Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I've taken the liberty...

Recently, the Maryland General Assembly was debating a few new legal provisions that have nothing to do with one another. One bans the reading of text messages while driving. The other would legalize gay marriage. Completely unrelated, right? One has to do with the safety of our streets and highways. The other ensures that the state will recognize the right of two taxpaying and consenting adults to enter into a contract with one another.

Far too many accidents, fatal and otherwise, are the product of distracted driving: putting on makeup, eating, trying to find your favorite CD on the floor behind you, yelling at misbehaved children in the backseat, trying to hide narcotics from the cops. Your eyes leave the road for a second or two, and suddenly you find yourself rather uncomfortably positioned underneath a tractor trailer. Or maybe you veer over the double yellow line momentarily. When it comes right down to it, there isn't much difference between driving impaired and driving distracted, especially when one considers the often grisly end result.

There is no text message worth my life. I'll let you decide about yours. This new law will no doubt save lives and make our roads safer; opposition to the bill would seem counterintuitive and perhaps downright irresponsible. Be that as it may, my senator, EJ Pipkin, and a lot of other GOP state senators have decided to oppose the text message ban as an unmitigated attack on civil liberties. A sweeping intrusion of the nanny state government brought to you personally by that notable bete noire, Martin O'Malley. The audacity! I do know this: checking a text message while you are driving is many things, it is not a liberty.

Which brings us to gay marriage. One might reasonably expect good ol' EJ to support gay marriage, you know, as a reaffirmation of civil liberty, freedom, and personal responsibility. The ability of two consenting adults to do what they like, provided it causes no harm to anyone else. Heck, it's practically what George Washington fought for at Yorktown, right?! Who needs more laws telling people what they can't do, right?


It appears that liberty has its limits, which happen to extend to just this side of the GOP's collective comfort level. EJ and the vast majority of the GOP state senate caucus are opposed to gay marriage. They, along with their religious right accomplices, cite scripture, "God's law," and the ability to procreate as foundational principles in the definition of marriage.

First of all, God's law has no place in the laws of the United States, or the several states. Perhaps that is sacrilege to some, but your God might not be my God, and if a few Qur'an toting fundamentalist came to Annapolis and started firebreathing a lot of rhetoric about God's law, you bet that EJ would be apoplectic; spewing Jefferson quotes about the separation of church and state. It's a slippery slope.

Secondly, 'marriage' as defined by the state has nothing to do with God, love, sex, kids, bridal veils, garter belts, plastic cake toppers or apron dances. A marriage is simply a state-recognized contractual bond between two people. Pretty easy to get into, a little tougher to get out of.

Legalizing gay marriage will have virtually zero impact on anyone who isn't gay. But lots of politicians tell us that gay marriage undermines traditional marriage, or that a gay couple raising a child means that child will be prone to interior decorating and tend to use overly expressive hand motions. It's all hogwash, undeserving of a response. And do Republicans really have a problem undermining anything, anyway? The tax policies they advocate undermine the state's fiscal health, and the natural resources policies they espouse undermine the state's environmental health.

So let's throw the theory that Republicans are truly concerned about the future of traditional marriage out the window. The real issue is that gays give Republicans the heebie jeebies. The idea that two people who have the same anatomy get together and have fun with one another behind several sets of closed doors makes people like EJ Pipkin supremely uncomfortable.

The two positions that Pipkin has taken are woefully untenable. They are irreconcilable. They represent the starkest of contradictions. But no one seems to notice; the Republicans can keep on pretending to be the party of personal freedom while they deny personal freedoms to a significant portion of the American population.

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