Sunday, January 02, 2005

Gay Rights in Virginia

David Lampo of the Virginia Log Cabin Republicans lobs a warning shot across the bow of those religious conservatives in the Old Dominion (particularly the Family Foundation, widely acknowledged as the most effective lobbying group in Richmond) who read too much, and too confidently, into the results of the November 2 election.

In an article in today's Washington Post Outlook section, Lampo points out that, despite claims to the contrary, neither anti-gay marriage initiatives in 11 states nor a more general rise in voting by churchgoers delivered the election to George W. Bush. He notes, for instance, that most of the anti-gay initiatives were in red states sure to vote for Bush in any case, and that Bush outpolled the initiatives in key states like Ohio.

He concludes:

In short, the perception of some, including the Family Foundation of Virginia, that the 2004 election represented a setback for gay and lesbian rights is wrong.

Accordingly, Virginia legislators and political leaders should not accept arguments by evangelical advocates that any support for equality for gays and lesbians will lead to their inevitable defeat in the 2005 elections.

I could have told him that. In a poll I coordinated for Virginians for Justice (predecessor to Equality Virginia, the statewide gay-rights lobbying group) in 2001, Virginia voters indicated by wide margins that a legislator's vote to repeal the state's sodomy law would either have no effect on who they would vote for in the next election, or it would influence them positively to support the pro-gay politician.

As I noted in an article published in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star at the time,
Asked "Currently, according to Virginia law, it is illegal for consenting adults to have oral sex in the state of Virginia; a proposal has been made to eliminate the Virginia law; should the Virginia law be eliminated?" 61.4 percent of Republicans answered "yes" (65.2 percent overall).

Now, some members of the General Assembly say privately that they would support the repeal of the CAN [Crimes Against Nature] law, but that they would have hell to pay on Election Day if they did. This is simply not true.

Survey participants were asked:

"Suppose your representative in the House of Delegates or the State Senate voted to eliminate the Virginia law. Would that make you more likely to vote for that person, less likely to vote for them, or would it have no impact on your vote?" Overall, 82.9 percent of Virginians said that they would either be more likely to vote for that representative, or it would have no impact on their vote; 83.5 percent of Republicans answered the same way, as did 77.5 percent of Democrats.

In other words, state legislators who vote to repeal the Crimes Against Nature law will have little or nothing to worry about in their re-election bids. The fear they cite is a red herring.

Republicans are part of a broad "leave us alone" coalition that wants the government to stop breathing down our necks. As speaker of the House of Delegates Vance Wilkins told The Washington Post, "It’s simply a matter of individual liberty versus not having the government be a nanny." We don’t trust the government to run our businesses, and we certainly don’t trust it to run our sex lives.

The spirit of Barry Goldwater lives on in Virginia.

Even with the far more combustible issue of same-sex marriage, the fear and trepidation claimed by some legislators is exaggerated. As Lampo makes clear in his article, "60 percent of voters expressed support for either gay marriage (25 percent) or civil unions (35 percent). Half of all Republican voters also expressed such support, with 20 percent opting for marriage and 30 percent for civil unions."

These are not the sorts of numbers that portend electoral defeat. The fact is, most voters -- gay and straight -- are most concerned about taxes, overregulation of business enterprises, transportation bottlenecks, and whether their streets are cleaned after a snowstorm, a view echoed by blogger Tony Iovino (who calls himself "a red mind in a blue state"):

I support gay unions because I don't see how that hurts me, a middle-aged, suburban, 25 years-married heterosexual father of two. Will my neighbors pay their taxes, bring in their garbage pails, and keep their house neat? Then what the hell do I care what they do behind closed doors?

Well said.

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