An Open Letter

An Open Letter to Governor Jim Douglas (And Other Republicans Looking to Stay in Office)

gay_marriage_mailbagsffembeddedprod_affiliate56Since Vermont Governor Jim Douglas announced his intention to veto the gay-rights bill that looks likely to pass his state’s legislature, he’s been swamped with letters and emails from both sides of the gay marriage divide, some calling him homophobic, others calling him a champion of “traditional values.” We’re the first to admit that Queerty is pretty strident in its support for marriage equality, but rather than scream “Biggot!” at Douglas, we want to talk to him– and to other Republicans who don’t support gay marriage — in the language they know best: Politics.

Dear Gov. Douglas/ Republican Considering Voting Against Gay Rights–

You’ve picked a terrible time and place to stand up against gay rights. A year ago, your decision to veto a historic bill, the first of its kind to be successful, would have outraged gays and lesbians, but barely raised an eyebrow in the mainstream, but times have changed– and will continue to change rapidly. It’s not just that gays and lesbians are energized by the recent loss of marriage in California, though, as you may have noticed by angry hordes of protesters appearing at your public events, it certainly has an impact.

As much as we support and believe in the moral authority and vigor of the gay rights community, the reality is– and will continue to be– that gays and lesbians alone are not a cohesive or organized enough group to win their rights on their own. The hard truth is that gays and lesbians have been fighting for their equal rights for decades and while we’ll continue to develop better and more effective ways to make our case, social conservatives have never had a problem ignoring the complaints of minorities. Put another way, we’re not so arrogant as to believe that the Republican party will pay attention to the needs of a voting bloc as small as the LGBT movement.

This has been the lay of the land now for the last 40 years, but what the Republican party is just now beginning to discover is that the ground has shifted underneath them. George Friedman, founder of Strategic Forecasting, Inc. whose been widely lauded for his ability to predict trends, writes in his book The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century:

“Traditional distinctions between men and women are collapsing. As women live longer and have fewer children, they no longer are forced by circumstance into the traditional roles they had to maintain prior to urbanization and industrialization. Nor is the family the critical economic instrument it once was. Divorce is no longer economically catastrophic and premarital sex is inevitable. Homosexuality–and civil unions without reproduction– also become unextraordinary. If sentiment is the basis of marriage, they why indeed is gay marriage not as valid as heterosexual marriage? If marriage is decouple from reproduction, then gay marriage logically follows. All these changes are derived from the the radical shifts in life patterns that are part of the end of the population explosion.”

He concludes that while “there are movements defending various aspects of this evolution, like gay rights, but the transformation is not being planned. It is simply happening.”

jenniferchrislerThe argument made again and again against gay marriage is that it would redefine the ‘traditional’ role of marriage, but in reality, marriage has already been redefined and has been since women started to become a major part of the work force. We’re well aware that when conservatives rail against gay marriage what they’re really against is the dissolution of the family structure where a woman stays at home raising the children and men work and control the levers of power. This dream, now solely based on nostalgia, is what props up the Republican party, whether it’s called “family values” or “Good Ol’ American values”, but as some in your party are realizing, this world doesn’t exist anymore and short of a Christian version of Al Qaeda taking control of the U.S., it’s never going to return.

This is what should worry you, not the angry gay protesters. Anti-gay positions are being held by a dwindling and aging demographic and for the rest of us, while Republicans and conservatives continue to win in ballot initiatives and legislation narrowly, you’ve already lost the far more important battle of how the narrative of gay rights has been framed. In an earlier time, the idea of two men or two women marrying could be seen as an existential threat to the American family, but in an age where people are marrying later in life, having fewer children and even in the heterosexual community, forming unique family structures, it’s hard to drum up much fear that gays and lesbians marrying represents any real danger to society.

Instead, gay rights are now seen as just that– “rights”, as much a part of the American pursuit of equality as voting rights or equal employment. You may disagree with this perception, but you can’t argue that the debate has shifted from a question of privilege to a question of rights. It might sound semantic, but history being what it is in this country, Americans are wary of voting to strip or deny one of their fellow countrymen their rights.

Even in California, where voters did just that, they only won by a narrow victory and there’s nothing to indicate that anti-gay marriage supporters are gaining any traction. In fact, over the weekend in an unscientific survey taken by state. Sen. William Doyle, 55% of Vermonters said they support gay marriage, 38% oppose it and 7% are undecided.

Four years ago, taking up an anti-gay stance was a no-brainer for Republicans. George W. Bush’s 2004 announcement that he supported a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was pure political theater designed to give conservative Republicans an easy talking point to whip up voter support, but the times have changed, as McCain strategist Scott Schmidt recently admitted:

“I think the Republican Party should not be seen by a broad majority of the electorate as focused with singularity on issues like gay marriage. The attitudes of voters about gay marriage and about domestic partnership benefits for gay couples are changing very rapidly and for voters under the age of 30, they are completely disconnected from what has been Republican orthodoxy on these issues…Any campaign that would go out and try to demonize people on the basis of their sexual orientation is abhorrent and I suspect that that campaign would be rejected.”

Truthfully, as irritating as Douglas’ veto is in the short term, we’re delighted that it gives us yet another peg to remind people of the fundamental inequality and discrimination gays and lesbians in this country face. Douglas will find himself, through nobody’s fault but his own, a poster boy for intolerance and homophobia– and ultimately, a historical anachronism whose name will be remembered in the future in the same vein as George Wallace.

Republicans may still be winning battles today, but they’re losing the war. Every victory they’re making now further highlights how little they have in common with everyday Americans. We’re not so naive as to think that conservatism is dead in America, but this brand of it is. If Republicans don’t find a way to craft a message that’s more in line with the realities of American life, they may yet get the opportunity to stop gay rights in the short term, but the victories will be Pyrrhic.

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  • petted

    The fact that the public is debating and discussing same sex marriages is itself proof that times are changing.

  • Wayne

    If their time has really passed, then maybe somebody should tell the Democrats to stop being so afraid of those boogeyman Republicans and start actually doing their jobs and stand up against bigotry and inequality and start making some real CHANGE happen.

  • BillyBob Thornton

    FINALLY someone has compared the anti-gay bigots to George Wallace. I’ve been preaching that to my friends, but most are too young to get the comparison. I think it should be part of our rhetoric.

  • Thom

    Marriage is an economic issue. Studies show that married people are slightly healthier (cost less) and wealthier (pay more taxes) than their single counterparts, and this is true for gay people as well. Therefore, it is in the state’s best economic interest to allow for marriage equality. And sadly, for the governor, his intention to veto this bill is full of hypocrisy.

  • atdleft

    I hope this means the tide is turning on marriage. If we soon win in Vermont then win in California (either in court this year or at the ballot box next year), I hope that gets us on track to finally win back our rights stripped away in so many states over the years.

  • Jaroslaw

    I can’t for the life of me figure out why this Douglas character doesn’t just say “if the legislature give it to me, I will follow the “will of the majority” and sign it.”

    He doesn’t have to vigorously support or denounce either side.

  • Dick Mills

    That was very well said, Japhy. And your Pyrrhic analogy is only more salient when you realize that even though Prop H8 (and the other anti-gay bills) passed, conservatives (overwhelmingly) lost last November. Their message was being heard, but that didn’t translate into victories for elected officials.

  • Chris

    @ Billybob: I make the Wallace comparison a lot. In fact I’ve called Gov. Douglas’ office and others on the wrong side of history and told them just that pointedly but politely: My line is “Is there a George Wallace fan club? Is there an Orville Faubus fan club?” No.”

  • Alexa

    It’s articles like this that keep me coming back here. If only the right people would read it and understand.

  • Stephen Kay

    I have a question: Are there enough votes in the state house and senate to override the veto? Does Vermont have an override option?

  • Japhy Grant

    @Stephen Kay: It’s a good question– it appears there are enough votes in the Senate, but at the moment, there doesn’t appear to be enough votes in the House to override Douglas’ veto. Stay tuned.

  • BillyBob Thornton

    @Chris. Good for you! I’m sure there are others, but where is it in print and in interviews??

  • Cam

    This is the same governor that would not push for Megan’s law. So lets see, he wants to protect child rapists but is against gay marriage. How messed up is this guys world?

  • bigjake75

    I have no clue why he would do this…Vermont is a gay friendly state for the most part…what could this possibly do for his career? Why would he veto this? the two senators from Vermont are way more liberal than him and they get elected? It makes no sense from a political point of view…which leads me to believe he is either mad, or truly has a moral objection. Only he knows for sure.

  • Steve

    There are enough votes in the Vermont house to say that the text of this bill will be included in the language of every bill that passes this year. If he is willing to veto every bill, including the budget, then he can successfully veto equal rights for gay people. Otherwise, if he has to sign anything this year, it will pass. My guess is, he must at least sign a budget.

  • Alec

    @Steve: Could you explain a little bit more how that works?

  • stevekay1

    @Alec: Yes please do.Is there enuff will in the house to include this issue in all the bills that go thru.

  • Steve

    In Vermont, it takes a 2/3 majority to override a veto.
    But, a simple majority can write the text of a bill.

    This bill will be vetoed. If they can come up with a 2/3 majority, they can override that veto. That override seems unlikely. Lets assume for now that they wont succeed in the override.

    Next week, or next month, another bill will be considered. A section can be inserted into that bill, identical to the text of this bill. When that other bill passes and is signed, the effect of that section would be the same as if this bill were passed and signed. However, it only takes a simple majority to insert that section into that other bill.

    If the Governor wants to have heat in his public housing this winter, he at least has to sign a budget bill. A simple majority can put the marriage language into that budget bill. Sure, he can veto the budget, but then the entire state government cannot spend a nickel for a year.

    So, if a simple majority of legislators just put that the marriage language in every bill, until one of them is signed (and, if they can stick to that position and follow through), they can prevail. The Governor cannot veto everything for an entire year.

    In practice, this is harder than it seems. Various bills actually benefit constituents of various legislators. So, usually, some legislators will peel off and trade their vote on one issue to get something else. But, it can be done.

    In balance, the Governor has promised to veto the “gay marriage bill”. But, he may be able politically to sign a “budget bill” or a “school bill” that happens to include gay marriage. After all, that wouldn’t be the “gay marriage bill”. Some of his right-wing supporters would squawk, but most people would just let it pass, caring only that the schools will have new math tutors or whatever.

  • Topher

    Just a quick point of clarification, while this may be the first time the Vermont legislature passes a bill to legalize gay marriage, it is not the first time in America. In fact, the California legislature has twice passed gay marriage only to be vetoed by a Republican governor hiding behind much of the same rhetoric as Douglas.

  • Alec

    @Steve: What’s the probability of that happening, though?

  • bigjake75

    anyone sick of all the political games yet? How about we all just continue to demand enforcement of our rights? The rights belong to us, and our government is depriving us. both parties are playing games and making calculated moves. Just as slavery was wrong, just as not letting women vote was wrong, gays and lesbians being second class citizens is wrong. Enough with the games and phony compromises. This is a moral issue, one of fairness and the constitution. Let us not get weak in the knees!

  • Chris

    I cannot fathom that people would laud his decision as saving traditional values. Though I guess technically, if you look at the history of our country, bigotry IS a traditional value. What a disgusting person.

Comments are closed.