Sunday, July 23, 2006

Why This Democrat (Probably) Won't Be Voting for Stephanie Herseth

It's always frustrating when we have to vote against some of our deeply-held convictions in order not to violate others of our deeply-held convictions. And so, since Rep. Stephanie Herseth has decided to ally herself with the unconstitutional and homophobic effort to push the Federal Marriage Amendment, she has lost my vote. Probably.

Herseth is also a strong advocate of women's reproductive freedom. But I am sick and tired of being manipulated in a battle to ensure that the least offensive candidate get into office. I don't want to vote for the least offensive candidate. I want to vote for the best candidate. That may mean that I do not vote for any candidate for the House in the next election.

This is not the first time that Herseth has disappointed me with her stance on gay rights. After her last anti-gay vote, I saw her at the fair and told her how upset I was. The usually cool and poised politician surprised me with her anger. She had clearly had enough of being challenged by queer activists and allies, and she lost no time in telling me that Democrats could not allow the Republicans to set the agenda.

And I do realize that all of this furor over same-sex marriage is a smokescreen to move our focus away from the devastation the Bush Administration has caused to the U.S. and to the world. It's a very effective one! And I'm torn between not wanting to help Herseth sell out her constituents and not wanting to allow the smokescreen to work.

But at the same time, I am troubled by Herseth's statement* that "marriage is a religious based institution and should be reserved for one man and one woman." In fact, and despite her belief, marriage is a legal contract. Making same-sex marriage legal would not mandate that church clergy perform such ceremonies. In fact, and despite her belief, the United States Government should not be in the business of dictating religious belief - that, in fact, is unconstitutional. In fact, and despite her belief, church clergy regularly officiate at same-sex unions. In fact, and despite her belief, it is the legal rights and benefits that come with the legal - and not religious - contract of marriage that same-sex couples so desperately seek.

Herseth goes on to say that "an amendment should not prevent individual states from recognizing civil unions." Gee, thanks. It's good to know that in Herseth's fantasy-land, some states, like Maine and Massachusetts (for the time being), will recognize same-sex marriages. Of course, in the real world that the rest of us live in, such an amendment makes it possible for individual states to refuse to recognize such unions, and that, of course, is exactly what's happening now, as state after state passes legislation to this end. (It's coming up for a vote in SD this fall.)

"It is my hope that both sides will use the debate on this issue to engage in a respectful dialogue that will result in a better understanding of the deeply held convictions on both sides." Because that's really the problem, isn't it - all of us queers just don't understand how much the good Christians of SD hate us.

"I believe that all Americans should be treated with respect, which is why I supported efforts to increase penalties for crimes motivated by hate." See? There's some good that she does. And so I can't say for sure that I won't vote for her. After all, the other options are even worse. But - and I say this with all due respect - both her couching of same-sex marriage as an issue of mutual respect for and understanding of people who OPPOSE same-sex marriage, and my waffling about whether or not to hold my nose and vote for her, are copouts. And I expect better. From Herseth, and from myself.

*In a letter to a local gay activist, who shared her comments with me.

1 comment:

Karen Engelhart said...

I was delighted to read your posting on Stephanie Herseth's comments concerning marriage. Even if the statement that the whole same sex marriage issue is a diversion--and it likely is-- that doesn't really decrease the discriminatory impact that the focus has.

What I found even more troubling, however, was her comment "marriage is a religious based institution and should be reserved for one man and one woman." Following the logic of this statement, it seems that we need to ask if the people who were married in front of a justice of the peace are in fact really married. After all, if marriage is religious institution then atheists and agnostics cannot be married either. Further, exactly which religion is marriage based on? All religions, or merely the Christian religion?