The silly season may be upon us.
The serious arguments against marriage equality are falling fast, leaving only nonsense and fear behind. Even many conservatives who formerly opposed equality have come around (sometimes only by recognizing that, whatever the perils of allowing same-sex marriages, they pale as threats to the institution next to divorce and the declining percentage of kids born to married couples). And the overwhelmingly supportive views of younger people are filtering up to the generations above, working through surprisingly permeable soil. It turns out that older people can and do change their views as they’re educated by the next generation, by courts, and by the lives of those around them. New York Senator Charles Schumer is a recent convert, and the Governor of Maine, John Baldacci, has gone from “no” to “hmmm…. let me think about this some more.”
So, expect increasingly desperate, and probably inadvertently humorous, tactics to forestall the march towards equality. Let’s talk about two examples. This petition was being circulated at a Town Hall meeting yesterday in Iowa. (Thanks to Iowan Kyle Payne, who was at the meeting, for posting this and for letting me know what’s going on there.) It’s just one page, and it “argues” that, just as Abraham Lincoln defied the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, so too could Iowa’s Governor, Chet Culver, ignore his own supreme court and simply executively order overturning Varnum v. Brien (the decision by the unanimous Iowa Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality). I suppose they believe the state’s citizens need to be “emancipated” from judicial tyranny.
In looking over the petition, it initially seemed that it was the work not of runaway citizen zealots, but of duly elected legislators: Rep. Jason Schultz and Sen. James Seymour. But Rep. Schultz e-mailed me to assure me that neither he nor anyone in his office had anything to do with it.1 This assurance was heartening, but also serves as a reminder of the perils of direct democracy on an issue this highly charged; because whoever wrote this petition didn’t bother doing any actual research, unless you include the reference to Wikipedia. 2
In fact, Lincoln had campaigned on a promise to abide by the Court’s decision in Dred Scott, much though he disagreed with it. (Norm Coleman, are you reading this?) For that reason, as well as because of his belief that he could not rely on his inherent war powers to emancipate slaves, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited to those slaves in the states in rebellion, and did not even apply to the border states: Only the insurrection gave him the power to do so, as an incident of his power as Commander in Chief. Is this really the Civil War (in caps)? It would be laughable were it not disturbing, countenancing, as it does, the deracination of the separation of powers.
Along these lines of “disturbing yet somehow funny” is the newly issued video by Maggie Gallagher’s National Organization for Marriage, which is by now viral — both in its original form and in the inevitable and sometimes revealing mash-ups and parodies. (Here are a couple of keepers.) Instead of the original, which you can find here, the following audition tape really says it all:
Note that these actors are saying exactly the same things that are uttered in the final, wrenchingly risible, version. But this audition tape, through its repetition of the awkward statements in the actual video, points to its own absurdity.
Take this example: “I am a California doctor forced to choose between my faith and my job.”
Huh? What, exactly, are these actor/not-real-doctors talking about? Honestly, I have no idea. Are they saying that they don’t want to treat gays who are legally married? But refusal to treat on that basis would run afoul of the state’s antidiscrimination law, whether there’s marriage equality or not. So what else could they be talking about? Nothing that you can identify, and that’s the point. Plant the fear, and don’t diminish it by being specific (doing so might — not incidentally — also make your statements inaccurate).
“There is a storm gathering. The clouds are dark and the winds are strong. And I am afraid.”
To paraphrase my kids’ current favorite book: It’s cloudy, all right — cloudy with a chance of meatheads.