Monday, June 15, 2009

Rhode Island SSM Road

Our tiniest state is fittingly a microcosm of same-sex marriage politics and winger bluster. It is symbolic to all sides as the holdout in New England.

The oddment of R.I. has been a recurring thread in SSM coverage here. That includes a conference on the theme at Roger Williams University just over a year ago, where the progressive sorts did not anticipate the rapid advances in the rest of New England. They pegged R.I. though — until the anti-gay governor runs out of swivel-chair time next year, he'll block any SSM legislative efforts. He has the help of likewise anti-SSM heads of both chambers, but they are a decided minority.

An excellent recap of the non-progress there is in today's Boston Globe. Eric Moskowitz names the players and plays.

The spurious ad campaigns and other arguments advanced by the anti forces there are elegant and convoluted in their duplicity. They have been reduced to a few, increasingly difficult to spin attacks.

With California legislating and Iowa courts mandating SSM, the one about New England being the isolated cabal of rebels doesn't work well. They felt better when Prop. 8 halted SSM on that other coast, although it created clearly separate and unequal classes of adult citizens — abhorrent to most Americans and likely short-lived.

Yet the trends are too, too clear even to the National Organization for Marriage. They haven't ceded R.I. and have added a page for it to their website. It even includes the audio of a variation on the scare ad that played well in the Prop. 8 — elementary school kids confused by the idea of SSM, plus a call to lawmakers to do something more useful.

That page is a pretty good view of the state of the anti folk. They have moved from ironic to sardonic. The chorus of redefining marriage has long ago exceeded its shelf life. When civil unions started in Vermont in 2000 and SSM here four years later, that panicked scream came with predictions of societal and even economic disaster. When those proved baseless, they tried the just-wait-and-see lie. As that petered off to nothing, they were left with the unprovable. That is, expanding marriage rights in some inexplicable way totally redefined and ruined it for heterosexual couples.

Of course, that's beyond silly and quite irrational. They don't have many stones left in their pile to throw, so they don't abandon this.

The other big rock the anti types use was handy in California, but has likewise been overused and failed in Maine and elsewhere. The let-the-people-vote approach is the back-up-against-the-wall admission. When they fail in legislatures and courts, when representative democracy and even the executive branches of their states are for marriage equality, there's that last ploy.

In the half of the states that allow ballot initiatives and referenda, the anti types suddenly want a town-meeting type of vote. They have had their greatest successes here. In no small part, this seems due to its susceptibility to calls to emotion and the effectiveness of vast amounts of money for advertising. We can pretend that Americans are smarter than that, but that clearly has not been so.

The amusing twist in R.I. is that the public would surely vote to support SSM. It is only the handful of entrenched pols at top who have stifled the drive. Regardless of which poll you visit, the pro-equality side would win by 12% to 29%. Let-the-people-vote is simply a delaying tactic there.

It is likely good in the long run that NOM and their ilk are wasting money and effort in R.I. Not only does that divert their nefarious aims elsewhere, their certain defeat in the most Roman Catholic of states will further clear smoke from their diversions.

New England will yet be a thumb in the eye of regressive America.

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