The 2009 Legislative Sideshow

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - April 08, 2009

Ten days ago, the leadership of the state Senate folded the tent of the great sideshow of the 2009 legislative session. I speak, of course, of their not allowing House Bill 444 on civil unions to come out of committee for a vote on the Senate floor.

Oh, I know and respect that the bill was far more to gay and lesbian couples and evangelical Christians than a mere sideshow. To the former, it was a battle for equal rights; to the latter, it was a battle for the Lord. Equal rights and the Lord constitute ground difficult to give up.

Still, the spring of 2009 hardly qualifies as a prime campaigning season for either group or, more importantly, for the state as a whole.

“It’s the economy, stupid.” That was political consultant James Carville’s mantra for candidate Bill Clinton during the 1992 presidential election campaign. It remains no less a mantra for the new presidential administration of Barack Obama 17 years later.


And in a state where visitor numbers plummet, taking state tax revenues with them, it should have drowned out all the cacophony of the debate over civil unions. But for some reason it didn’t.

The cynic in me blames it on the psychology of politicians. Officeholders do not wish to make voters unhappy. They do no like to say “no” to folks who have the power to vote them out of office.

In economic times like these, however, legislators have only one word in their vocabulary for all the lobbyists, constituents and special pleaders knocking on their office doors: “No.”

So what can they do? They can’t build schools or hospitals or start new programs; indeed, they can’t even maintain the schools and hospitals and programs they have.

“So,” some say, “Let’s debate the last great civil rights issue of our times: equal rights for gays and lesbians.”

So what would HB 444 have done? “Partners to a civil union lawfully entered into pursuant to this chapter shall have all the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law, whether derived from statutes, administrative rules, court decisions, the common law, or any other source of civil law, as are granted to spouses in marriage ...”

Sounds like - legally, at least - same-sex marriage, doesn’t it? To Catholics, Mormons and evangelicals it certainly did. They rallied the believers, clad them in red and sent them by the thousands down to the Capitol to show the pols how the folks felt about civil unions.

And state senators responded. They didn’t let the vote out of committee, and there weren’t a sufficient number of senators brave enough to pull it to the floor for a vote.

I, for one, never thought they would. Too many senators - including Senate president Colleen Hanabusa - are considering races for higher office in 2010 to risk it all on the issue of the civil rights of gays and lesbians.

So where does that leave the issue of civil unions? Dead for the moment, but certainly not for all time, for the red-clad Christians are fighting a rear guard action. We will eventually have civil unions for the simple reason that Americans simply don’t value those things called marriage and the family anymore.

The traditional family values that Christians see threatened by civil unions crumbled long ago, and not by assaults by gays and lesbians. Take, for example, the so-called “traditional family” itself: It’s fast disappearing. According to the 2000 census, a mere one-quarter of American households consists of a married couple and their children.

So much for tradition. Those childless gays and lesbians living together are changing the numbers, right? Nope, it’s 9.7 million Americans who live with unmarried, different-sex partners. To be sure, 1.2 million Americans live with same-sex partner, but they constitute only 11 percent of all the unmarrieds living together.

Then, of course, consider divorce. Currently, one in every two marriages will end in divorce - maybe divorce with children. I had an aunt who married six times and had children with two of the six. I like to label her “sequential traditional.” I have a female acquaintance who has been married four times; she’s had children with three of the men. Then there’s a five-timer buddy - kids with two of the wives.

And so it goes. The greatest threats to traditional marriage, dear red-shirts, live heterosexually next door. It’s the times in which we live, not the civil union.

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