"Optimism is true moral courage"
Who would have thought that controversy could possibly arise over any amendment which emerges from the New Hampshire Senate with a 23-0 stamp of approval?
That's just what has happened with CACR 17 which would add language to our Constitution preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Sounds good to me. Any amendment needs 60 percent of the entire elected body in both the Senate and the House to go on the ballot and then needs two-thirds approval by voters.
Thus, it's not like amending the constitution is any easy process. With 388 or so current House members, 233 votes would be needed; if the usual 70 or so Reps are absent, they would in effect all be counted as no votes; thus the 60 percent threshhold moves up to something like 75 percent of those presnent and voting.
That's a high bar indeed, but when I saw this amendment had passed the Senate unanimously, I decided it didn't need to be followed closely when it went to the House Judiciary Committee.
Even when I began receiving a series of negative emails, mostly from religious groups, undoubtedly inspired by anti-gay groups like Cornerstone, I was not overly concerned.
After all 23-0 is 23-0.
Boy, was I wrong!
After Senator David Pierce, D-Hanover, spent 40 minutes talking about the amendment earlier this week (I'm told the entire hearing is available on the House web site), a coalition of the right wing and a segment of the gay community joined forces in opposition.
No, you can't make this stuff up.
One of the leading opponents, if you can believe it, was Commerce Chair Ed Butler, D-Harts Location, a leader in the fight for gay marriage. Also, former Rep and gay marriage champion Mo Baxley came out against the amendment.
Ostensibly, some in the gay community were concerned that the amendment does not go far enough, that it fails to include rights for the trans-gendered.
Uh-oh! The bathroom bill all over again, I thought. You may recall that the trans-gender bill, which passed the House the last time Democrats were in control, was dubbed "the bathroom bill" by Republican Chair John The Elder Sununu and became a rallying cry for the right. It arrived virtually dead on arrival in the Senate.
Truth in blogging--I've always been a champion not only of gay rights but of equal rights for all. In fact, it was I who, after the "bathroom bill" originally failed in the House, who realized that an unusually large number of Demcorats were absent for that vote. I called Rep. Jim Splaine, R-Portsmouth, and he arranged for reconsideration. Speaker Terie, D-Portsmouth, actually left the chair to speak in favor of the bill; Republicans (not I) tried to water it down with a dozen or so amendments; all failed. Voila!
The bathrroom bill passed, but the publicity was so bad that Democrats regretted their action. Recall that earlier this week, by sheer coincidence, I had reported that Norelli had told me in a parking garage that there would be "no more bathroom" bills to embarass her party this time around.
You're beginning to put one and one together, I can tell.
Apparently not wanting the bill to come to the floor of the House, Norelli and the cowardly Demcrats went to a sponsor of the bill, Butler, to be the bad guy in the Judiciary Committe which is chaired by another sponsor of the bill, Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, the same Marjorie Smith who took a walk on HB492 for legalization, regulation, and taxation of mariuana last week.
Oh yes, you can see how games or being played with a simply amendment which had passed the Senate unamimously.
Butler (he can never be trusted, as he proved with the gun study amendment on the Hoell bill after he botched the floor debate earlier) and Company apparently have used the trans-gender bill as a red herring because the gay company really fears letting anything go to the voters.
When gay marriage was being passed, my friends in the gay community didn't want to let the voters weigh in, but there in fact was no way voters could have weiged in; New Hamsphire is not a referendum state. The only way voters could offer an opinion on gay rights is through the amendment process.
Many of us had thought the gay community would welcome the Pierce amendment and the chance it offered for voters to put their stamp of approval on equal rights for all.
Many of us are apparently wrong.
Butler and Baxley (whom I consider a personal friend) have joined forces with the ultra right in an attempt to kill this bill, stillborn in committee.
Clearly, with the gay community split and the far right adamantly opposed, CACR!7 stands very little chance of getting a majority, let alone the 233 votes it will need to emerge from the House and get to the ballot for people to vote on.
So, since it's a simply amendment, let's look at it word by word. As always, I feel the need to point out that I am not a lawyer (proudly so), but it seems to me that the wording of this amendment would certainly include the trans-gendered in the panolply of protections. However, both sides realize that with CACR17 on the November ballot, millions of special interest money could and probably would flood into the state, thus chaning the character of the coming election.
Here's the wording in its entirety.
"Art. 2--Natural Rights--All invididuals have certain natural, essential and inherent rights, amng which are the enjohying and defending life and liberty; acquring, possessing, and protectng property; and, in a word, of seeking and obtaining happiness. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by this state on account of race, creed, color, sex, nation orientation [no change thus far] or sexual orientation."
The only change to our constitution would be the addition of those three words "or sexual orientation".
Again, I'm no lawyer, but it seems clear to me that "sexual orientation" would include transgender rights. To the extent the gay community would want the words "transgender rights" spelled out and specifically included in languate of the amendment seems both a step too far and wrong-headed.
Such language would certainly doom the amendment to defeat, if not on the House floor, then certainly when it gets to the people.
Some anti-gay people have contended all along that gays have a special agenda, that they want more than simply equal rights. This idea is totally wrong, but by throwing a roadblock in front of this amendment, Butler and my friend Mo Baxley are needly providing fodder for the anti-gay community.
I suspect they are doing so not because they fear transgendered will be left behind but because they fear the people will fail to provide the two-thirds vote to pass this amendment.
I stand solidly with Senator Pierce and sponsors of this bill (other than Butler) who are confident the people will accept it.
I prefer to be an optimist rather than a sniveling pessimist. After all, my newly fond (albeit not newly uttered) words to live by are from the great Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, "Optimism is true moral courage."
Perhaps Butler and Mo lack the courage to move forward, but they should not be allowed to drag the gay community down with them.
CACR17 should be passed on to voters in its current form; senators said so unanimously.
Senator Pierce's co-sponsors include: Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, Sen Peg Gilmour, Sen. Molly Kelly, Sen. Betty Lasky, Sen. David Watters, Sen Jeff Woodburn, all Democrats, and four Democratic Reps--Butler, Harding, Smith, and Gary Richardson.
Sadly, that's all Democrats on an amendment which should be accepted by all. As I told Senator Pierce, there is at least one Republican who would have happily co-sponsored the bill, and he (yes, that would be I) would not have backed out, as Butler did, when the going got tough.
Sad, sad, sad, but all so true.