Littwin: Stuck in civil-unions purgatory
The stunning speed at which the gay-rights movement is running is part of the thrill: Justice rarely moves like this.
The New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that same-sex marriage in the state should be legal because, well, it’s kind of obvious by now, isn’t it?
I mean, you can read the opinion. But what’s the point? Everyone understands what’s going on here.
What’s hard to understand is why Colorado hasn’t gotten there yet. And why we may not get there any time soon. Blame it on the gun laws. Or on timidity. Or on 2013 overreach. Or on the long history of losing gay-rights referenda. Maybe you remember 1992. Or maybe you’re too young to remember Amendment 2, the Orwellian ban against sexual-orientation anti-discrimination laws that was eventually tossed out by the courts.
New Mexico is the 17th state to approve gay marriage, which means that more than one-third of the states, plus Washington, D.C., have now made the move. It has all happened with stunning speed, which is part of the thrill associated with the movement. Justice rarely moves like this. It’s usually all about Martin Luther King’s long arc, but in the last decade, the arc has become arrow straight.
OK, so maybe the arrows have missed a few people, like Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, who was just suspended, along with his beard, for saying things in a magazine article about gays that, at once, surprised no one and yet apparently shocked the world.
Whatever you think of the suspension — or if, like me, you have trouble focusing on reality-TV ducks — the outrage is telling, even if the story isn’t. Much has been made over fact that potential presidential candidates Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz rushed to defend Robertson — apparently as a bid to appeal to Christian-right voters — but the real story is the many would-be candidates who have said nothing. That’s a lesson that even Ken Buck must have learned by now.
(By the way, Robertson also said the black people he knew during Jim Crow years were “happy and singing,” as if he wanted to more fully embrace the anachronistic Southern white stereotype, but as a musical.)
The only downside to the New Mexico story is that Colorado isn’t among the first 17 states to legalize gay marriage. We’re among the states stuck in civil-unions purgatory — the gay-marriage-lite solution, meaning we’re just a little backward, just a little 20th-century. Amazingly, it’s just a matter of days before we can go into the store and buy pot over the counter, but one of the places you still won’t be able to smoke a joint is at a same-sex wedding.
And yet, I’m old enough to remember when we had the big fight in the legislature, and Frank McNulty and Amy Stephens made their futile stand to block civil unions. Republicans lost the House, McNulty lost his leadership job, civil unions passed the next year, and now Stephens is running against Ken Buck in the GOP Senate primary, leaving us to wonder which one will go first for the gays-as-alcoholics crowd.
Colorado could be the last state to pass a civil-unions law. No one is fighting that fight any more. But as the Independent’s John Tomasic writes, Colorado is not the new New Mexico. In 2006, back when Republicans could still use gay rights to get their voters to the polls, Colorado passed the one man-one woman amendment, complicating a move now to get a same-sex marriage case through the courts and throwing fear into Colorado activists that a referendum to change the constitution could possibly fail.
If it were up to me, I would put gay marriage on the ballot in 2014 and dare Republicans to go all-Duck Dynasty. It would clearly change the topic of conversation from guns. But it’s also clear that it’s not going to happen. It’s the gun laws, after all, that have the Democrats so worried. Two and a half recalls (one Democrat resigned before being recalled) will do that. It’s wedge-issue politics at its most cutting, and Democrats are not going to risk offering up any other issues, not even one that now polls as well as gay marriage, even in a state that is home to gay-rights activism.
Guns, of course, will dominate the next session of the legislature. You’ll see Republicans channeling the U.S. House with calls for repeal, except, in this case, the repeals won’t be about Obamacare. Senate President Morgan Carroll says she expects a “repealathon.” And when Republicans aren’t proposing repeal, they’ll be out on the Capitol steps yelling about freedom, which somehow translates into how many rounds you are free to fire per minute, not about whom you can marry.
Democrats, meanwhile, will spend the session doing as little as possible. They will be the legislation whisperers, with the idea to promote themselves as quiet, well-behaved moderate pragmatists who want nothing more than to get along. They will kill the Republican gun-repeal bills, but quietly, in committee, although John Hickenlooper is already offering to do some gun-law tweaks. You can be sure Democrats won’t be saying anything about gay marriage or, if they can help it, anything else controversial.
In short, for both sides, the coming session will be mostly about the 2014 elections — and about very little else.
Then there is 2016. In that year, of course, there will be another whole set of elections, starting with the presidential election. But there will be something else, too — the continued momentum for gay marriage, which promises to be a national issue. So if you want to be optimistic, set your alarm for then. My guess is, by 2016, Colorado will have no choice but to try to catch up.
[ Image via Jesse Muller. ]
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