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Good News or Bad Ideas? States Re-examine Marriage Amendments

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The marriage equality drumbeat has rumbled on with news that several states will be attempting to re-examine their state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage and/or civil unions. Surprisingly, this hasn't received as much attention as I assumed it would in the LGBT blogosphere.

question-mark3a.jpgOhio state representative Tyrone K. Yates (D-Cincinnati), Kentucky state representative Mary Lou Marzian (D-Jefferson), and Michigan House Speaker Pro Tem Pam Byrnes (D-Washtenaw County) have all introduced legislation to repeal their state's respective marriage amendments.

Texas Attorney General candidate Barbara Radnofsky, however, has discovered that the state's amendment also inadvertently "eliminates marriage in Texas," including common-law marriages. A Texas judge ruled the state's amendment was unconstitutional last month.

None of the four states are known for their LGBT-friendly laws which raises an interesting conundrum. Will the four states re-examination of their marriage equality amendments actually help the LGBT community or will it hurt us instead?

Prop 82: Faster, Fiercer, & More Fabulous!

It doesn't look as if the bills in Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan are going anywhere. The Columbus Dispatch says the chances of repealing Ohio's ban on same-sex marriage is minuscule.

The resolution is, to say the least, a long shot to pass. Making the ballot requires a three-fifths vote of each chamber. Even if every Democrat voted yes (an unlikely prospect), it would fall well short of the required votes.

The Michigan Messenger tells us what would be required to change current state law.

Byrnes, a Democrat from Washtenaw County's Lyndon Township, introduced a package of bills which includes: a repeal of of the Constitutional amendment, which will require a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the legislature; a bill to explicitly legalize same-sex marriage in Michigan; and a bill to remove state law restrictions which prevent Michigan from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in another state.

[...]

Byrnes announcement on Wednesday came less than 24 hours after Kalamazoo voters overwhelmingly approved an ordinance to prohibiting discrimination on the basis of, among other things, sexual orientation and gender identity. Those same voters in Kalamazoo voted openly gay resident Terry Kuseke to the city commission.

The Kentucky Equality Federation explains how they plan to proceed on overturning their same-sex marriage ban.

If this passes both the Kentucky House and Senate and voters ratify it, lawmakers would then be able to legislate domestic-partnerships, or civil unions, such as the new domestic partnership law in the state of Washington.

The overarching theme here is that none of these measures have a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding. Still, for the sake of argument, let's say all of these bills passed their respective state legislatures and goes to the voters.

As California gears up for the sequel to Prop 8, we already know that a lot of our LGBT orgs, foundations and political donors will be sending bucketloads of cash to try and win back what was lost. Can you imagine if someplace like Kentucky also has a measure on the ballot?

Kentucky would get short shrift like Florida and Arizona did when Prop 8 was on the ballot. If nothing else, the referendums would fail to advance our rights simply for lack of support from the larger LGBT community. As in Arizona and Florida, the powers-that-be and common sense would tell us that California would be a safer bet for our energy and dollars if we truly want to win a ballot initiative.

The Meat of the Matter

So what's the point? Why put these bills out there? The answer, of course, is politics.

Since the LGBT community has put such a premium on our marriage rights, politicians are now clamoring to prove how gay friendly they are because they support same-sex marriage. Their support for a measure that they know isn't going anywhere doesn't cost them much political capital but brings attention from LGBT donors and voters.

In Texas, our "fierce champion" is a candidate for office that doesn't seem to give a flying f--k about our rights as citizens, but more out of scoring political points against her Republican opponent -- the current Attorney General.

She calls it a "massive mistake" and blames the current attorney general, Republican Greg Abbott, for allowing the language to become part of the Texas Constitution. Radnofsky called on Abbott to acknowledge the wording as an error and consider an apology. She also said that another constitutional amendment may be necessary to reverse the problem.

[...]

Radnofsky acknowledged that the clause is not likely to result in an overnight dismantling of marriages in Texas. But she said the wording opens the door to legal claims involving spousal rights, insurance claims, inheritance and a host of other marriage-related issues.

[...]

Radnofsky, the Democratic nominee in the Senate race against Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2006, said she voted against the amendment but didn't realize the legal implications until she began poring over the Texas Constitution to prepare for the attorney general's race. She said she holds Abbott and his office responsible for not catching what she calls an "error of massive proportions."

Since Dallas District Judge Tena Callahan ruled the amendment unconstitutional because it stands in the way of gay divorces, the amendment is already going to be tied up in the courts for a while. While it could be argued that Radnofsky is attempting to provide some cover to state legislators to simply repeal the amendment altogether, if so it's a rather weak by-product.

Getting Back to the Basics

All four states have something else in common as well. Texas, Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky laws do not address discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Does anyone seriously think that any of these flyover states are going to okay same-sex marriage when they can't get it together long enough to pass laws protecting us from discrimination in employment?

This is the danger of letting straight people think that marriage is the top priority for the LGBT community or lulling ourselves into thinking that it is. Many of us non-coastal queers don't have any protections whatsoever. Talking about the most controversial, knee-jerk LGBT issues while skipping over the items with public approval isn't just political stupidity, it's almost criminal.

Politicians who score political points simply to get gay dollars and votes, shouldn't be rewarded. At this point, I want to see some movement by these elected officials who talk sweetly but always have excuses as to why they haven't done anything.

If they're truly interested in "treating all people with the dignity and respect everyone deserves," as Michigan's Rep. Byrnes touts, let's see some of the basics wrapped up. You know, like being able to keep our jobs based on our job performance and not on who we love or our genitalia.

What good is it to be able to get married when you don't have food or shelter because you can't find/keep a job?

(Crossposted from my home blog, Bilerico Project. Come visit me there to see why both the Washington Post and the Advocate named us one of the top 10 LGBT political blogs in the nation.)

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