With momentum clearly on the side of gay rights, some longtime opponents are scrambling to get on the right side of history. They were never for discrimination. No sir. They simply wanted to preserve marriage for one man and one woman.
This revisionist position is embodied in statements like this, from U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who said in April: “I do believe this could be solved greatly by a civil union law that would give gay people the same rights as married people. I think we can solve this problem without undermining the very basis of marital law in our country.”
Note how he draws the line at traditional marriage while positioning himself as proponent of equality. As the polls have swung in favor of same-sex marriage and legal rulings have torn discriminatory laws asunder, this is becoming the position of many conservatives: Give them civil unions, and call it even.
That might be persuasive in states that haven’t been through the same-sex marriage wars, but it falls flat in Washington state.
Before same-sex marriage became legal, we had the “everything but marriage” battle, which featured conservatives opposing a measure that would wipe out all discrimination based on sexual orientation. Marriage was omitted, but opposition was fierce.
Before that, the Legislature passed a law that prohibited discrimination in housing, hiring and public accommodations after three decades of futility. Marriage wasn’t in the bill, but it was still difficult to pass. To refresh your memory about those arguments, head over to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where the city just adopted a similar anti-discrimination ordinance after a bruising battle.
Before that, municipalities passed ordinances that extended employee benefits to same-sex couples. Guess who opposed those? Many of the same people who now claim to be pro-traditional marriage but anti-discrimination.
Let’s be honest: Many conservatives see these anti-discrimination measures as falling dominoes that lead to same-sex marriage. But let’s not forget that they’re willing to support discrimination, if that’s what it takes.
If you doubt this, keep an eye on Idaho, where Republican Party leaders have called on the Legislature to void the human rights ordinances passed by cities.
It’s only when the battle is hopeless that the olive branch of equal rights — except for marriage — is extended.Gary Crooks is associate editor at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane.