Feb. 15, 2004
bigger fish to fry
SC Statehouse Report
15, 2004 - - If state lawmakers don't have anything better
to do than talk about gay marriage and the Ten Commandments,
they should stay home and save taxpayers some money.
At a time when the state is short millions of dollars to fund
its priorities, has critical educational needs and is considering
a major restructuring of how government works, spending time
on election-year wedge issues is nothing more than wasteful
What's happening in Columbia is some GOP House members are
trying to shore up their conservative bases by introducing
bills that don't have much substantive meaning. Gay marriage
and the Ten Commandments are perfect examples:
Ten Commandments. The House spent much of Wednesday's
session discussing a resolution proposed by Rep. Thad Viers,
R-Myrtle Beach, to encourage Congress to pass a constitutional
amendment to allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed in
Bypassing arguments on the constitutional separation of church
and state, the proposal is essentially meaningless because
it only asks Congress to do something. In practical terms,
state legislative resolutions frequently get passed and sent
to Congress where they promptly are shelved. Why? Because
Congress is busy enough with its own issues.
So why would the resolution be introduced? To allow conservative
forces to rally around the Ten Commandments for the media,
get a story in the hometown newspaper and seem like they're
doing something for conservative allies. In addition, they
can use the vote on the measure, which passed 89-19, to target
and alienate anybody who opposed the bill. (Many support the
values of the Ten Commandments, but voted against the bill
because they believe in the separation of church and state.)
In short, it's an election-year political ploy to make some
lawmakers look like they are doing something at home and allow
them to use the vote against political enemies in November.
Gay marriage. For the record, gay marriage is against
the law in South Carolina. The legislature outlawed it in
1996 with this clear, specific language: "A marriage
between persons of the same sex is void ab initio and against
the public policy of this State."
Now come Reps. Gloria Haskins, R-Greenville, and Marty Coates,
R-Florence, who propose two identical bills that say, "Any
marriage entered into by persons of the same sex in any other
jurisdiction must be considered and treated in all respects
as having no legal force or effect in this State and must
not be recognized by this State."
Regardless of what you think about the policy of gay marriage,
lawmakers supporting the measures seem to be capitalizing
on national headlines to say the current clear law isn't good
enough. Haskins insisted her proposal wasn't election-year
politics, but a measure to reinforce state policy.
"This in no way violates an individual's civil rights,"
she said. "I'm not intending to tell them what to do.
I'm just reinforcing what our public policy is."
Frankly, it is telling people what they can't do. It's blatant
discrimination against a group of people who are easy to pick
on. Also, there are lots of people in the state who say the
proposal does violate their civil rights.
When asked whether her opinion of the proposal would change
if the words "of the same sex"were replaced by "of
Latino descent," Haskins, who was born in Colombia, got
a little flustered and replied, "That's comparing apples
If the proposal would have said, for example, any marriages
of blacks or Latinos or Irish or WASPs outside South Carolina
shouldn't be recognized inside the state, citizen groups,
the NAACP, the Christian Coalition, the ACLU and the like
would be screaming about the state's backwardness. Just because
it targets gays doesn't make the proposal nondiscriminatory.
In short, this is what your SC House has been up to - - putting
election-year politics above the real needs of the state.
If you think lawmakers should focus efforts on more important
state business, give them a call and let them know your opinion.
Unless you call, you'll see more headlines in coming weeks
that highlight hot-button political wedges.
This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:
2/9: One use for a proctologist
To the editor, regarding last week's seat
Why does this seem so reasonable and universally
enforced except in SC? I know where to find the heads of the
State Senators who are against this law however it would take
a proctologist to extract them.
-- Name withheld upon request, San Diego,
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