Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Single Digit Peace Sign

I want to be on time, but I often fail. So, I was a little late, heading across the street to hear the testimony on CACR-34, the proposed constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. As I reached the State House I could see that something was missing. The crowd of anti-gay activists, waving ugly signs was absent. Maybe the cold renders their vitriol glands sluggish, and they hibernate for the winter. Whatever the reason, it was nice not to see them.

There were nearly 300 people in Representatives Hall to testify, listen, and offer support to one side or the other. Everyone was behaving like grown ups. There was no wailing or gnashing of teeth. This time the testimony had a different flavor, because folks were there to discuss a potential amendment to the NH constitution. A constitutional amendment is serious business, and that was reflected in most of the testimony.

The news coverage of the hearing was more than a little one-sided. Every report I heard mentioned that there were many ministers present – but then played news clips from anti-gay ministers. No one reported the numerous ministers (and at least one rabbi) who spoke against the amendment. That included NHPR. So much for the on-going myth of the “liberal” media.

The proposed amendment is the redundant cherry on top of the 2 laws NH already has in place. One forbids same sex marriage. The other states that NH won’t recognize same sex marriages or civil unions from other states. One might think those laws would be all that we needed to deny our gay brothers and sisters equal rights. One would be failing to consider the fact that this is an election year – and this whole amendment was cooked up as a platform for bigoted legislators to bellow from. It will also provide a lot of opportunities for the rest of us to fight with our neighbors. We don’t have enough unpleasantness, apparently, to satisfy some members of the legislature. We need a big, expensive fight that will create a lot of divisiveness.

No matter how anyone feels about same sex marriage, using the NH Constitution as a way of punishing a minority group is wrong. The constitution has traditionally clarified, or enhanced the rights of NH residents. To use it for the purposes of denying rights would be a mistake. It also goes against the whole NH “live free or die” philosophy. Most NH residents are not window-peeping perverts obsessed with the sex lives of others. We’re far more interested in what kind of folks our neighbors are, not what they do behind closed doors. Call your legislators and urge them to vote against this nasty bit of business.

This past Wednesday, President Bush spoke at a NH Business and Industry Association luncheon in Manchester. He was in town to talk to the NH BIA about his budget cuts; tax breaks for millionaires, and of course, to cheer about the booming economy. It is booming, for the wealthiest one percent. On a very cold day, a hundred people gathered across the street to protest the president. I spoke with several people who had never participated in a protest before – average folks who just felt compelled to be there. A lot of people were concerned about health care, and nervous about having no insurance. Some college students voiced concerns about the cuts to the low interest student loan programs – cuts that will add over $2000 to their debt load. The cuts in the recently passed budget reconciliation package were frightening enough, but the cuts proposed for 2007 are terrifying to many who were there. Somehow cutting food programs for seniors, in order to give the Pentagon even more money didn’t seem to reflect the values of those present outside the Radisson Center on Wednesday.

One young man asked me if I thought that standing around outside with signs was accomplishing anything. My answer was yes. It is worthwhile to stand up and be counted, now and again. The majority of those driving by honked, cheered, and waved. The protestors were a symbol of hope for them. As they drove by, they knew they weren’t alone – the way that one can often feel living in this red state. And for those who angrily drove by waving the single digit peace sign – we were providing a public service by giving them someone else to hate. To be a symbol of both hope and hatred can be oddly satisfying. Some days, that’s enough reason to go outside and hold up a sign.

“The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naive and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.” H.L. Mencken

This was published in the February 10, 2006 Conway Daily Sun.

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