When a Gay Man Votes Against Equality
This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.
February 17th, 2009
Minnesota is generally considered to be a blue state and state politics are dominated by the DFL (Democratic) Party, with Democrats holding a two-thirds majority of both houses. Even so, it appears that Marty’s bill hasn’t got a chance.
Acknowledging the setback of California’s Proposition 8 vote of last November, Marty said his bill is not going to pass this year, but he said he hopes it wins the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee after a hearing later this month.
Yet I’m very appreciative of Marty’s efforts. Even beginning the conversation moves us closer to our goals of equality under the law.
But I am also frustrated and annoyed.
I am frustrated that the Democratic leadership in a state that prides itself in its liberal tradition will not make equality for gay citizens a priority. I understand why – it’s because they don’t have to. In a state in which they have zero chance of losing power, no promises have to be made or kept, especially to an unpopular minority.
But I’m even more frustrated by gay State Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley (pictured). Koering has announced that he will not be voting for Marty’s bill.
He says even though he’s gay, he will vote against the legislation because lawmakers have bigger fish to fry dealing with a budget deficit estimated at five to seven billion dollars.
While “we’re too busy with the economy” is certainly the excuse of choice this year for every legislator unwilling to fight for equality, it really is awfully stupid. It is based on the ridiculous notion that all of a legislator’s time will be spent dealing specifically with the economy – a notion that some of us would find admirable, but is far far from reality. And how on earth could voting “yes” take up more time than voting “no”.
But, as with the Democrats, I understand Koering’s decision. He is the representative of a very conservative district, one that would almost certainly respond to a pro-marriage vote by replacing him with a homophobe. And I can sympathize with a guy who sees no point in political suicide when there’s no up-side to such a choice.
He would have sacrificed his carreer for nothing. And why should he sacrifice when others won’t support marriage even though it would cost them nothing?
And I certainly don’t favor reprisals against Koering. Our community is advantaged by having him in office. He has shown himself to be willing to take a risk to protect gay Minnesotans when his vote mattered.
In April 2005, Koering provide the crucial vote needed to kill an effort to force a constitutional marriage ban vote onto the floor of the Senate (a quarter of Democrats were unwilling). As a result, anti-gay conservatives ran a campaign of homophobia against him in support of a primary opponent, highlighting his opposition to the anti-gay amendment.
I think Koering will be with us on the day that his vote will be needed. But it galls me that announcements of this sort give permission to those looking for a reason not to support equality today. It allows them an out, “why should we vote for marriage when the gay guy won’t”?
As I said, the whole situation is frustrating and annoying and irritating.