View From the Hill

By Kerry Eleveld

Originally published on April 24 2009 12:00 AM ET

I got a lesson in
democracy this week when I attended the
markup of the hate-crimes

bill in the Judiciary Committee, where Republicans offered 14
amendments on the first day of debate alone about a bill that
has fairly widespread support among Democrats and most
Americans and, actually, has already passed both chambers of
Congress in the past.

GOP members wanted to
include pregnant women, unborn children, and the elderly under
the umbrella of targeted groups in the hate-crimes law. They
seemed obsessed with the idea that adding gender, sexual
orientation, gender identity, and people with disabilities to
the hate-crimes definition would surely impinge on religious
freedom, even though language ensuring freedom of speech has
already been added to the bill.

Rep. Steve King of Iowa
offered a diatribe on why the legislation should be renamed the
"Thought Crimes" bill. "This hate-crimes bill is
actually a bill to control our thoughts," King exclaimed,
requesting that George Orwell's classic book

be entered into the record. (What's that old saying? Sometimes
a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing…)

Committee chair John
Conyers declined -- he had never heard of an entire book being
entered into the record.

The bill eventually
passed, 15-12, and while it was all an entertaining exercise in
futility (as the minority party, Republicans were never going
to block the legislation in committee), it was a great reminder
of the resistance that even fairly innocuous pro-LGBT bills
face at the federal level. Every time a Republican congressman
used the term "homosexual," I was convinced he would pull
out his hand-sanitizing solution for a quick sterilization. (No
female members were present on the GOP side.)

The display took me
back to Frank Rich's
delightful piece

The New York Times

last Sunday, in which he recounted the now infamous National
Organization for Marriage ad and essentially declared
resistance to same-sex marriage dead. While I do
believe a tectonic cultural shift is in motion, I
also intone a cautionary note -- the fat lady has not
sung just yet. Sure, the NOM ad aroused our cattiest tendencies
- nothing tweaks the gays more than being out-camped by the
Christian right (let's face it, they had some homo help on that
set!). But all gayety aside, the ad did play on real fears many
still harbor about same-gender marriages, and some activists
wondered about a response.


After witnessing our
federal government at work this week, I would lean away from a
national campaign as it pertains to marriage. The NOM ad was
written specifically to stoke the embers of panic that are
slowly being smothered by reason and familiarity as more
Americans get to know our families (never was this more
apparent than in Vermont, where nine years of civil unions
paved the way for marriage). The organizing principle for the
ad is fear of the unknown, which can only be combated by truth
-- and often, the most effective way to relay truth varies from
region to region.

Take the ad that began
airing in Iowa this week -- an ode to the chief Midwestern
value of fairness. As the camera sweeps across lush farmland
and budding corn rows, a narrator reminisces: "
There is a quiet strength that comes from this land and its
people. Change happens -- as in the passing of the seasons. But
some things remain the same. People came to this place from
many lands, spoke different languages, held different beliefs.
But they all held one hope in common: that in this place, they
could find freedom. Our supreme court has made a decision
against discrimination, in favor of freedom…


As a Midwesterner
myself, born and raised, this OneIowa ad strums my little
heartstrings in a way that it likely does not move a
Northeasterner. It was, no doubt, targeted at Iowans and tested
among Iowans. And it delivers an entirely different
message than another
video released this week

by New York's Empire State Pride Agenda, which chose to focus
on clergy members from Massachusetts discussing how little
marriage equality has affected the religious autonomy of their
congregations. While I don't know this for certain, I would be
willing to guess that the Pride Agenda's polling showed
religious freedom was a worry among New York's upstaters, who
trend more socially conservative than their neighbors to the

My point is, instead of
contemplating the national landscape, let's
concentrate on our progress state by state, where
the sensibilities of the people differ and
the needs of the movement vary. Hopefully, advocates in New
Hampshire are asking every single last person they know to call
their state senator on behalf of the marriage bill (many
Vermont legislators cast pro-marriage votes because
they simply heard from more constituents on our side).
Hopefully, LGBT leaders in California are busy prepping their
response to the California Supreme Court's ruling on
Proposition 8, whichever way it falls. The key question being,
if the marriage ban is upheld, how soon do activists push to
put it back on the ballot?

The bottom line is,
momentum is on our side. Now more than ever, if
we stay focused on the state of our states, slowly but
surely the tipping point will tilt the state of our union in
the right direction.