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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The only thing worse than disagreeing with someone ...

"We, we, gotta stop these queers, Ron. There's no question in everybody's mind that this can not go through. Uh, we, we - this is gettin' ridiculous. We gotta, we gotta stop this. There's no such thing as, as queer marriages. We gotta stop it. In fact, you know, I think we should have an amendment - uh - put on the ballot, a referendum. Maybe we should have an open season on those people and just let 'em know how we really think. Okay? Bye."

That the verbatim transcript of a voice mail message left for Democratic Wisconsin State Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay as the Wisconsin legislature was taking up the issue of a ban on same-sex marriages in the state.

Hanson, a moderate Democrat, has gone on record as supporting "traditional marriages." In fact, he voted for a similar measure when it was brought before the legislature last year. But after receiving the voice mail (not to mention hearing from constituents who voice similar opinion in slightly less violent terms) he proposed an amendment to the proposed legislation to eliminate the second sentence of the amendment that would invalidate any "legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals." In other words, his amendment would still ban same-sex marriage, but it wouldn't take the additional step of possibly putting benefits afforded same-sex or unmarried opposite sex partners in jeopardy.

Wisconsin's Quest News Update reports:

"In fact, I received a voice mail from a constituent who believes the next amendment we should pass is one that creates an 'open season' on 'those people' so we can show them what we really think about them," Hansen said, after pointing out that "it has become increasingly clear that this Act is not about celebrating marriage as we know it."

In offering his amendment Hansen had made it clear he supported a traditional definition of marriage. "A year ago I cast my vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act as an extension of my firm belief that traditional marriage should be defined as a union between a man and a woman," Hansen said. "In these turbulent times of moral uncertainty, we need to affirm our commitment to the fundamental family values that made our nation and our state strong."

Hansen then charged the bill's supporters with political demagoguery. "It has become increasingly clear that this Act is not about celebrating marriage as we know it," Hansen said. "Instead, it has been usurped by those who would use it instead for political gain in the upcoming elections and to spread fear and foment hate. It is the crassest of political strategies. And attempting to turn our Constitution into a campaign document is a dangerous tactic."

Hanson's amendment lost on a vote, but he voted against the ban - a switch in his position from last year.

There are three lessons LGBTs and their supporters can glean from Hanson's switch:

1. Hanson was comfortable switch his vote because he had promised to reflect the will of the voters in his district and in the final days of the push for the measure, callers opposed to the amendment outnumbered those supporting it ... so we need to keep pressure on our elected officials.

2. According to the Senator's staff members, the harm to same-sex and other unmarried couples provided by amendment opponents in the year since the first vote swayed Hansen on the issue ... so never give up trying to educate lawmakers in clear, honest and straight forward information about the effects anti-gay legislation has on his or her constituents.

3. And finally, it was the hatred of gays and lesbians expressed by a significant number of amendment supporters - particularly the "open season" call - that finally changed the senator's vote ... so never let your lawmakers see who the true "extremists" are.

There's an old Zen saying: "When you can hold the central ground, your opponent is pushed to the edge. At that point the battle is won."

That might not be the case with every lawmaker. Some are already on the side of the religious zealots. Others fear voting against the sort of "mob mentality" that the religious reich and their minions represent. But sometimes you find a truly thoughtful politician who approaches an issue with an open mind. Such a politician is willing to listen and when he or she does, it's far easier to sway them with appeals to logic and compassion while the opposition assails them with hatred and bigotry.

I'm reminded of the local effort to get the city to pass a domestic partner ordinance and registry last year. As expected, the measure stirred up the bigots in the religious right who paraded before the city council citing their usual litanies of hatred.

At the beginning of the process, some of the city council members were on the fence about the issue. Hoping to capitalize on their uncertainty, the religious right started showing up at council members offices. So strident were they that one council member ended up having her constituents removed after hearing yet again how she would "burn in hell" if the measure passed.

By the time the smoke cleared, the measure passed 12-0. (One council member who was still on the fence managed to be absent that day to avoid voting on the issue.)

As in the case with Wisconsin Sen. Hanson, the fundies may have declared "open season," but ended up shooting themselves in the foot with their bigotry and hatred. Meanwhile, the LGBTs who worked so hard for passage of the ordinance ended up looking like the much more reasonable alternative.

While there are lessons to be learned by LGBT activists in all this, there's also a lesson for the fundies (though I doubt seriously if they will be acting on it any time soon): Sometimes the only thing worse than disagreeing with someone is agreeing with them stupidly.