Washington Referendum Measure 74: The Righteous Case for Marriage Equality

I’m a dedicated but lazy citizen, so it was only this weekend that I got around to reading the literature presented in the Washington State voters’ pamphlet concerning Referendum Measure 74, the gay marriage bill. The measure was ratified by the legislature, but sufficiently many assholes petitioned for a referendum that it now requires approval from the People. Per the ballot:

This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony.

The state legislature passed and the voters approved the so-called ‘Everything but Marriage’ bill in 2009 that equated domestic partnerships with marriages in every respect except the terminology. That’s obviously very stupid since a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, so don’t dick around with names in the first place: call a rose a rose. It follows that R-74 is a no-brainer, but what really struck me was the stark contrast between the arguments for and against its passage reproduced in the voters’ pamphlet. It is that juxtaposition more than anything else that has solidified my understanding that this bill is not only necessary and proper; but that opposition to it is the basest, most detestable position of any on the ballot this year.

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fresh politicization of gay marriage

The question of whether a pair of homosexual adults ought to be able to enter a federally recognized marriage has been under debate for twenty years or so. Hawaii appears to have forced the issue in the early 90s with the interesting case of Baehr v. Miike. The Hawaii Supreme Court remanded a trial court dismissal of a suit alleging Hawaii’s ban on same-sex marriages was illegal. The Court found in 1993 that, because the ban was discriminatory based on sex, it was subject to “strict scrutiny” and hence the burden of proof that the law was sound rested with the state “by demonstrating that it furthers compelling state interests and is narrowly drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgments of constitutional rights.” This led to a remarkably childish legislative and judicial back-and-forth which culminated in the People of Hawaii enacting, by a vote greater than two thirds, a constitutional ban in 1998.

At around the same time there had also been federal wrangling over the legal status of homosexuals. Bill Clinton campaigned in 1992 on ending fifty years of refusing to allow gays in the military, which was derailed in part by then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell, leaving us with the widely reviled Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy. In 1996, Congress enacted the dubious Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which federally codified marriage as being only between a single heterosexual couple on fears that the US would be forced to recognize Hawaiian gay marriages due to the Full Faith and Credit clause in its Constitution. Many states followed suit in the intervening years; at present, 42 states ban gay marriage, 31 of them through Constitutional provision.

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contraception, gay marriage, and global warming

In absolute defiance of common sense, the contraception “debate” that I was hesitant to write about — twice — seems to continue, at least by proxy. On leap day, Rush Limbaugh weighed in on that woman who was denied to speak at the House panel ostensibly about birth control. As is usual, Rush Limbaugh had nothing valuable to add to the discussion, but his particular word choice led to controversy and an incredible flight of advertisers from his so-called Excellence In Broadcasting network. His joke of an apology was summarily dismissed and Jon Stewart brilliantly ridiculed the whole mess. It’s so bad that now other right-wing talk radio stars are being targeted for sponsorship withholding.

But while Rush’s particular comments appear to be a lightning rod for focused criticism, the spirit of his remarks forms the cornerstone of conservative opposition to publicly underwritten or otherwise widely accessible birth control. It cannot be that the right protests government spending per se, since it tends as a rule to support robust defense spending, foreign intervention, big oil subsides along with increased and oversight-free drilling, expensive tax cuts for the wealthy, and so on. The BBC has a lovely summary of the major arguments against contraception:

  • Contraception is inherently wrong because it is unnatural, anti-life, and separates sex from reproduction.
  • Contraception leads to negative consequences since it prevents potentially useful individuals from being born, can be used for social engineering or eugenics, and carries health risks.
  • Contraception promotes “immoral behaviour” by encouraging marriage-free sex primarily for pleasure.

Let’s consider these points in turn.

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Newt Gingrich is an evil man

There is one good thing we can say about Newt Gingrich: he can play to a crowd. This makes him an effective politician. But on the eve of the South Carolina primary, where Gingrich is either beating Romney by 6 (PPP [pdf]), down by 10 (Gallup), or more or less in a dead heat up by 2 (Ramussen), I don’t think we have reason to fear that Gingrich will be the nominee. That’s because he’s evil.

Gingrich became the Speaker of the House after the republican takeover in 1995. He had helped engineer this takeover with the Contract with America and figured centrally, along with President Clinton, over the government shutdown that year, where federal workers were furloughed over budget intransigence. This wasn’t the first government shutdown, but it was the most widely felt and most politicized, and the republicans ended up taking the blame, aiding in costing the republicans the presidency in 1996. Oops! But Gingrich actually broke laws in addition to being a lousy speaker: he was the first speaker in history to be assessed a fine over an ethics probe and eventually was forced to resign the speakership by his own party after poor showings in 1998 election.

Then we have Gingrich’s poisonous racial and anti-poor views: riding the Reagan-esque rhetoric of “welfare queens,” he helped pass the stringent (and reviled) welfare reform of 1996 which obviously targets racial minorities disproportionately, and he recently defended his offensive declaration that black people ought to “demand jobs, not food stamps.” He has repeatedly called Obama a “food stamp president” since about 15% of Americans now use them, but doesn’t acknowledge the role that the economic collapse and rising poverty might have played: for Gingrich, it is enough just to connect Obama to this statistic. But amazingly, Gingrich himself is the welfare queen: in 2003, he played a major role through vocal advocacy in passing Medicare Part D, the expensive prescription drug benefit that helps explain the yawning federal debt. Welfare for old white people is — of course — a fine thing; it’s when the welfare targets young black people that problems arise.

But Gingrich’s most damning behaviour centers around his views on marriage. Newt publicly supports “traditional marriage” between one man and one woman, including support for DOMA, which he helped to pass as Speaker in 1996 (and a constitutional amendment if DOMA is found to be illegal, and condemnation for Obama’s failure to defend it); opposes adoption of children to gay and lesbian couples, citing religious interests; and, famously, lead the charge to investigate President Clinton for his own marital infidelities shortly before resigning the speakership over that aforementioned ethics problem.

That last issue has had a resurgence in the media after the shocking revelation that Newt apparently sought “an open marriage” with his second wife while he was cheating on her with his third and current wife. It’s no secret that Gingrich has had three wives, and even converted to Catholicism to get with Callista, who is 23 years younger than he. He divorced his first wife, Jackie, while she was recovering from cancer after having an affair with his second wife; and he divorced his second wife, Marianne, after failing to get that open marriage thing to cover his affair with Callista. What’s amazing is that, to gain conservative support for his presidential run, Newt now cites his influential support of DOMA while failing to mention he was cheating on Marianne while lobbying for that bill. Furthermore, he is rewriting history about the Clinton impeachment to try and cover the inherent hypocrisy of vilifying the president for virtually the same thing he was doing at the time. His defense for all this: passionate patriotism drove him to base behaviour, which he regrets in retrospect. Lolwut?

Understandably, all this deserves some media attention as Gingrich courts the GOP presidential nod, and it has commanded attention for years even before the revelations of the second wife. The moderator of the most recent republican debate, the last one before the South Carolina primary, thought the same, and opened the debate with a question about this bombshell. The question was perhaps a poor choice though for an opening question, since it allowed Gingrich to reply thus: “I’m appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.” Despite the obvious utility of the question, the relevance of the hypocrisy it exposes, the questions of character it raises, the fact that this is the 20th-or-so debate the GOP has engaged — when can this kind of question be posed if not after hours and hours of televised discussion of the ‘real issues?’ — Newt was able to fire back against the “elite media” in a way that resulted in a majority of conservative pundits calling the debate for him. Look at how skillfully Gingrich can play the crowd!

But my first point, that we have no reason to fear a Gingrich general campaign, is supported by all this. Gingrich has his supporters, but he could not muster a winnable campaign for president. He is too vulnerable to attacks from the GOP on welfare and marital hypocrisy, and from the general electorate on popular issues like gay marriage due to his marital hypocrisy. He is basically unlikable. It seems to me that decent people can only conclude that he is some kind of evil. The republican establishment will not allow him to win the nomination, just as they won’t let Paul win it. The only sober analysis remains, despite ongoing and desperate mainstream media hype trying to suggest otherwise, that Romney is the inevitable candidate. Gingrich might win South Carolina tomorrow, a Southern red state sympathetic to his brand of white racism and male privilege, but I don’t believe it will translate to a mandate for opposing Obama in November.

UPDATE: The always-excellent Charles Blow of the New York Times had a column today that echoes many of these points, and also drives home the point that Gingrich cannot be an effective opponent for Obama in the general election. It is for this reason that Gingrich will not win the nomination; the anxiety he causes his party as a result of his fringe views and tepid personality is simply insurmountable.