Friday, May 15, 2009

Rights to Wrong

As revealed in the slow and indecisive N.H. Gov. John Lynch, there are only two ways to please the anti-same-sex marriage crowd. Obviously, the first would be to forbid SSM. Second and at the very least to them, give every business owner, realty renter, school administrator — everyone — the legal right to discriminate against LGBT citizens.

Lynch's pathetic inability to sign or veto or even ignore the SSM bill until it becomes law shines a high-powered light on the underlying issue for the anti-SSM people. The head of a gay-hostile lobbying group may have said it most clearly speaking to the Union Leader.

Kevin Smith, executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research, said the change still would not give legal protection to businesspeople frequently hired for weddings, such as photographers and caterers, who refused to participate because they have religious convictions against gay marriage.

"The fact remains that by signing this bill, he will have broken his trust with New Hampshire voters after repeatedly stating that he opposes gay marriage," Smith said, lamenting that Lynch has sided with "radical special interests."

There is no gubernatorial term limit law in New Hampshire. DINO Lynch clearly wants to keep his office. He's had it since 2005 and must win re-election every two years to stay there.

Yet, his efforts to compromise and in effect unite polar opposites has failed at every turn. The latest was a hold-up of the SSM bill to 1) add pretty meaningless religious exemptions that are already implicit in existing laws and the original bills and 2) put in a probably unconstitutional fraternal-organization exemption from overt anti-gay discrimination.

The latter is the more amusing. Not only would it surely not survive a legal challenge, it is a throwback to the 1950s private-club concept of grandfathered bigotry. Moreover, he attempts to make men's frats religious organizations. Maybe he intends to hand out mitres and crosiers to the Elks and Lions.

So, the pro-equality types would chuckle and look aside to get this bill into law. The anti-SSM sorts are not likely to forget nor to forgive in their lifetimes. Plus, all sides see him for the milquetoast he is. It would be hard to count how many votes he has lost by least until November of next year.

The quiet current running under all this is the libertarian streak in the live-free-or-die state. That's good for SSM prospects in that most voters polled think it's nobody's business if homosexual couples want to wed. They have been abutted by Vermont with nine years of civil unions and Massachusetts with five years of SSM; they know there truly are no downsides to it.

What's bad for civil rights is that the same streak carries a dose of leave me alone and let me do what I want. That can be okay unless you are a Unibomber sort or an atavism who wants the right to harm others in employment, housing, marriage rights and such.

Those hoary and unobservant sorts run up against modernity. As a nation, we have progressed. We are nowhere near the most socially advanced nation, but we are not where we were in the 1950s or even 1980s. No matter how politely you ask or how firm and loudly you assert imaginary right of God or statute, it is not alright to do many things anymore.

If you don't like gay men or Asian Americans or many other classes of citizens, there are now laws, regulations and cultural conventions covering that. You can sit in your living room and mutter nasty incantations all night long. You can't refuse to rent to people filtered by your bigotry. If you want to earn your living the off the public, you can't discriminate, unless you have a religious exemption.

There is the big compromise and one that is as secure as any in law and custom. Our U.S. Constitution's First Amendment gives wide authority for churches and clerics to live their dogma. They can underpay either gender, refuse to hire by race or religion and on and on. That is a cost we have accepted from the start of this nation.

What is astonishing is how many would conflate religious privilege with personal feelings (a.k.a. faith). That winger conference I went to last November downtown had five of those wild conflaters at one table. As a group, they allowed that the laws did not interfere with religion, but asserted without evidence or reason that it was bound to come. This just-wait-and-see melodrama was the same sort they pushed when Massachusetts started SSM. It did not and won't happen, but that doesn't stop the crazy predictions.

Lies and Liars

We saw a variation when Catholic Charities decided to halt all adoption services rather than continue to place a small number of children with gay couples, often the ones who were already their legal foster parents. The anti-gay sorts frame this as CC being forced out of the adoption business by evil laws. In reality, they chose to stop all adoptions if they would have to be non-discriminatory as any other adoption agency. Doing so meant they would not be eligible for state and some federal assistance for adoptions.

In other words, they made a business decision. Rather than stand on their principles and continue to do their Christian duty here, they quit. They could have picked up the difference for the loss of government money that came with regulatory strings. Instead, they lied by saying the law, not their cold calculations, drove them from the business.

Now in New Hampshire and elsewhere, we hear business owners and others asking why they can't continue to discriminate against gay couples, as they always have. They seem to have missed the past 20 years of history and legal advances.

They could move to a state that has DOMA legislation and no gay-rights laws. That pretty much drives them from the region, but they still have some options.

What's pretty clear to others around here is that where homosexuals are a protected class and in states with domestic-partnership, civil-union or same-sex marriage laws, the era of discrimination in business has past. Alternately, the bigots can think of switching from the restaurant, car dealership or realty office to founding a church. There are still groups who can be as nasty as they want to homosexuals, short of physical harm or threats.

If the question is, "Can't I continue to discriminate against homosexuals, which I claim is part of my religion," the answer in New Hampshire is, "No."

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