Saturday, October 17, 2009

Which One Matters?

Every issue has two sides. And if you're lucky, only two.The current crop of election-season signs. Looks to be a good harvest this year.

On the ballot in Washington State this year is Referendum Measure 71. If approved, it would allow Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5688 to be enacted into law. According to the voter's pamphlet, this "would expand the rights, responsibilities, and obligations accorded state-registered same-sex and senior domestic partners to be equivalent to those of married spouses, except that a domestic partnership is not a marriage." It's up for a vote because opponents of the expanded role of (specifically) same-sex partners launched a petition drive to have the whole matter put to a vote of the public. It's been, ahem, somewhat contentious ever since.

Both sides have engaged in the now-standard political rhetoric to make their cases - A vote for will be a vote to protect all Washington Families, a vote against will a vote to preserve the greater social good, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda. It's the same as it always has been, and it basically misses the point. Or at least the point as I've come to understand it.

From where I stand, both sides of this debate are really attempting to make the same appeal to the voting public: "Tell us that we're relevant." Same sex couples (and their supporters, on their behalf) are looking for the perception of first-class citizenship - an acknowledgment that, in the greater American scheme of things, that they matter. The (mainly religious) opposition is looking to be told that they are still an important force in society - you could make the argument that they're asking for affirmation that this is still a Christian nation. (But unless all it takes to be Christian is going to church once a week and paying lip service to certain principles, I suspect that train left the station a very long time ago.)

Of course, this isn't really a situation in which the two positions are, by definition, mutually exclusive. And I expect that if you were to ask those who support R-71 (who, due to the vagaries of the initiative system, were opposed to it coming up for a vote in the first place), they would tell you they have no fundamental problem with the other side. But, and perhaps this is simply indicative of the most vocal boosters of conservative politics these days, the opposition to R-71 would earnestly tell you that you have to chose one side or the other. (In a distressingly familiar echo of time gone by, you're either with them, or against them.)

We'll see what "society" has to say. (I suspect that it won't be much... the only items on the statewide ballot are R-71 and Initiative 1033, so I expect that "turnout" {It's a vote-by-mail election.} will be somewhat low.) It's likely that whoever loses won't be willing to let things lie, so this could be the start of a very long back-and-forth campaign, with each side pleading to be told that they're relevant.

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