Friday, January 22, 2010
A Visit to the People's House
I attended two legislative hearings in Concord this week. I was at the judiciary committee hearing of the bill to repeal marriage equality (HB 1590) and the hearing of the proposed amendment (CACR 28) to the NH Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. It was, to put it mildly, an interesting day.
As we all know, NH legislators are volunteers – citizens who earn the princely sum of $100 a year for the privilege and headaches of representing us in Concord. This is how it works in representative democracy. When I first became a community organizer, and began spending time at the State House, my boss schooled me on how to dress and how to behave at a hearing. Respectful was one of the key words in those instructions. These are our representatives, acting on our behalf, in the people’s house. That means that no matter how we might feel about individual legislators or issues, we use good manners when we’re in that house, just as (presumably) we would when visiting any house.
This is a lesson that the tea bagger crowd is not being taught. At both hearings I attended, there were disruptive people making ugly comments, and in one case, a man bellowing at Rep. David Cote, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. This is what the tea party movement and Fox News has given us: rude, uninformed individuals, with no respect for the process, who just want to shout everyone down. After watching some of the sponsors of the legislation, it was even more understandable.
Representative Al Baldasaro from Londonderry is the sponsor of HB 1590. Baldasaro is a transplant from Massachusetts (giving lie to the GOP libruls from MA moving to NH theory) who is serving his second term. When asked by the chair to keep his remarks to the point, since there were so many waiting to testify, he responded by talking about what a long day he had ahead of him. Representative Baldasaro seems to suffer from a serious lack of impulse control, bellowing at the chair during the CACR 28 hearing. He went on at length about “people with agendas” stealthily pushing marriage equality through, while declaring that some of his best friends were “on the other side” which appeared to be his euphemism for gay. Even though he thinks they’re degenerates undeserving of equality, I’m sure he’s a great pal to his “best friends.” Perhaps the single most astounding statement made by Rep. Baldasaro was “some of my constituents didn’t even know this bill had passed, until gay people started getting married,” while people in the audience nodded approvingly. Is that the fault of the legislature? As a NH voter, it's my job to be informed about what is going on in my state. That this bunch couldn't be bothered to pay attention - and now they're angry about it, shows a sense of entitlement that I find befuddling at best.
But - entitled, they are. They are angry that the issue of marriage equality wasn’t on a ballot. They are frightened, angry people who hate gay folks, and believe they shouldn’t be treated as equal citizens, but rather than say that, they say, “we should have the right to vote.” Representative David Bates of Windham went as far as to say that interracial marriage and ending slavery ought to have been put to a vote. These people shout about the constitution, while seeming to have little understanding of what is in either the US or the state versions. I earned some dirty looks from a group when I pointed out that the Bill of Rights was never put to a popular vote. The few wives who were present (following a few steps behind their bellicose spouses) are unaware that if the 19th Amendment had been put to the popular vote, they wouldn’t be voting – or that if it were voted on today, their husbands would vote against it. One guy spoke about how marriage equality isn’t a civil rights issue because it doesn’t have anything to do with black people.
In contrast, the married gay couples who testified before the committee did so quietly, respectfully, and briefly. One gay couple made a point of thanking the legislature for giving them equality. Couple after couple testified about their very normal lives; paying taxes, running businesses, and community involvement. They were very dignified in the presence of the angry thugs who would treat them as second class citizens.
Rep. Bates is fighting hard for discrimination. He’s part of a campaign to put bigotry on our warrants at town meeting this year. His presentation included a big map of all of the states that don’t have marriage equality – saying that NH should fall in line with all 85% of the other states. I couldn’t help but notice that those states also have state income and/or sales taxes. Rep. Bates should be careful what he wishes for.
There was really nothing new presented at either hearing. The members of the far right fringe are aware that this is an election year, and they’re very cynically using these uninformed, angry people, in the hopes of getting their dirty paws on out-of-state hate money. It seems unlikely that HB 1590 will go anywhere. So far, the NH legislature has voted down identical constitutional amendments twice. We do not frivolously amend our state constitution, and we have never amended it to enshrine discrimination, or take away rights from a minority group.
“I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.” Alice Paul
© sbruce 2010
This was printed as an op-ed in the Conway Daily Sun on January 22, 2010
h/t to patriotboy for Republican Jesus
Posted by susanthe at 12:08 AM