Monday, February 13, 2012

SSM Warrior Reflects

Anti-LGBT desperate mythology includes a chant of votes against marriage equality, or as they would have it "gay 'marriage'" with marriage always in quotes.

True enough that in anticipation of and following MA's Goodridge decision most state legislatures passed DOMA-style one-man/one-woman marriage laws and/or amendments. The latter sometime required plebiscites. True enough that in the Mass. hysteria, as we should call it, popular votes on marriage equality nearly always had and have gone against equal rights for homosexual couples.

Checking in with a warrior for same-sex marriage can be refreshing. My wife and I did that yesterday morning as we joined a packed parlor before the sermon at the UU church in Needham where Rev. John Buehrens recapped the state of the states on marriage equality.

The former president of the UUA is not only retiring from active ministry but is finishing his service to Freedom to Marry after nine years on the board. As the first cleric and first heterosexual to join that board, he's long been plain about his clarity that marriage equality is a civil rights issue.

Podcast note: I chatted up Buehrens at yesterday and he said he'd come on Left Ahead to discuss this. I'll post in both places on when we get that arranged....and 2/14 update, the Rev. Buehrens will join Left Ahead on Wednesday, 3/7 at 2:30 PM Eastern.

Buehrens is no Pollyanna. He obviously is in the make-your-own-future mold. Yet he started off his status of marriage equality lecture including the most pleasant delight for Freedom to Marry and its 30 related groups. As he put it, "Three years ago it became apparent we were making more progress than we ever thougth possible."

The consensus goal of marriage equality groups has been 10/10/20 — 10 states with legal same-sex marriage and 10 with "all but marriage" by 2020. Already there are seven SSM states and the District of Columbia. That includes Washington State, where the governor said she'll sign the recently passed marriage-equality law. Moreover, he sees low-hanging fruit, such as Maine and New Jersey ready to re-institute or pass SSM.

Beyond this, "We believe there will be a sense of momentum that even the Supreme Court, which does read newspapers, cannot ignore," he said. Some states' electorates still oppose SSM, but more and more have solid majorities in favor of equality. Also in terms of momentum, he noted that there are over 100 U.S. mayors who have joined in support of SSM and there are even groups such as conservatives for equal marriage, this latter being the more libertarian feathers of the right wing.

His recap included:
  • Iowa — pro-SSM groups expect to protect equality there against any repeal effort
  • Minnesota and Illinois — are getting public education and could pass SSM in a couple of years
  • New Hampshire — he's "reasonably confident" of defeating any SSM repeal. Gov. John Lynch said he would veto repeal by the new 80%-GOP legislature, and many of those lawmakers lean away from government intrusion in marriage.
  • Maine — despite Tea-Party-supported Gov. Paul LePage's anti-gay stances, Buehrens believes a pending ballot question pushed by pro-SSM groups to reverse the overturning of SSM there can win. As such it would the first such plebiscite won by marriage-equality forces. Not long ago that happened too when Maine voters instituted gay-rights protections by ballot. It is one of the states where polls favor equality.
  • Rhode Island — may be stuck in civil unions for awhile. The openly gay Speaker of the House, Gordon Fox, chickened out in bringing SSM to vote, or as Buehrens put it, "Sometimes your friends let you down."
  • Washington State — We're still a little worried about," he said. Gov. Chris Gregoire had a change of mind and heart, favoring SSM, but polls are close, much of the Eastern part of the state is conservative to reactionary (my wording), and they are among the half of states that can overturn laws by ballot questions.
  • Ohio — also does not have enough popular support. "We ain't going anywhere in Ohio for awhile."
  • Maryland — another state where the polls are still anti-marriage-equality. While SSM came within four votes of passage in the last session, "Maryland ain't ready," Buehrens said, adding that "the polls look lousy." He noted that the lack of support is from the wealthier suburbs, including those with large black population and not the city of Baltimore. He said the the suburban black middle class "has morphed into the black prosperity gospel church. Jesus wants you to be rich." He said Freedom to Marry "reluctantly had to say" that Maryland "is not our priority, not this year."
  • New Jersey — Gov. Chris Christie has been strongly anti-SSM in public remarks. However, his state polls heavily in favor of SSM, which mean this very ambitious pol may not veto a bill. If he does, there may be enough support to override him.
Other Opinions: Boston Globe runs its version of states' status.

At the national level, he figures DOMA cannot stand. If the Supreme Court has to rule, he thinks it would lose on two Constitutional bases. First, it would violate Article I, section 10, clause 1, which forbids any "Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts" (as in not recognizing another state's SSM) and 14th Amendment (due process and equal protection under law).

He believes the Ninth U.S. Circuit decision upholding the rejection of Prop. 8 will go to the Supreme Court. (He and I disagree on this; I lean toward that panel's finding being too state-specific to snag the Supremes.) As he put it, "This thing is going forward and let us pray!" He sees Justice Anthony Kennedy as the swing vote on this and as Kennedy has been sensitive to the related issues, Buehrens can see a 5-to-4 pro-marriage-equality ruling.

He noted that Freedom to Marry was not in favor of pushing this issue to the SCOTUS already. He added that leaders and "strategy shops" such as that organization can't have total control of their movements. Even the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. found that, he said.

For President Barack Obama, Buehrens said that "We have deliberately been not pressing him on this." In a related aspect, with this being a Presidential election year, there's a limit to resources for fund-raising and volunteer support. He also cited "gay political donor fatigue" for groups that dip too often in that well.

Overall, he is not stepping down from Freedom to Marry's board disheartened. Buehrens returned to the delight in seeing the 10/10/20 goal easy to surpass.


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