Civil unions take a step forward in Delaware

From today’s paper: “Civil unions bill clears big hurdle“:

The Delaware Senate on Thursday approved the state’s first civil unions bill, voting by a 2-to-1 ratio to grant the same legal rights and protections to same-sex couples that married couples have. …

In the end, the bill — S.B. 30 — emerged from a chamber that has often been a cemetery for gay-rights bills passed first by the House of Representatives.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. David P. Sokola, D-Newark, with about two dozen co-sponsors, has been assigned to the House Administration Committee, where Chairman and House Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, says it will be on the agenda for a hearing Wednesday. If the committee releases the bill, Schwartzkopf said he plans to bring it before the House for a vote next Thursday.

“The last five words of the pledge [of allegiance] are ‘liberty and justice for all,’ ” Sokola said. “By taking this step, we give those words real meaning to more people here in Delaware.”

Gov. Jack Markell has pledged to sign the bill.

The bill was drafted by Equality Delaware, a recently formed state chapter of the Human Rights Campaign that seems to have quite a bit of momentum on their side.

The civil unions bill now heads to Delaware’s state House of Representatives, where chances of passage seem promising. The House has a history of passing legislation protecting the legal rights of GLBT Delawareans, only to see those bills die in the Senate, squashed by committee chairmen (usually Democrats from conservative Sussex County) without ever seeing a vote. Senate passage has always been the biggest hurdle for such legislation, so this bill appears well on its way to becoming law.

One of those downstate Democats, Sen. Robert Venables, tried to stop the Senate bill with two hostile amendments, both of which failed:

“I’m not against homosexuality,” Venables said. “I don’t understand it, but I’m certainly not a bigot. I’m not a hater.”

But, he said, the bill discriminated against other relationships.

I would direct Venables to that lovely response from BioWare about complaints that Dragon Age 2 somehow “discriminated against” straightwhitemale gamers:

Privilege always lies with the majority. They’re so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance. They don’t see anything wrong with having things set up to suit them, what’s everyone’s fuss all about? That’s the way it should be, and everyone else should be used to not getting what they want.

That’s one main source of opposition to efforts like this one — a privileged majority upset that others can’t get used to not getting what they want. That is unlovely and unfair, but unsurprising.

The other main source of opposition is what might be called the religious objection. This is similarly unfair and unlovely, while also being deeply, deeply confused about the nature of law and government:

Sam Wilson of Georgetown, vice president of Sussex County Council, approached Sokola after the vote and handed him a paper with a chapter of the Bible printed on it. The chapter, the first in the Book of Romans, often is used to argue that God condemns homosexuality.

Wilson asked Sokola how he planned to get to heaven and asked if he had any straight friends, apparently unaware that Sokola is married.

“He thinks I’m going to go to hell,” Sokola said. “But I don’t think he’s the one who decides.”

Sokola said he has had calls from voters who say they will never vote for him again, “but better legislators than me have lost for supporting the civil rights of others.”

Sam Wilson of Georgetown can’t seem to separate his sneering personal bigotry from his purported religious beliefs, but let’s try to do that for him.

Mr. Wilson apparently believes that the Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin and that homosexuals are going to Hell. That’s not an unusual belief — many others believe this as well. But those many others are not, like Mr. Wilson, elected officials and they are not suggesting, as Mr. Wilson is, that the biblical books of Romans and Leviticus constitute legal authority in the United States of America.

That’s an astonishingly unconstitutional claim, but it’s one that’s heard again and again in the debates over civil union laws or marriage equality.

Wilson and others like him don’t even bother to make a nonsectarian legal argument. They don’t see any constitutional or legal or political reason to suggest one. They seem to believe they live in a sectarian country governed by the religious dictates of their sect and that any member of any other religious sect “should be used to not getting what they want.”

Wilson’s argument is based on the claim of hegemonic privilege for the majority sect. That is not an argument for “religious freedom.” It is the opposite of an argument for religious freedom. Wilson’s argument is that there is no such thing as religious liberty, no right to religious liberty — only a competition for dominance between sects to be settled by whichever has the greatest political muscle.

Delaware state Sen. Bruce Ennis said he voted against the civil unions bill because “he heard many concerns in his district that the bill ‘pitted religious liberty against sexual liberty’ and he voted the way he believed his constituents wanted him to vote.”

But this claim of a concern for religious liberty is a lie. “Liberty for me but not for thee” is not the position of an advocate of liberty. “Liberty for me but not for thee” says liberty is not a right, but only a prize won by the powerful and denied to the powerless.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    At least in Massachusetts, this is already doable without becoming a “pretend clergyman.”

    You fill out a form at town hall that says you want so-and-so to officiate at your wedding, and they do. No reference to religion required; an entirely civil operation.

    And some people do in fact have that form “permanently filled in” and act as “freelance friends.” They’re called justices of the peace.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    I don’t think it’s unconstitutional to try to bring civil law into line with religious law in most cases. [...] Many people, and probably most people at at least one point in US history, would have supported laws against murder and theft primarily on religious grounds.

    The point is, there are good reasons aside from religion to legislate against murder and theft. Both cause harm to people.

    Same sex marriage causes harm to no one and benefits gay, bi and trans people. There’s no non-religious reason against it.

    If those people supported laws that were of civic benefit for religious reasons, and this was because they personally saw a lot of things in religious terms, no harm done, but they were still missing the point of ‘separation of church and state’. But if someone supports a law that’s civically harmful for religious reasons, they need a remedial course in civics.

    You can’t turn separation of church and state on and off. There’s no ‘most cases’ about it: church and state either are separate or they’re not.

  • Donalbain

    The justices of the peace are gov officials though, arent they? They are the third category in my suggestion. The freelance friends was a reference to private individuals who might well be, for instance clergy, or Elvis impersonators..

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I’m not sure.

    I have a few friends who are JPs; they work day jobs in the private sector just like I do, so I think of them as “private individuals” and don’t think of them as “government officials.”

    But I suppose they might be the latter. The same might be true of notary publics, substitute teachers in public schools, and volunteer school-crossing guards… I don’t know.

    Actually, as I think about it, I’m not even sure I know what we mean by “government official.” Do teachers in public high-schools count? They at least have salaries paid for out of taxes, which the JPs of my acquaintance don’t.

  • http://mistharm.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    This bit by Lewis Black, I feel, illustrates that point pretty well too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ANrvQC4wIk

    (Note, that bit is from the darkest days of the Bush administration; so some parts are a little out of date. Still largely relevant.)

  • Dan Audy

    A government official is someone who is someone who is acting as a representative for the civil authority of a particular political entity. Your JP friends would be considered as ‘government officials’ during the time they were engaging in their work as a JP but as private individuals the rest of the time. While working in an official capacity they are bound to follow any rules the government requires of them (non-discrimination, dress code, language requirements, etc) and expose the government to legal action for their activities (lawsuits, FOIP requests, etc).

    The difference between a JP and a crossing guard has more to do with the scope of their duties. A crossing guard isn’t engaging in the activity of the state but is more of a employee. A JP on the other hand is taking care of the primary responisbilities of the state.

  • Guest-again

    ‘Same sex marriage causes harm to no one and benefits gay, bi and trans people. There’s no non-religious reason against it.’

    Money, though you don’t hear that reason much anymore. Extending the various benefits of marriage to people who couldn’t marry before shows up in various budgets – such as survivor’s benefits or health insurance.

    This is not a particularly good reason (and in terms of health insurance, quite U.S. centric – think AIDS and how expensive it is to treat, an argument from more than a decade ago), but it can be quantitifed to a certain extent, and was considered reasonable (again in a U.S. context), at least in some quarters that were not exactly the religious right.

    I don’t agree with it particularly – in a society which spends so much on weaponry, it seems a truly trivial concern – but it is probably fueling at least a part of the opposition still, even if the argument is no longer so publicly made.

  • Kiba
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    I am very dubious about that. If that were the case, we would expect health insurance companies to line up behind anti-gay-marriage organizations. As far as I can tell, they appear to be neutral.

  • PJ Evans

    If that was a valid reason to not have same-sex marriage, then shouldn’t it also be one for ending marriage completely?

  • Dan Audy

    While certainly more founded than most of the ‘but gays are icky’ arguments, I don’t think that the fact it has financial implications would reach the level of being described as harm. Moreover the lack of consistency in how these benefits are extended does create genuine harm. Denying people the benefits they paid for simply because they have the wrong type of marriage for financial reasons is just as morally wrong as Ford not recalling the Pinto because it was cheaper to payout for the deaths than replace the $100 part to avoid those deaths in the first place.

    Also the same argument could be extended to anti-miscegenation laws (or nearly any discrimination) because we then wouldn’t have to pay pensions or health insurance for those horrible people whose race-mixing ways are already surely a sign of profound mental illness.

  • Thalia

    I actually had to go back and reread it to get the point. I didn’t know what was wrong with it, but I stumbled over it. That’s interesting, once you point it out.

  • http://mistharm.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    … this guy does realize that the Western Empire lasted over 500 years right? And that’s ignoring the Republican phase of Rome, which is another 500. A thousand years wherein teh gayness was mostly OK.

    And homosexuality in the Roman period is a LOT more complicated than “They allowed it.”

    Course it’s easy to counter the “Gays killed Rome” argument with another one that usually hits the accuser close to home: “No, Christianity killed Rome…”

    Note: I don’t actually believe that – Rome’s fall was very complicated; but it’s fun to put someone back on their heels with that one. After all, after Christianity came to Rome, the Western Empire died inside 150 years. Course the Eastern Empire, which was rather Christian, lasted until 1453; though then again the practical end of the empire was in 1204 after the Fourth Crusade. So in a very real sense you could say Christians were involved in the end of Byzantium. (To be fair, the Pope wasn’t exactly thrilled with the situation.)

    *shake my head* I can’t believe a history professor has such a terrible lack of historical knowledge.

  • PJ Evans

    Yeah, I remember in my medieval history class we spent the first couple of weeks looking at the later Roman empire. A whole lot of things were involved, including wealthy people who didn’t want to pay taxes for the services they were using.

  • http://mistharm.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Indeed. You’ve got a combination of governmental corruption, a military that was more loyal to it’s generals than it’s empire; coups weren’t terribly uncommon either – you can thank the Praetorian Guard for that*… then there’s the taxation issue**, not to mention slavery, which was a constant in Rome, which brings its share of problems.

    Oh and the military’s other big failure,*** being that the legions became much more reliant on the local populations recruited on site – which as you can imagine wouldn’t be entirely different from the US recruiting soldiers from Iraq. (Where do you think their loyalty is going to lie, after all?) Poorer training was also an issue.

    Then on top of that the social upheaval from religious change, the fact that Rome was stretched across a pretty huge area (part of why they relied on local recruits and auxiliaries); which given the slow speed of communication could make for even more difficulties… all of which would have been bad enough on it’s own; the internal power struggles could have toppled the whole thing; but then you’ve got the barbarian invasions and… well yeah.

    The Goth sacking of Rome, hilariously enough, was easily preventable too – it’s just that the Romans treated their Goth mercenaries like crap, and denied them the things they’d promised when they hired them.

    Really you can’t label any singular factor as “The reason Rome fell.”

    Homosexuality of course does not even make the list at all. It’s a non-factor; just as it was a non-factor for the Greeks.

    Oh that reminds me… I’m sure we’ve all heard this same line in reference to the Greeks right? I mean it’s not just Rome that gets picked on for this.

    So next time someone brings up the Greeks homosexuality as a reason why they fell, mention precisely who it was who conquered them. Hint: It was those Romans, way back in their pre-Empire phase. Because nothing says “Homosexuality has doomed you” than for your homosexual-tolerant society to be conquered by another homosexuality tolerant society; which will then go on to last another 600ish years.

    Not that anyone here doesn’t know a lot of this already ><

    *Look at the incredibly short reign some Emperors had.

    **Which is manifold. There really wasn't such a thing as progressive taxation, so you've got situations where the people at the very top often pay nothing if they're in favor; but are killed off and their stuff taken if they're out of favor.

    ***Rome, as with any Empire, was very reliant on it's military. When your strength as THE world power is based entirely on your ability to kick everyone's asses; you have to maintain that edge or you're going to go down in flames.

  • Rowen

    Wasn’t that one of Sulla’s points in his total government take over?*

    *Completely and horribly simplifying here. However, my main point is that it seems that often time the rich like to take, and not give, and for some strange reason, this hasn’t seemed to last for too long. . . .

  • PJ Evans

    *Look at the incredibly short reign some Emperors had.

    The year with three Emperors comes to mind. (It was more complicated than it sounds, of course.)

  • Rowen

    Edit: that last part should read, “for some strange reason, this seems to not be able to last very long.”

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    People who don’t follow a gay-hating religion have to fall back on this position (or a rhetorically prettied up version of it) to justify being against gay marriage. And this position is extremely vulnerable to things like being exposed to actual gay people who want to get married, familiarisation with the whole concept of gay marriage, changing culture, or just trying to be fair-minded.

    The thing is, though, with the particular leader I used in my example, she is far from living in a conservative homogenous community. Apart from having plenty of openly gay friends and colleagues, and being in a government that changed over 100 (I think; forget the number) civil laws to remove discrimination against same sex couples, she is clearly OK with culture change. Culture change has allowed her to have a career in which she has power over men; to be an atheist in public office; and to be a public figure in a de facto relationship.

    I just can’t see any defendable or consistent philosophical position in someone who has no religious belief and is not culturally conservative *in any of the aspects of society that affect themselves* then saying that this one thing must not change because.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    Money, though you don’t hear that reason much anymore. Extending the various benefits of marriage to people who couldn’t marry before shows up in various budgets – such as survivor’s benefits or health insurance.

    I’d call that ‘economic exploitation’ rather than just ‘money’. As is often said in reverse, why should queer people have to fund straight people’s lifestyles? If the benefits are available to everyone then it’s a reasonable use of public funds; if they’re only available to straight people then queer people are paying taxes to support their own exclusion, which is grotesque.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    The thing is, it only feels grotesque if you start from the assumption that we (that is, queer people) merit the same social and moral consideration as straight people.

    By contrast, consider laws to seize criminal assets. Most people don’t object to these, even though that means criminals are paying to fund law enforcement and thereby to support their own imprisonment (or death).

    That may be economic exploitation… but most of us are basically OK with it for criminals, because most of us consider it right and just to treat criminals differently from the rest of the community; most of us don’t consider criminals to merit the same social and moral consideration as non-criminals.

    Some of my fellow citizens feel the same way about me and my husband, and act accordingly. This pisses me the fuck off, of course, and not infrequently frightens me, but I take solace in the fact that they are losing, and we are winning.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    The thing is, it only feels grotesque if you start from the assumption that we (that is, queer people) merit the same social and moral consideration as straight people.

    By contrast, consider laws to seize criminal assets. Most people don’t object to these, even though that means criminals are paying to fund law enforcement and thereby to support their own imprisonment (or death).

    That may be economic exploitation… but most of us are basically OK with it for criminals, because most of us consider it right and just to treat criminals differently from the rest of the community; most of us don’t consider criminals to merit the same social and moral consideration as non-criminals.

    Some of my fellow citizens feel the same way about me and my husband, and act accordingly. This pisses me the fuck off, of course, and not infrequently frightens me, but I take solace in the fact that they are losing, and we are winning.

  • Anonymous

    most of us consider it right and just to treat criminals differently from the rest of the community; most of us don’t consider criminals to merit the same social and moral consideration as non-criminals.

    Not most of us here, I’m fairly sure. Not I, certainly. If I’m correctly understanding ‘laws to seize criminal assets’, I think such laws are unobjectionable, because criminals shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the benefits of their ill-gotten gains and if the original owner of the property can’t be determined then there’s nothing wrong with law enforcement getting it, but that doesn’t mean I think criminals deserve less social and moral consideration than the law-abiding.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    If George claims that it’s unobjectionable to seize my assets* because I’m queer and queer folk shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the benefits of our queer lifestyles, I’d conclude that George was, simply by virtue of that claim, granting me less social and moral consideration than a straight person.

    I’d expect approximately everyone on this site, and a plurality of the U.S. population, and perhaps a majority of the world population, to agree with that conclusion. I’d expect a substantial minority of the U.S. population and perhaps a majority of the world population to disagree with that conclusion.

    If George instead claims that it’s unobjectionable to seize Bill’s assets because Bill is a criminal and criminals shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the benefits of their criminal lifestyles, I’d conclude that George was, simply by virtue of that claim, granting Bill less social and moral consideration than a law-abiding person. (Mind you, I would agree with George… Bill shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy those benefits. I would similarly agree that it’s unobjectionable to restrict Bill’s movements and autonomy, and to perform various other acts on Bill that I would consider objectionable to perform on a law-abiding person.)

    I’d expect an overwhelming majority of people pretty much everywhere to disagree with that conclusion.

    * And don’t think I don’t hear y’all chortling in the back row!

  • Semperfiona

    I, for one, take issue with the criminal asset seizure laws as well. In my state, there is no actual requirement that the assets seized have anything to do with a crime, only that law enforcement officers ‘suspect’ it was used in a crime–which need not have anything to do with the owner, either. If a vehicle is rented or borrowed, it can be seized for something the renter/borrower did or was suspected of doing while in possession of it.

    After that, the person whose assets were seized –nor even the person using the asset–need not even be charged with anything, but the assets will not be returned failing a trial in which the burden of proof lies on the original owner to prove that the assets are innocent and that zie actually owns them, not with the state to prove anyone’s guilt.

    Often this translates into the original owner paying the police nearly the replacement value of the asset in order to regain it, or the police just keeping whatever it was.

    As with most such laws, it tends to be used against underprivileged people.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Just to be clear: I also object to this and similarly “guilty until proven innocent” aspects of criminal law.

  • Anonymous

    Clearly I’m due for a privilege check.

  • Hawker40

    Indeed, the U.S. Federal Laws on drug asset seizure work exactly like this. Half of the siezed assets then go to the Feds, half to the arresting agency. Which lead to the interesting situation where the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) refused to turn over half the assets to the Feds.
    Who do you call to arrest the LAPD? County Sheriff? FBI? Beverly Hills PD?

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    I disagree with asset forfeiture not only on those grounds, but on the grounds that a punishment that also serves to benefit the agency charged with carrying out said punishment will in all cases turn that agency corrupt.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I agree with this as far as it goes, but I disagree with the implication that this can be avoided by changing the financial routing.

    If group A makes the decision of whether to seize assets, and group B benefits from that seizure, all you’ve done is create incentives for groups A and B to collude.

    Leaving the decision of guilt or innocence to juries drawn randomly from civilians, rather than to dedicated government officials, has significant weaknesses associated with it, but one advantage it has is a certain resistance to regulatory capture.

  • Dan Audy

    This is part of the reason that jury selection and exclusions concern me so much. If you aren’t willing to apply the death penalty under any circumstance you are not eligable to serve on a jury in for a crime that could carry that penalty in many states. Understanding the law and having preformed opinions regarding the morality or efficacy of laws allows the most knowledgeable and interested members of society to be dismissed from the jury pool ‘with cause’. That combined with the economic incentives for jury avoidance results in biasing the jury to the least thoughtful, least successful, and loneliest members of society.

  • Lori

    Re: the OP—Congratulations to Delaware on the passage of the civil unions bill. It passed in the House yesterday after passing in the Senate last week and the governor is expected to sign it. That being the case, the law will go into effect January 1st of next year.

  • http://profiles.google.com/scyllacat Priscilla Parkman

    Indeed, after I lived in New Orleans, a place which is as corrupt as it is beautiful, I began to translate “criminal” as equal to “underprivileged” and “underprivileged” as “if the authorities mess with you, you have no real power to resist them.”

    In short, If you’re not rich and/or powerful, and the cops (or any authority) want something you have, they can surely find something you’ve done wrong and thus reason to confiscate your stuff.

    I can no longer “other” criminals. I and everyone I know are just criminals who haven’t been charged. So saying they shouldn’t have the rights of other people kind of ills me now.


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