Truth be told, my wife and I seriously considered leaving Oregon and, consequently, the United States following the 2004 election. We were serious enough to take at least one scouting trip outside the USA, to see what such a move would entail.
Don’t get me wrong: I love my country. Or, rather, I love the IDEA of my country — which is a different thing, altogether, since this country IS, in essence, an idea, and a very good one, at that. In many ways, I’m as American as it’s possible to get. Fourth-generation Nebraskan. Kid from Wyoming. I’ve been a Cub Scout, a Boy Scout, a New Mexico Boy’s State attendee (I was elected state senator); played baseball, basketball, football. Student Council. Debate team. College scholarship. Who’s Who in American High Schools and Colleges, 1973.
I’ve been a teenage page at state conventions, a delegate from Oregon to the 2000 Democratic National Convention, elected a multiple-term Precinct Committeeman, Webmaster of the Oregon Democratic Party, President of the Eugene Astronomical Society, a member of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and am eligible for membership in Sons of the American Revolution, if I can scrape up the paperwork from Aunt Jenny. Cab driver, chauffeur to a cultivator being pulled by an International Harvester tractor; sacker of groceries, temporary secretary, condo maintenance, security guard.
My bona fides are there. I promise you: the idea of leaving was neither painless nor casual; agonizingly to the contrary, in fact. America had become a place where a good American, in good conscience, could not live.
I even spent my childhood in Laramie, Wyoming, which has become, sadly, a symbol of anti-gay violence in the manner that Mississippi made itself a symbol of white supremacist and racist violence. When I grew up, Laramie had a positive reputation as the setting for a gazillion “western” novels, movies and TV shows. And America has been like that for me, too. Something I once took pride in had become something shameful, was the scene of horrific crimes.
But the shame of living in this state and this country peaked in 2004. You may appreciate my disenchantment with our national politics, but what you don’t know is that I was disgusted as an Oregonian by Oregon’s (despicable) vote (by a substantial margin) to ENSHRINE discrimination in the state constitution with an anti-gay-marriage initiative, Measure 36, in 2004.
It was a deep insult to the very nature of constitutional law, which has always been about expanding the franchise of rights (not privileges), and not about restricting it.
I moved from Southern California for the same reason: the economy was so based on slave (“wetback”) labor that to remain was to collaborate in a de facto slave state. When a human has no rights, they cannot be called “free.”
I did not know how I could, in good conscience, continue to live in a state filled with bigots. As a ‘founding father’ of the city of West Hollywood, (OK, I only phone-banked and voted) I was ready to pack my bags and go. It just proved impossible, financially and in other ways. But the extreme discomfort remained.
I do understand how heterosexual men who aren’t secure in their sexual identities project rage and fear at gays, but I did not believe them and their female counterparts to be a majority. Still, the battle always seemed a weird conflation of “Marriage” the civil laws, and “Marriage” the sacrament of the various churches, synagogues, mosques, stupas, what-have-yous. Nobody was ever quite sure which “marriage” we were talking about.
I was unwilling to remain a passive collaborator in the gang-rape of the Constitution, and the slide into vicious hooliganism that has characterized the so-called “Reagan Revolution,” as finally exemplified in the criminal enterprise commonly referred to variously as, “The Religious Right,” “The Bush Administration,” and, the more generic “The Republican Party.” The anti-homosexual constitutional amendment brought it all home to roost in the fall of 2004.
If I had believed I was living on the Left Coast, far from the madness of the Deep South and the mindlessness of Kansas, I could no longer rationalize that it was far away. It was right here. Right now.
And then, something amazing happened in 2006: Not only was the Congress delivered to the Democratic Party, and taken from the Republicans (although no one seems to want to investigate the evidence that the Republicans STILL stole through their patented racist and electronic poll shenanigans as many as 30 House seats, and additional Senate seats); but the Oregon legislature was delivered from the Neanderthal hand of the Republican party. There was hope, but I still lived in a state that had enshrined straightforward bigotry in our constitution.
Well, as of yesterday, I no longer have to wrestle with that dilemma:
Governor signs gay-rights bills
Statesman Journal (Salem, Ore.)
May 9, 2007
More than three decades after he co-sponsored one of the efforts, Gov. Ted Kulongoski today signed bills barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and providing legal recognition of same-sex couples through domestic partnerships … As a legislator in 1975, Kulongoski co-sponsored a bill that would have added sexual orientation to Oregon’s civil-rights law. The first such bill was introduced in 1973. Several such bills have passed the Senate and House, but never both chambers in the same session until now….
There. One should bask for a moment in the rare ray of sunshine through the political clouds of the last several years. I cannot imagine, standing in the darkness of 2004, that 2007 would have been possible.
We have come some distance back from the brink. These United States continue our historic march towards enfranchisement.
We forget that this long march to freedom began with the tyranny of one Alpha Male (in virtually all neolithic cultures, and in all dermal shades). In our culture, we advanced our skills and our weapons far beyond our government: it was only in 1215, with the Magna Carta that “Nobles”—you know, barons and earls and dukes, and all those other fancy names for “warlord,” or, more accurately Alpha Hairless Killer Ape—only in 1215 did they force King John (or, Warlord John, etc.) to sign a paper agreeing that his whim wasn’t the direct Word of God (Divine Right, and all that jazz).
Heck, Caesar was both the end of anything resembling democracy and the beginning of the “My Way or the Highway” model of governance (generally, at the time, the crucifixion was the excessively frequent version of the “highway.”) And so on and so forth from Rome to modern Europe, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the “Space Age.”
But there, in 1215, our Constitutional Law was born, following a lot of stages from forcing the King to accept the rights of a few—to attempting to guarantee the rights of all–America has been in fast forward. The “franchise” was granted, at first, only to propertied White Males (albeit, of English descent) to White Males, (of English descent) to White Males (not always of English descent). Thence to Black Males (as long as the franchise was not exercised), thence to White Females, first on the Isle of Man, in 1866, then in the US, beginning with the Wyoming Territory in 1869 and ending with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Again: as long as the franchise wasn’t actually exercised.
The Equal Rights Amendment is still pending, even though more than a majority of states have ratified it.
We date “habeas corpus” the Latin for “I have the body” or, “show me the prisoner” from that little signing ceremony and photo-op with King John on the Runnymede meadow on June 15, 1215. John, like a good Imperial President, immediately repudiated the “Articles of the Barons”, but died of dysentery fighting about it, later on, and Constitutional Law won by virtue of forfeit.
To this very day, the state clutches at some bits of owning the body of the citizen if that citizen is a woman and pregnant: she is still more valued by the state as a brood mare than as a human being at some moments of her life.
The movements of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s (and ’90s) were based in extending the actual exercise of the franchise. That old “alpha male” idea of killer ape rulership is still a hard habit to break—and we have now extended it to females. But we are making progress. Oregon has passed an anti-discrimination bill, and a civil unions bill.
Here, a large portion of the crowd that shrieked about “marriage,” is content. It may end up having been, after all, only a semantic battle for them. And that is a good thing.
[Note: I have always wondered what the State was doing in the ‘marriage’ business, anyway. There is a civil marriage, and there is a sacramental marriage, and they are NOT the same thing, and ought to be given different names before somebody gets hurt in the confusion. Whoops. I mean, before MORE people get hurt in the confusion. After all, “War on Drugs” and “War on Terror” aren’t the same kind of “war” thing. Right? Well, they weren’t SUPPOSED to be. Let’s leave the ‘marriages’ to the churches, and substitute ‘civil union’ for ‘marriage’ EVERYWHERE that it appears in civil law. It may be painful to the greeting card industry, but the conflation of terms has proven deleterious to the health of the Republic.]
The idea of the individual dignity and worth of every human being is an idea that slowly continues catching fire.
Oh, the storm clouds are on the horizon. SOME of the groups that united to pass Measure 36 are undoubtedly going to petition to have the anti-discrimination laws and the civil union law set aside. They would have to gather slightly over 55,000 signatures in the 90-day period following the adjournment of the legislature.
But, as I said, some of the pro-Measure 36 groups had indicated during that election that they would not oppose civil unions, so we shall see.
For a moment, it’s great to live in Oregon. And it’s great to note that it isn’t just Oregon.
Gays see progress at state level as new laws passed
BAY AREA REPORTER (San Francisco)
by Lisa Keen
It’s official: 2007 is the new banner year for gay civil rights. Three more state legislatures have passed laws to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination and their governors are expected to sign them. And three have passed new laws to provide some form of legal recognition to same-sex relationships.
Prior to this year, 1992 was the year with the greatest number of gains in statewide legislation–that’s when California, New Jersey, and Vermont passed statewide civil rights bills to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination.
In addition to a civil unions bill in New Hampshire and a domestic partnership bill in Washington state passed last month, Oregon this month sent a domestic partnership bill to the governor’s desk, which Governor Ted Kulongoski signed Wednesday, May 9. The bill, which the Oregon House approved last month and the Senate approved May 2, allows same-sex couples to share a number of benefits, including inheritance, child custody, and hospital visitation.
In addition to Oregon and Iowa passing a law prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination last month, Colorado passed a bill prohibiting employment discrimination last week. And Vermont’s legislature added gender identity and expression.
That’s five states this year and six since December, when New Jersey passed a civil union law.
Freedom marches on, for each and every one of us. And Constitutional Law continues to free more people than any other form of government ever has.
And, for just a moment, I don’t feel like moving. The thing seems to have turned around, and it’s still a nasty uphill slog, but the drive to the bottom seems to have been staved off. For today, at least.