By: Daylin Leach
December 22, 2005
Since being elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 2002, I have learned that persistent rumor tends, over time, to become reality. One of the persistent rumors I hear these days is that various anti-gay amendments which have previously been considered and set aside will soon be resurrected. Hence, it is probably a propitious time to take stock of where we stand.
The bills and amendments, to which I refer, many of which were considered under the rubric “The Birmilen Amendments”, included a variety of discriminatory measures. Some are de rigeur for those who favor discrimination, such as a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as “between one man and one woman, which the word is may be taken up this spring.” Others are gratuitously mean-spirited, such as a provision prohibiting private companies that offer same-sex partner benefits on their own volition from doing business with the state. Amazingly, there were over 50 anti-gay proposals introduced in the last session of the legislature.
Those of us who oppose the forces of discrimination grapple with finding an appropriate strategy to adopt to undermine support for these proposals and make the larger case to the general public. Many call for half-measures, and there is a legitimate case to be made that moving too far to fast can be counter-productive and lead to a backlash. Some feel that this is particularly true in the context of marriage, and that the anti-gay marriage ballot measures hurt John Kerry in the 2004 election. I understand their point, but I disagree with it.
I believe a major reason John Kerry lost is because he made a fundamental political mistake germane to this discussion: He believed that persuadable voters ultimately vote for a candidate because they agree with him or her on the issues. Everything I’ve been able to glean from 30 years of studying politics intensely, tells me that this is false. The same country elected Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in landslides because they admired who they were, not because they agreed with everything they said.
Persuadable voters don’t want to agree with you as much as they want to respect you. Kerry would have won, I believe, if he had one time been willing to take a bold stance on a contentious issue. If he had endorsed gay marriage for example, he still would have won most of the pro-gay vote and lost most of the anti-gay vote, but he also would have won over many pro-spine voters who didn’t particularly care about gay issues one way or another, but just wanted to see some evidence of guts.
If we are to take any lesson from Kerry’s campaign, it is that public officials who support full equality for gays,lesbians and transgender people must be bold. When we last debated these issues, I was the only Representative who stood on the floor and openly called for full marriage rights – not civil unions, not quasi-marriage, but marriage. A little discrimination is still discrimination, and by accepting it we tacitly validate the idea that discrimination is acceptable and appropriate. The only way we will ever fling anti-gay bigotry into the same social garbage can as racism is to be unabashedly outraged whenever it slithers out of the ooze. Gay people, subject to the same taxation and accountable to the same laws as anyone else, deserve the same opportunities and rights -period, no exceptions, it’s as simple as that. This means full marriage rights as well as inclusion in the basic human rights laws that protect us all from discrimination such as the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (SB 912)
I tell some of more timid colleagues that I was first elected as a Democrat from a Republican district in 2002 by 5% of the vote. In 2004, after coming out for gay marriage (as well as taking some other so-called risky positions) I won by 25%. People respect courage and the passion of the believer. I hope I am successful in convincing some of the members who I know silently sympathize that it is, to paraphrase Hubert Humphrey, safe to come into the bright sunshine of human rights. However, what will really help is for gay Pennsylvanians to say loudly and clearly that they will accept nothing less.