term over the expedient. 

You always picture yourself cast in a role with them. Not on the other side. In my small window of making an impact, I failed to put the things I learned from reading those books to use on an important issue.  

There are a lot of us in the GOP who think we get a free pass because we aren't one of THOSE people... you know.....the kind that mouthed off about it like Rick Santorum.... I just voted to put it on the ballot. This is common discussion when you get Republicans in private. It takes two seconds to realize the error in this logic, however much comfort it gives.

When we are quiet, everyone assumes that we are in 100% agreement. That creates the juggernaut that gives the "mouthy" ones the power to do the harm. Whether we are mouthy or not, the harm is still done. There are no free passes. 

Would I put anything on the ballot? Of course not. I wouldn't have voted to put a minimum wage increase on the ballot. I wouldn't have voted to ban hunting on the ballot. On and on. 

There can be no doubt at this point, same sex couples will have their rights recognized. It is only a matter of time. 

Let's do the grown-up thing and help heal the wounds we created. At the very least, let's get the heck out of the way. 

7 comments:

  1. I've long said that government should get out of marriage altogether and leave it to churches (or even the church of atheism or individuals). I'm more offended that I have to get a license. Do I personally agree with gay marriage? No, although it's not a big issue for me. Do I care if the Episcopalians want to have it? No. I'm not Anglican. As long as the government isn't going after people that disagree with it (like the wedding cake company), it's not my business. People who want to recognize it can. People that don't won't have to. Government should stay out and the rest of it should be handled by private contracts.

    That all said, I think Bush won in 2004 for one reason. John Kerry. He lost the election with his 1972 Senate speech calling his fellow soldiers war criminals. I know several who usually don't vote that showed up that day as a favor to some Vietnam War vets who remember that speech from those days. I wasn't W's biggest fan, but that made it an easy vote, and I'm no neo-conservative.

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  2. Thank you Chris for your honest and courageous post.

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  3. Dan wrote:As long as the government isn't going after people that disagree with it (like the wedding cake company), it's not my business.

    This is a competing rights controversy where you fail to acknowledge that government protection for business owners who deprive gays equal rights to goods and services results in gay people not having equal access to goods and services simply for being gay. So it's not the government vs. business owners. Instead it's bigoted business owners vs. gay consumers where we must ask how should the government respond to businesses that seek to shut gay people out of their niche in the marketplace.

    So the relevant question is; should the government protect businesses who seek government protection to legally discriminate against gay people by restricting their equal access to goods and services? Or should the government instead provide protection to gay people who seek equal protection to access goods and services?

    This is of course very similar, though not equivalent, to what civil rights legislation accomplished in the 1950s and 1960s. That was where the federal government began to protect equal access to goods and services for black people, which infringed upon the rights of racist business owner to deprive black people of access to their goods and services.

    I for one demand the federal government protect the rights of gay people to enjoy equal access to goods and services.

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  4. It's the libertarian side of me. I think the government should stay out either way. Jim Crow's been dead for 50 years and those policies were in fact enforced in many areas by the government.

    When I conduct business, I don't ask people their orientation or their personal lives 95% of the time. It's normally not my business. The 5% is for the few times it does affect my business and that's so I do my job properly I can to help that person because I'm a professional. If I was in the cake industry, I'd personally sell the cake. It's money. It's good business. If others don't, they shouldn't be taken to court over it or harassed by the government. That's their choice. If they don't want the money, I'm sure others will take the money.

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  5. Dan writes: It's the libertarian side of me. I think the government should stay out either way.


    Again that's not an option. Either the government protects business owners restricting access to goods and services or it protects gay people's rights to access goods and services equal to others.

    I do understand that libertarians have long had difficulty confronting this issue, that doesn't make the reality of this controversy go away, it simply has long had them siding with business owners who seek to infringe on the rights of black people and now, gay people.

    Dan writes: If they [bigoted business owners] don't want the money, I'm sure others will take the money.

    You wrongly assume that bigoted business owners who restrict access to goods and services are not decreasing access to goods and services for those they're bigoted against. But that's simply not true for a host of reasons as found in the findings of fact during the trials on Jim Crow laws. In fact it's not true for the obvious reason that a business owner restricting access in itself decreases the supply of goods and services and forces those who are targeted; thereby increasing the infringed upon groups' effort accessing goods and services.

    So again, the question on rights here and in general is how does the government act when someone who is faced with a restriction on the exercise of their liberty rights unequal to more favored groups challenges such an infringement? Does the government protect the rights of those infringing on those rights or does the government protect the rights of those whose rights are being infringed upon?

    And again, I come down on the side of advocating that government protect the rights of gay people to enjoy equal access to goods and services. That at the expense of bigoted business owners who seek to limit or even deny gay people's rights to access goods and services equally.

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  6. Looking back now, one of the things that bothers me the most about the whole episode was how dehumanizing it was. It was just politics. But it wasn't politics..these were people.

    We singled out a whole group of people, most of whom just wanted to be left alone, to forcefully discriminate against them for short term political benefit.

    All around us were our friends, COLLEAGUES, family members, highly valued staff members and people we care about who this clearly was going to hurt. Nobody seemed to think a thing of it.


    Hmmm. Sounds a lot like your (i.e. the Republican) present position on denying women's rights to bodily autonomy and health care. Any chance you'll rethink that position too?

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