Civil unions in Hawaii? And Illinois? Marriage possibly coming to New York and Maryland? Credit the states’ openly gay lawmakers, of which there are only 85 across the nation, the AP calculates. (That’s among 7,382 total, so we know some of you are pulling a Roy Ashburn on us!) It’s folks like Illinois’ Reps. Greg Harris (who is HIV-positive to boot) and Deborah Mell (elected to the State House in 2008, pictured), who’s rubbing her same-sex partner Christin Baker in her colleagues faces at official events, and announced her engagement on the chamber floor, that are changing hearts and minds of those who do The Lawmaking. Or at least making the issue of marriage inequality impossible to ignore.
“For my colleagues, knowing that I am not allowed to marry the person that I love and want to marry, that’s very powerful,” said Duane, a Democrat from Manhattan. “It’s more difficult for them to take for granted the right they have to marry when I don’t have it.” The gay lawmakers have impact in two important ways. Their speeches, often evoking personal themes, can sometimes sway wavering colleagues, and they can forge collegial relationships even with ideological foes through day-to-day professional and social interaction.
[...] In Hawaii, where a civil unions bill was signed into law last month, one of the key players was House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro, a gay Democrat. Oshiro stood up in the closing minutes of the 2010 session to force a House vote on the measure, which was approved but vetoed in July by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle. In September, Oshiro won a primary election over a former Honolulu councilman who strongly opposed civil unions, then beat a Republican in November — ensuring the bill would re-emerge this year with a supportive Democrat, Neil Abercrombie, taking over as governor. For Oshiro, the key moment was deciding to make a personal plea to members of his Democratic caucus to overcome their doubts and agree to a vote on civil unions in April 2010. “I was thinking I wouldn’t be able to really look in the mirror, knowing I had just let it fade,” he said. “Ultimately, the caucus supported bringing it to the floor, even if some of them didn’t support the bill. That was my one `ask,’” he said. “The governor vetoed it, but it really set the stage for this year.”
So to all the openly gay lawmakers out there, keep talking about how gay you are. I’m not kidding! When you bump into one of your anti-opponents in the hall, mention how your son just had a piano recital, or how your daughter banged up her knee playing basketball and she only has health insurance because your partner’s job covers even her non-biological kids.