The Republican revolt that hasn't been noticed. Yet!
It was a Republican revolt that hardly anyone noticed. It was a revolt against the intolerance of the Theopublican movement. It was a revolt in favor of equality of rights and individual choice. It wasn’t huge. It wasn’t earth shattering but it was important.
In Wyoming the Republicans rule. Theopublican Owen Peterson had introduced a measure that would have barred Wyoming from recognizng equal marriage rights for gay couples legally married in other states. It was the sort of bill the Religious Right would assume would sail right through the legislature. Peterson said Wyoming law recognized marriages from other states and that would mean recognizing gay marriages from Massachusetts. Horrors! Hide the children in the storm cellar it’s the end of the world.
And while the Theopublican movement is strong in the Republican Party across the country the West is not the brain-dead American South. The West is the home of old fashioned small government Republicans -- a kind not found in the authoritarian South.
The first anti-marriage amendment to fail a popular vote was in Arizona, the Goldwater state. Even though Republicans are a majority of the voters, and most major elected officials are Republicans, the measure was defeated. It was that libertarian sentiment, something Reagan once said was the real heart of conservatism, that was the final nail in the coffin of that bigoted piece of legislation.
In Wyoming the measure was being debated in the House Rules Committee. It needed to pass here or die. Dan Zwonitzer, a young Republican legislator stood up. He says he had heard all the remarks made by the proponents of the bill and he got angry. He said: “when one of the proponents of the bill said some very infuriating things, it triggered something in me and I went a bit overboard in my off-the-cuff speech, but so many people came up to me afterwards to than[k] me.”
He hadn’t planned on speaking and had no prepared notes but he wrote down later, as best he could what he remembered saying. Here are most of those remarks.
I am not going to speak of specifics regarding this bill, but rather talk about history and philosophy in regards to this issue.
It is an exciting time to be in the legislature while this issue is being debated. I believe this is the Civil Rights struggle of my generation.
Being a student of history, as many of you are, and going back through history, most of history has been driven by the struggle of man against government to endow him with more rights, privileges and liberties to be bestowed upon him.
In all of my high school courses, we only made it through history to World War 2. It wasn’t until college that I really learned of the civil rights movement in the 60’s. My American History professor was black, and we spent a week discussing civil rights. I watched video after video where people stood on the sidelines and yelled and threw things at black students walking into schools, I’ve read editorials and reports by both sides of the issue, and I would think, how could society feel this way, only 40 years ago.
Under a democracy the civil rights struggle continues today, where we have one segment of our society trying to restrict rights and privileges from another segment of our society. My parents raised me to know that this is wrong.
It is wrong for one segment of society to restrict rights and freedoms from another segment of society. I believe many of you have had this conversation with your children.
And children have listened, my generation, the twenty-somethings, and those younger than I understand this message of tolerance. And in 20 years, when they take the reigns of this government and all governments, society will see this issue overturned, and people will wonder why it took so long.
My kids and grandkids will ask me, why did it take so long? And I can say, hey, I was there, I discussed these issues, and I stood up for basic rights for all people.
I echo Representative Childers concerns, that testifying against this bill may cost me my seat. I have two of my precinct committee persons behind me today who are in favor of this bill, as I stand here opposed, and I understand that I may very well lose my election. It cost 4 moderate Republican Senators in Kansas their election last year for standing up on this same issue. But I tell myself that there are some issues that are greater than me, and I believe this is one of them. And if standing up for equal rights costs me my seat so be it. I will let history be my judge, and I can go back to my constituents and say I stood up for basic rights. I will tell my children that when this debate went on, I stood up for basic rights for people.
I can debate the specifics of this bill back and forth as everyone in this room can, but I won’t because the overall theme is fairness, and you know it. I hope you will all let history be your judge with this vote. You all know in your hearts where this issue is going, that it will come to pass in the next 30 years. For that, I ask you to vote no today on the bill. Thank you.
That’s the pre-theocratic Republican Party reasserting itself. Read what these words carefully.
He says he wants to speak about history and philosophy. Republicans don’t do that anymore. They speak about “the base” and God and the Bible. He spoke about “the struggle of man against government to endow him with more rights”. What! These kinds of words have been missing from the Republican Party ever since Ronald Reagan retired.
He recognized the immorality of “one segment of society trying to restrict rights and privileges from another segment os society” and he called that “wrong”. Wrong? Republicans gave up the morality of equality rights for the morality of theocrats long ago. But I guess there was always a Remnant of Republicans clinging to the old ideas.
And what politician, in either party, tends to say things like “If standing up for equal rights costs me my seat so be it.” I mean say it and mean it! Not many.
And it had some impact. Republican Pat Childers spoke out about his lesbian daughter and said that she was born gay and that bills like one “would be violating my daughter’s rights.”
House Speaker Roy Cohee, a Republican, spoke on the bill as well. “Is it a responsible thing of government to say that, OK, as a government, we’ll provide certain benefits, and entitlements and rights to the people of this country and of this state, unless you are this or that? Is that our responsibility to do that? I don’t think it is.”
And Cohee cast the tie-breaking vote defeating the measure. Even one Republican supporter of the bill seemed to be having second thoughts before he cast his yes vote. Tom Lubnau said: “Maybe the right thing to do is stand up for tolerance.” He didn’t in the end but it seemed to be on his mind.
Carrie Evans, the local representative of the Human Rights Campaign, which purports to support gay rights, but is really a lobbying group for the Democratic Party, admitted that conservatives in the state are not quite the same as elsewhere in the country and said the state is of a “special few states that doesn’t already deny recognition to same-sex unions from other areas.” She says that Wyoming is “not very reactionary in terms of social issues. There’s no horrific anti-gay laws on the books, but they also don’t have any laws banning hate crimes even after Matthew Shepard’s death.”
Good! While I can’t watch The Laramie Project, the film about the Shepard case, without breaking down, I vehemently oppose these ill considered hate crime laws. What was down to Shepard was already a crime. Hate crime laws don’t ban the crimes, they are already crimes. Murder is murder no matter the reason it is committed. Assault is assault no matter the thoughts of the criminal.
These laws do not punish people for assault or murder. Other laws already do that. They punish people for having the wrong thoughts. Additional penalties are applied because of the values and views of the criminal. Now I happen to think those values and views are wrong. But we do not punish thoughts in America -- at least we didn’t used to. We punish actions and we should only punish actions that violate the rights of others. The boys who cruelly and viciously killed Matthew Shepard are in prison. They got the punishment they deserved.
Evans said: “There will be a discussion that probably won’t happen for decades about whether it is legal or not for the full-faith-and-credit laws to extend to marriages between same-sex couples.” Well, I think she was wrong. That debate took place. Apparently she missed it.
People need to understand that the Republican Party does have an old-fashioned conservative wing that actually does believe in limited government. And that reflects a lot of the Western values of “live and let live” or “leave us the hell alone or we blow a hole through you” attitude. It is in conflict with the Southern Bible-thumpers who are Johnny-come-latelys to the GOP. And the more the Republicans make the Theopublicans happy the more unhappy they make the West. That is one reason that the Democrats made gains in the West.
The Theopublicans have already made California a fairly safe Democratic state. Now they are seeing states like New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada becoming hard and harder to win. So the Republican Revolt in Wyoming does have some national significance. It symbolizes the bigger conflict within the Republican Party between the more libertarian wing and the socialists of the soul like James Dobson and Jerry Falwell.
Photo: The photo is Don Zwonitzer.