Disconnect Between Actions and Words

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Apparently, we aren’t the only ones who have noticed the disconnect between the rhetoric leading up to the November 2010 elections and the actions of legislators since the beginning of this year. Charles Blow has a column in the New York Times today titled “Repeal, Restrict and Repress” on just this subject. And, earlier this week, Gail Collins had a column in which she highlighted some of the absolutely crazy legislation (e.g., a bill that would require every adult in South Dakota to own a gun) introduced by state legislators as an example of the things we don’t really need to worry about because:

About 10 percent of a state legislature is composed of people who are totally loony. This is in a good state. It’s possible that in yours, the proportion is much, much higher. That is probably something to worry about, but not today.

In the spirit of pointing out more of the crazy bills that have been introduced, it is worth noting that an Iowa legislator, Rep. Rich Anderson, introduced a bill titled the “Religious Conscience Protection Act.” This bill would allow businesses to refuse to (1) provide benefits to the spouse of an employee, (2) provide housing to a married couple, or (3) provide adoption or reproductive services, if doing so would violate a sincerely held religious belief. In essence, the bill legalizes discrimination against same-sex couples.

Someone ought to remind Rep. Anderson that religion has been used to mask bigotry before. Indeed, the trial judge who essentially banished the Lovings (of Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), the Supreme Court case that struck down the remaining state antimiscegenation statutes) from Virginia stated:

‘Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.’

Loving, 388 U.S. at 3. We too often forget that interpretations of religious texts are no less mutable than interpretations of other texts, and that what was, at one time, a “sincerely held belief” may later come to be seen as a wholly unsupportable idea at odds with the basic tenets of a religion. Fortunately, it appears that Rep. Anderson has tabled the bill but left open the possibility of bringing it up again at a later time.

In addition to the states pushing constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage (according to Charles Blow’s count, these states include Iowa, Indiana, West Virginia, and Wyoming–it also appears to be on the agenda in Minnesota), the same Utah legislator who introduced the “Family Policy Bill” (blogged earlier here) has introduced another bill that is only one sentence long: “An arrangement, agreement, or transaction that is unlawful or violates public policy is void and unenforceable.” Though again far from a model of clarity, it is feared that this bill would void any contractual arrangements entered into by same-sex couples as a substitute for marriage. He apparently introduced the same bill in 2006, and it narrowly missed passing then.

Scary as this proposed legislation is, it is thought that Virginia’s and Montana’s existing Defense of Marriage Acts are broadly worded enough to already have this effect. See Mont. Code Ann. § 40-1-401(4) (“A contractual relationship entered into for the purpose of achieving a civil relationship that is prohibited under subsection (1) [which includes same-sex marriage] is void as against public policy.”); Va. Code Ann. § 20-45.3 (“A civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage is prohibited.”). Reactionary legislators in Pennsylvania have attempted to pass a broadly worded amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that arguably would be of similar effect. They failed to get it through the legislature in the past, but with Republicans now in control of both houses of the legislature here, reactionary Representative Daryl Metcalfe has been talking about introducing such legislation again this year.

I’m sure that this is only the beginning and that there will be more legislation motivated by antigay animus to come in the next couple of years.

-Tony Infanti

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