View From the Hill

By Kerry Eleveld

Originally published on Advocate.com April 09 2009 11:00 PM ET

Looking out from my
D.C. perch, the majority of the action was in the
states this week, with Vermont legalizing same-sex marriage and
New York governor David Paterson vowing to introduce a
marriage bill in the Empire State.

First, let's keep in
mind a couple points of interest coming up in just a few weeks.
The Maine legislature will host a much-anticipated public
hearing on both marriage and civil union bills on April 24
(UPDATE: this date has moved forward to April 22nd
at the Augusta Civic Center). Also, in New Hampshire,
where a marriage-equality bill has already cleared the house
(narrowly), all eyes are on a special election for a state
senate seat scheduled on April 21 between Democrat Bud Martin
and anti-marriage equality Republican Jeb Bradley.
It's a close race and politicos are apparently using it to
gauge the temperature of the electorate to some extent.

In Vermont, the next
big question really comes in 2010, when constituents
will weigh in on the performance of their
legislators. "I probably sealed my fate," Robert South, a
freshman Democrat from a conservative district, told
The New York Times,

referring to his vote for legalizing same-sex marriage.

Vermont will most
certainly be an interesting test case, not only because it is
the first legislature to successfully enact marriage without
being ordered to do so by a court, but also because Vermont
voters have been getting used to the idea of gay ceremonies
since 2000, when the state legalized civil unions. Following
that vote, 17 legislators famously lost their seats in the
"Take Back Vermont" campaign, a history probably not lost
on Representative South.

But since that time,
LGBT activists and organizations have had a pretty
stellar score card on getting pro-marriage equality legislators
reelected. Ever since Massachusetts' 2003 court ruling
legalized same-sex marriage, opponents of
equality have mounted three successive campaigns to
constitutionally limit marriage to heterosexual couples -- all
of which have failed. Following the first two pushes,
a total of 195 elections took place for pro-equality
legislators in 2004 and 2006 and not a single one of
them lost their seat. After the third push, just two
pro-equality legislators were voted out in
2008 -- both during Democratic primaries. Today, 159
of Massachusetts's 200 legislators have gone on record
for marriage equality.

In New York, where the
state assembly passed the nation's very first bipartisan
marriage bill (California's 2005 and 2007 marriage-equality
bills -- both vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger -- never
garnered a single GOP vote), the four Republicans who
joined with Democrats to approve the measure in
2007 all won reelection in '08. In fact, two of
those four -- Teresa Sayward and Dede Scozzafava -- represent
conservative upstate districts and yet they ran unopposed.

Maggie Gallagher,
president of the antigay National Organization for Marriage
(yes, of
ominous storm clouds ad fame

), said on NPR this week that she believed Vermont voters would
be upset that legislators took time to have a marriage
vote/debate. We shall see. I think legislators are more likely
to be judged by their entire portfolio of accomplishments. If
they have produced in the areas of education, infrastructure,
and public health, they are likely to be
reelected.

In fact, nothing
illustrates this point better than Colorado, which now has a
Democratic governor, a Democratically controlled state
legislature, and went blue for Obama last November. What's so
telling about this is that heading into the 2004 election,
exactly the opposite was true -- the GOP controlled both state
chambers and occupied the governor's mansion.

Several different
political observers in the state (including professors and
strategists) have told me the Republican Party ejected
themselves from office by putting a laser-beam focus on
"family values" to the exclusion of kitchen-table issues.
By 2008, even the relatively conservative voters of Colorado's
4th district had handed walking papers to U.S. representative
Marilyn Musgrave, who had forged her entire political career on
social conservatism and authored the Constitutional Marriage
Amendment in 2004.

And one last note on
this week's wrap-up: Maggie Gallagher also mentioned that her
organization would be trying to mobilize antigay activists in
the Northeast to combat the strides being made on behalf of
marriage equality there.

That might be difficult
since the people who are most excitable on the issue are
Christians -- apparently a dying breed these days. Not only has
the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation
risen from 8% to 15% since 1990, notes this

week's cover story

of
Newsweek,

but the Northeast has emerged as "the new stronghold of the
religiously unidentified."

The article cites R.
Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist
Theological Seminary, as posting a column reading, "A
remarkable culture-shift has taken place around us ... The most
basic contours of American culture have been radically altered.
The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium
has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western
cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our
culture."

If indeed the storm
clouds are gathering -- as depicted in the National
Organization for Marriage ad -- perhaps it is not because of
same-sex couples who wish to dedicate their lives to each
other. Maybe it has more to do with a radically conservative
Christian theology that became so rigid, it rendered itself
irrelevant to the lives of average Americans -- not far
different from the Colorado Republicans.