Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Does Sal Hold SSM Cards?

Next month's constitutional convention (con con) hosts yet another sore-loser schadenfreude display. Come May 10th, does the civil-rights oriented Speaker of the House Salvatore F. DiMasi have the pull to quash the anti-same-sex-marriage amendment?

Sal's a good guy, a man of unusual principle among politicians, and a big protector of citizens. The good news is that he is insightful and highly regarded, and the House has the lion's share of con con votes (160). The bad news is that his Senate counterpart, don't-call-me-Bobby-anymore Robert E. Travaglini, is legislatively constipated, and that the bar for advancing the yet latest version of stripping rights from the gay community only requires 50 of 200 legislators to advance.

In case you are new to the Massachusetts political theater, be aware:
  • Massachusetts was one of the first states to allow ballot initiatives, enshrining them in the constitution.
  • While originally designed to provide a check against legislative abuses, they are used here as in many states as a ruse for narrowly focused interest groups to try to strip rights from citizens they do not like or public services they don't want to fund (only ones that directly benefit them).
  • The process for the current amendment takes only a quarter of the combined legislature to vote in two consecutive years for an approved amendment petition with identical wording to put it on the ballot and change the constitution if the voters approve.
  • The losing side in the judicial and court decisions has continued to push every effort to strip existing marriage rights from the gay community.
  • Our attorney general (and gubernatorial candidate) has allowed the current drive to continue, despite its clear failure to conform to the process.
  • We face yet another attempt to narrow, rather than expand, our citizens' rights, with all the financial, intellectual and emotional baggage and costs.
The background snarl from the anti-gay, anti-SSM forces is "Let the people decide!" Unfortunately for them, the voters here have consistently caught up to the legislature. They have seen SSM and favor it now. Homosexual couples (7,000-plus) married and the commonwealth is better off, with no ill effects.

They are almost sure to lose in a vote. Meanwhile the rancor, expense and distraction from meaningful legislative business are staggering.

Yet, like a dog worrying a sock, they do not care for reason or humanity. They want what they want, regardless of the consequences for their fellow citizens. They are willing to make us all pay for their obsession.

Imagine a comparable attitude toward national politics. Let the people vote on:
  • (1962) War with Russia
  • (1948) School integration
  • (1955) Equal pay for women
We know what the direct votes would have been. It's not so much the huge shame for the United States. Other nations have carried on discrimination and irrational, emotional responses to seminal issues as well.

We have representative government for a very good set of reasons. Town meeting and similar direct plebiscites have a place in a Lao Tsu style world -- small, self-contained communities. Big, complex issues require leaders up top, both in the executive and legislative branches of the state and federal governments. Leaders take us beyond our comfort zone. Otherwise, we would still be hunter-gatherers.

So, we return to the May con con. Travaglini has been consistently short on hormones. He portrays himself as a moderate, as a modulating, compromising force. In short, when leadership is needed, he gropes around in his empty sack and grins insipidly.

In contrast, DiMasi has courage and vision. He also represents the chamber with the largest vote.

Yet, the Dark Side needs only 50 votes this year, and 50 again next year's con con to put this nasty, rights-removing amendment on the 2008 ballot. Does Sal have the Lyndon-Johnston-style personality to quash this despicable drive now?

We have our doubts. It seems as though a quarter of any legislative body could be persuaded to vote that the sun revolves around the earth. On the sunny side of the street, Bay Windows is hopeful.

In an excellent analysis, it admits that don't-call-me-Bobby is the default leader. "As the presiding officer at the ConCon, Travaglini controls the entire process, from scheduling sessions, to setting the agenda, to deciding whom to recognize once he gavels a constitutional convention to a start."

He could show some gumption, but that has not been his style. Indecision is his M.O.

Unfortunately, Travaglini is such a milquetoast that he doesn't snort or scream at the let-the-people-vote ploy. In this case, it is clearly an abuse of the constitution and an insult to our tradition of rights, as well as our established SSM process.

BW quotes an anonymous Golden Dome staffer, who said that that Travaglini " is a guy who likes to find common ground. 'Unfortunately, there is no common ground on the issue.'"

This is a time for leadership. If that is coming, it's from Dimasi. He is a strong civil-rights supporter, including of SSM.

We are on the edge of straight (if you pardon the expression) losses for the Dark Side. If Dimasi steps in and sways a few House members, we can put this disgraceful pseudo-democratic ploy behind us. If the low bar of 50 votes isn't there in May, we can move beyond this shameful effort. By the time the three-year limit on similar amendments passes, the commonwealth will have past this, and several states, including Washington, New Jersey and New York, will have joined the SSM club.

If this con con's vote is very close in favor of the amendment proceeding, it is unlikely that it will also pass next year. Several of the Dark Side's leaders leave the legislature this year, and the polls creeep up in favor of SSM.

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1 comment:

Mark D. Snyder said...

It is important to win this battle. But I want to let everyone know that while we are all so focussed on marriage - the right wing is infiltrating our schools and doing EVERYTHING they can to take away gay straight alliances, all mentions of lgbt in the classroom, etc.

Because of this the attempted suicide rates of queer youth are rising each year since 2000.

We must protect marriage AND our youth!