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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.

Timothy Kincaid

February 17th, 2009

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, has introduced the Marriage and Family Protection Act, a bill that would open the definition of marriage in Minnesota to same-sex couples.

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.

Comments

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Stefano A
February 17th, 2009 | LINK

I think Koering will be with us on the day that his vote will be needed.

Why would you think that(?), when he’s already said he will vote “no” now, and with such a lame-ass excuse insenuating that they’re incapable of doing more than one thing at once. Especially if he’s so concerned that…

He is the representative of a very conservative district, one that would almost certainly respond to a pro-marriage vote by replacing him

If he’s concerned about that, then he’d still vote no.

Either way, his argument is stupid for more than the reasons than it would “offend” his constituents or “they have better, more important things to do.” He is completely discounting the economic impacts on gay families, ranging from a lack of being able to share medical expenses, being taxed for employee benefits when a partner is covered because they can’t marry, a variety of children’s programs, the added financial burdens on gay families of having to jump through the legal loopholes of “other types of contracts” which can run into the thousands of dollars in attempting to approximate the protections granted by proxy to married couples.

I’m diappointed that you would offer such an apologia in order to mitigate him throwing his community under the bus.

He would have sacrificed his carreer for nothing.

Horse pucky. He would have sacrificed his career for the ideals of the US constitution, loyalty to his gay brothers and sisters.

As I said earlier, if he’s so fearful of loosing an election he’d vote no anyway.

Stefano A
February 17th, 2009 | LINK

The fact that he voted to block anti-gay legislation to amend the constitution does not mitigate voting no on proactive legislation.

As they say, with friends like him, who needs enemies.

Timothy Kincaid
February 17th, 2009 | LINK

I’m diappointed that you would offer such an apologia in order to mitigate him throwing his community under the bus.

I’m looking at the outcome.

Option A: Koering votes “No”

Result A: The marriage bill fails due to overwhelming Democratic opposition. Koering stays in office and – based on his history – may vote with us in the future.

Option B: Koering votes “Yes”

Result B: The marriage bill fails due to overwhelming Democratic opposition. Koering is replaced with conservative Republican who will never vote with us ever.

Those are the predictable results.

John
February 17th, 2009 | LINK

Yet isn’t Koering using the exact same reasoning that the Dems on the national level have put forth when it comes to repealing DADT and enacting Federal Civil Unions? I’m still not convinced that they are willing to spend the political capital needed to successfully enact ENDA and Uniting Families.

Stefano A
February 17th, 2009 | LINK

Timothy:

“I’m looking at the outcome”

I grasp your thinking. I just don’t buy it. He was elected to office in 2002. He voted “no” on the constitutional ban in 2005.

As I said, if he were concerned about losing elections for pro-gay votes he wouldn’t have voted no in 2005.

If you recall, after the no vote in 2005 he was re-elected in 2006, despite the religious activists attempts to defeat him. So a yes vote now is no guarantee he couldn’t/wouldn’t be re-elected.

BTW: You make it sound like Marty has said he couldn’t get it passed. When what he has said is that the DFL probably could pass it, but the Gov would vetoe it.

Timothy Kincaid
February 17th, 2009 | LINK

BTW: You make it sound like Marty has said he couldn’t get it passed. When what he has said is that the DFL probably could pass it, but the Gov would vetoe it.

Did you get that from another source? All the sources I’ve read say that this bill has exactly zero likelihood of passing the legislature. Neither the House sponsor, the Senate sponsor, nor the local gay groups give it a chance.

Stefano A
February 17th, 2009 | LINK

Although most Republicans oppose gay and lesbian marriage, House minority leader Marty Seifert said that Democrats, who control both houses, could pass it but that it would almost certainly be vetoed by Gov Tim Pawlenty. But with DFL candidates for governor in the Legislature, he suspects they’ll want to avoid a floor vote they’d have to defend later.

Source:
The Star-Tribune
Randy Furst
Roberta Hovde
c. 18 December 2008

BTW: A digression to my previous point.

Just as a yes vote now wouldn’t necessarily rule out his re-election (since he was re-elected in 2006 after his pro-gay vote) there is also no guarantte that a no vote now will get him re-elected.

Personal motivations/political amibitions aside, either the man stands up for the principles of equality or he doesn’t. And in any event, the reason he gave for voting no remains a very lame one, if for no other reason than the very points Sen Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, tried to make at the “Freedom to Marry Day Rally”.

“Why in these hard times would you stand on the necks of couples?”

And Marty’s gender-neutral wording would benefit both straight and gay couples in that regard.

Stefano A
February 17th, 2009 | LINK

And regarding “gay groups”…

I have no problem with them agreeing to “take things slow” and no “over-push” the issue right now.

But those decisions about lobbying methodology have nothing to do with the lame-ass excuse that the sentate can’t deal with more than one issue at a time.

Stefano A
February 17th, 2009 | LINK

Stepping back for a moment.

We are talking about a floor vote right? Not a committee vote if the bill should pass to the floor?

I mean, if he’d been talking about whether he’d push for a vote now, or if he were on the committee he’d try to delay the vote moving onto the floor for a vote now because he thinks there should be higher prioties, that’s one thing; but, to vote “no” on legislation for the reason he gave, that’s a whole other ball of was so to speak.

Timothy Kincaid
February 17th, 2009 | LINK

Thanks for the source… but I don’t quite read that as the DFL is intending to pass marriage equality.

Timothy Kincaid
February 17th, 2009 | LINK

Right now, Marty is just hoping to get it through the Senate Judiciary Committee.

There are six Democrats (DFL) and three Republicans on the committee. Koering is not a member.

Stefano A
February 17th, 2009 | LINK

So was Koering speaking of how he’d vote if he were on the committe then? Or how he’d vote if it passes out of committee?

I thought he was answering as to how he would vote once it was out of committee.

Just for clarity, I have no problem with Marty or equality advocates wanting to move slow to build a coalition or a stronger vote base, my umbrage is solely with the reason Koering gave for a “no” vote.

mark m
February 18th, 2009 | LINK

I am reminded of the stories my Russian Grandfather told me about Jews who worked for the Nazis. Homos like him are worse than straight phobes. (you don’t get to call yourself GAY just because you sleep with men). I have no room in my heart for people like this, and wouldn’t lift a finger to help them in an emergency.

Duncan
February 18th, 2009 | LINK

I don’t see why being in a safe state would make a Democrat less likely to vote in favour of gay marriage. A safe seat means they are less concerned with the general electorate, which surely makes them more likely to support a minority that is unpopular at large but attached to the party in some way; especially since such elections tend to be decided by the activists, more passionate and extreme than the average voter, at the primaries. This is just the sort of cause that might succeed only on a safe state. It is clean, open and effective administration of bread-and-butter matters that suffers in such a political climate.
On the matter of Koering, I agree that it is a lame excuse, but should people’s (expected) politics be reduced to a simple matter of sexual orientation? Would you call an evangelical a despicable traitor if he voted for, say, disestablishing the Boy Scouts if they did not make membership faith-blind?

Damian
February 18th, 2009 | LINK

I support Koering’s anti-gay stance too. It’s the same as some African-American’s who have the guts to vote against special rights for their people too. We all have the same rights as heterosexuals – to marry anyone of the opposite sex. If Obama or Koering believe that straight relationships are inherently than gay ones because “God is in the mix”, then who are we to question their sacred values? We have no right to challenge a person’s deep faith. What if David Duke believes in the curse of Ham against Blacks? Isn’t that a religious value that needs to be respected because it’s in the holy texts?

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