Friday, February 23, 2007

Straight WY GOP Rep More Pro-Gay Marriage Than HRC?

(Dan Zwonitzer risks his political career for gay marriage.)

Over at John Aravosis' Americablog on Thursday, night he linked to an AP story from Wyoming about an unnecessary new law under consideration that would have banned the state from recognizing gay marriages performed in Massachusetts, or any other state that may grant marriage equality. Aravosis asked if anyone knew the reason why the GOP speaker in WY cast the vote killing the legislation, a good development for gays.

Using Google, I quickly found out some background on what led two other GOP legislators to cast votes favorable to gays in this matter, and a third to publicly think of supporting tolerance for gays.

From the Wyoming Capitol Outlook, a blog published by WY Public Television:

Some observers thought that a bill to deny recognition of same-sex marriages endorsed by other states would be a polarizing distraction to a legislature with more important business to take care of - one of those social issues that generates heat but not much light. The bill (Senate File 13) passed easily through the Senate, but had a difficult time moving in the House, where some folks on both sides of the issue hoped it could die quietly without debate.

Not so. It arrived this morning in the House Rules Committee, where 13 representatives had to decide whether to let it move forward. And there, to the surprise of those who expected the debate to grow ugly, it provided a moment of clarity, soul-searching and rich, real drama. [...]

Several citizens and legislators defended the rights of gay couples.

Rep. Pat Childers (R-Cody) spoke proudly of his gay daughter, “who was born that way,” and Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) said that his study of American history revealed an ongoing extension of liberties and freedoms, “and if it costs me my seat…I can say I stood up for basic rights, and history can be my judge.”

Some legislators appeared to wrestle with their decisions right up to the end of the hearing. Rep. Tom Lubnau (R-Gillette), who had questioned the cost of extending recognition to out-of-state gay marriages, concluded, “Maybe the right thing to do is to stand up for tolerance.”

But Simpson, surprisingly, voted for the bill. That left it to Speaker Roy Cohee (R-Casper) to cast the deciding vote, as the measure was killed by a 7-6 vote.

In a fairly lackluster session, it was a dramatic, revealing, and dignified, exchange.

What a magnificent development this is for us gays and our allies who endorse full marriage equality, that in Cheney's home state, we have not one, not two, but at least three straight GOP legislators to thank for delivering us some very good news!

Many thanks to both Rep. Childers in standing up for his lesbian daughter, and to Rep. Zwonitzer, who is willing to risk his seat for gay equality. If that ain't bravery, I don't know what is.

And what, pray tell, had the Democratic Party's gay wing, alias the Human Rights Campaign, been saying about the legislation and the debate surrounding it? Was the HRC framing the issue of unequal marriage laws properly and explaining that gay relationships and families are very legitimate concerns?

The answer comes from the AP's Cheyenne bureau, in a February 11 story:

Carrie Evans, state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, echoed that: “Surely the Wyoming legislature has real problems to deal with.” [...]

Evans says because the state typically elects conservatives, people are surprised to learn Wyoming is actually one of a “special few states that doesn’t already deny recognition to same-sex unions from other areas.” [...]

“So there’s some good and some bad,” Evans said. “Wyoming tends to be very measured. It’s not very reactionary in terms of social issues. There’s no horrific anti-gay laws on the books, but they also don’t have any laws banning hate crimes even after Matthew Shepard’s death.” [...]

“There will be a discussion that probably won’t happen for decades about whether it is legal or not for full-faith-and-credit laws to extend to marriages between same-sex couples,” Evans said. “It will take couples from Massachusetts moving around country, suffering harm and then taking it to court to say whether or not measures like these are unconstitutional.”

Overall, HRC's Evans makes some good points, but I'm sick of her organization bending over backwards to deny that our committed gay partnerships and the absence of marriage equality are not "real problems" worth defending in state legislatures when these measure crop up.

HRC basically would rather not have any debate taking place at the state level, federal level too sometimes, that calls on them to fully advance the cause of gay marriage. I say this because of the underlying message in Evans' statement that there will not be a discussion on full-faith-and-credit laws for decades. In other words, HRC really would prefer to delay that discussion because the group just isn't capable of articulating a proud pro-gay marriage agenda and it's so much easier to dismiss these state battles as not "real problems."

If denial of full marriage equality for gays, right now, in America's states, is not a real problem, do we then need to keep funding HRC to tell us this lie?

Sure, I'm no fan of HRC's, so take this for what it's worth. I'd rather have a Dan Zwonitzer at my side fighting for real equality for gays than many of the HRC leaders.

Finally, I wonder how long it will be before the Veep and Lynn Cheney, not to mention good ol' lesbian daughter Mary, are asked to comment on the Wyoming gay marriage development. Care to wager any money that when asked, all of the Cheney's will duck the chance to applaud what's happened in the Equality State?

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