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View From the Hill

View From the Hill

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Washington debates hate crimes and a slew of ads -- bad, good, and campy -- hit the airwaves on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue.

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 1984 be entered into the record. (What's that old saying? Sometimes a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thingaEUR|)

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 in 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 freedomaEUR| "

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 south.

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.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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