Monday, March 31, 2008
Spring! The time of year when a Republican legislator's thoughts turn to love.
Sinful, filthy, homosexual love.
Yes, once again, Harrisburg Republicans are trying to enact a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Pennsylvania. It's an old election-season ritual -- like a dance around the Maypole, except with a more rigorous attempt to sublimate the sexual tension. This blog, like many others in the area, is marking the occasion with a special online post, witness the seal below:
State law already bars same-sex couples from receiving the legal protections and privileges married couples enjoy. You'd think that would be enough, but the GOP insists a gay-marriage ban must be enshrined in the state's Constitution. That way, they reason, it will prevent the law from being easily changed in the future. (Plus, enshrining bigotry in your Constitution gives it some class: Just ask the slaveowners.)
So earlier this month, the Senate's judiciary committee voted in favor of an anti-gay-marriage amendment. If history is any guide, the measure will pass the full Senate as well; that august body is controlled by Republicans. But that's the easy part: The amendment also must pass the state House and a referendum by voters. And even the Republicans have to know that won't be easy.
If you check out the Senate GOP's web site, in fact, you'll find nary a word about the committee's amazing legislative achievement. No press release, nothing. Even another committee's decision to "examine deer managment issues" got more attention than the gay-marriage ban.
Could it be that state Republicans would rather talk about deers than queers? Could it be that voters see more need to regulate the sexual activity of wildlife -- which after all can ruin the shrubbery -- than to police consenting adults acting in the privacy of their own homes?
Perhaps. Compare the GOP's silence now to 2006, the last time a version of this measure sailed through a Senate committee. Back then, State Senator Bob Regola, a Hampton Republican who has consponsored this year's amendment as well, issued a statement praising the committee. And himself: "I made a committment to the people of the 39th Senatorial District to uphold the sanctity of marriage in Pennsylvania," he boasted.
(If only Regola had committed to upholding the sanctity of gun safety, one of his constituents might not have lost a son. A 14-year-old boy who lived next door to Regola used a handgun taken from the senator's home to kill himself. This was in July 2006 -- one month after Regola issued his stirring defense of marriage. No matter what happens in the gay-marriage debate, thanks to Bob Regola, there's at least one Pennsylvania family whose child will never be able to marry another man!)
Back in 2006, the anti-gay-marriage ban died in the House, even though it was GOP-controlled at the time, and even though it had previously supported the measure. Democrats control the House today, so the bill seems at least as likely to flounder time around. But even when the bill seemed likely to pass, it felt like ther GOP's heart wasn't in it. As I wrote in a column at the time, many Republicans were defending the bill "by claiming it won't take away things like domestic-partner benefits -- benefits that were unthinkable a few years ago."
Many in the LGBT community suspected the GOP was lying about what the bill would do, of course. But if GOP actually NEEDED to be duplicitous about the measure, that seemed like a good sign to me.
I don't want to underestimate the threat, which other blogs will speak to. I don't want to counsel complacence in the face of Republican homophobia, which seems to crop up periodically like an especially dangerous flu virus. But let's take heart that each time the virus appears, our resistance to it seems to increase. Each time the measure comes up, GOP support seems more desultory, as if it's a habit they can't quit but no longer take pleasure from.
When you think of it, the fact that the GOP has to try amending the constitution is a victory in itself. Amendment supporters say openly that they are trying to head off FUTURE trends -- municipalities allowing gay marriage, for example, or judges deciding the law governing same-sex couples is patently unfair. In other words, Republicans are assuming that a serious challenge to their bigotry, one with the force of law behind it, is on the way.
This prospect is what motivates them; it should motivate us as well ... to act not in fear but in hope. Which in the long run is the much more powerful force.