I have Anguished
by Rep. Ed Fallon
Address to the Iowa House of Representatives
February, 20, 1996
I have anguished over this (state anti-marriage) bill, not because there is any doubt in my mind as to how I should vote, but because I believe strongly that what we are dealing with here is the defining civil rights issue of this decade. Historically, this issue may prove to be the most significant matter we deal with this year, and so I would respectfully ask the bodyís indulgence and attention during this debate.
My remarks are directed both toward those who sincerely believe that this bill is good and just and to those who know in their hearts and consciences that this bill is wrong, but in fear of public opinion and of how this issue will be used in campaigns next fall, they are inclined to vote in favor of its passage.
Back in the 1950s, many, many Americans were victimized by relentless, fear-driven red-baiting. There was a Bolshevik lurking in every bathroom, and you never knew, but your neighbor or even your uncle might turn out to be a communist.
In the 1990s, red-baiting is out. But pink-baiting is in. Gay-bashing, generally thought of as a Friday night frolic for inebriated thugs, has its parallel expressions in voting booths, city council halls, and legislative chambers across this country. Today we are witnessing one of those expressions in the form of this bill. By singling out gay and lesbian marriages as a union unacceptable in the eyes of the law, we fuel the fires of ignorance, intolerance, and hatred.
And if anyone here thinks that the positions we embrace, the laws we enact do not affect the mood of the public, then you have a very low, and I believe, a very inaccurate view of the powerful influence we here in this body exert over the formation of public opinion. The message weíre sending today is that itís O.K. to discriminate against people of a different sexual orientation, even though for the most part, thatís the way they were born and thereís nothing they can do to change it. And for those who would argue that homosexuality is a choice, I ask you: do you really believe that anyone in their right mind would voluntarily choose to be in a class of people who are constantly made fun of, despised, beaten up and even killed, discriminated against, fired from their jobs, denied housing, and prevented from marrying?
For gay and lesbian people, this array of abuse is par for the course. If you believe that homosexuality is a personal choice, then you have not tried very hard to see this issue from a gay or lesbian personís point of view.
Well, I suppose this is as good a time as any for me to come out of the closet. I canít help the way I was born. Itís just who I am. Iíve never announced this to a group publicly, but I guess itís about time. I am heterosexual. I am absolutely certain in my entire being that I could never be homosexual, no matter how hard I might try. Iíve never been attracted to another man in my life, and the idea of engaging in a homosexual act is foreign and distasteful to me. But just as I would hope that homosexual men and women could accept me for who I am, I promise to try to accept them for who they are. Why canít you do the same? Why canít we all do the same?
Hatred grows out of fear, and fear grows out of ignorance. Though Iíve never hated homosexuals, I used to fear them. When I was a kid growing up, the worst name you could call someone was a gay loser. And the stereotype that still pervades the minds of many in this chamber ó that of the highly aggressive, promiscuous gay man seeking countless, anonymous relationships ó is the stereotype that I grew up with, and the stereotype that contributes to volumes of ignorance and volumes of fear.
Over time, Iíve come to learn that this stereotype, like most stereotypes, is based on hearsay, not fact. The rogues who may fit the previous description are the exception to the rule, just as there are male heterosexual rogues who are aggressive, promiscuous, and constantly hitting on and harassing women.
In my evolving experience with homosexuals, familiarity has displaced ignorance and dispelled fear. I now count as friends and constituents many same-sex couples. Some have children. Most are in long-term, stable relationships. All are very decent, kind and normal people. I make no effort to judge the integrity of that they do in their bedroom, and to their credit, theyíve never judged the integrity of what I do in mine.
One lesbian couple I count as friends have two children the same age as my son and daughter. They attend the same elementary school as my children. They play together. They go to the same birthday parties. They swap overnights. These two children are healthy, bright, and courteous, and their parents probably do a better job of parenting than I do.
Though you may have personal, religious reasons why this arrangement seems distasteful to you, there is absolutely no way you could rationally argue that this is not a stable happy, healthy family. In a pluralistic society that allegedly values the separation of church and state, why can we not simply live and let live? Accept the reality that this coupleís religious beliefs on homosexuality are different than yours. Just leave religion out of it, as our founding fathers and mothers saw fit. If the fruit which falls from the tree is good, the tree must also be good.
Indeed, there are many religious groups that openly and lovingly celebrate unions between same-sex couples. For example, Methodists, the United Church of Christ, Congregationalists, Reform Jews, the Metropolitan Community Church, Unitarian Universalists and Quakers. [See Where to get a Religious Blessing.]
There is no shortage of gay or lesbian couples that value and revere marriage. In fact, just last fall I attended the wedding of two women. Their son was present. The wedding was held in a local church. It was conducted by two ministers. And there were 150 family members and friends of the happy couple there to celebrate with them.
Yet, weíre told by the billís supporters that we need legislation to protect ourselves from this kind of marriage? No, ladies and gentlemen, this is not a marriage-protection bill. It is emphatically an anti-marriage bill.
This rhetoric used by supporters of HF 2183 may be slick but it is grossly inaccurate. What are you trying to protect heterosexual marriages from? There isnít a limited amount of love in Iowa. It isnít a non-renewable resource. If Amy and Barbara or Mike or Steve love each other, it doesnít mean that John and Mary canít.
Marriage licenses arenít distributed on a first-come, first-served basis here in Iowa. Heterosexual couples donít have to rush out and claim marriage licenses now, before they are all snatched up by gay and lesbian couples.
Heterosexual unions are and will continue to be predominant, regardless of what gay and lesbian couples do. To suggest that homosexual couples in any way, shape or form threaten to undermine the stability of heterosexual unions is patently absurd.
And I know, youíll say: ďWhat about the gay agenda?Ē Well, just as there turned out to be no Bolsheviks in the bathroom back in the 1950s, there is no gay-agenda in the 1990s. There is, however, a strong, well-funded anti-gay agenda, and we have an example of its efforts here before us today.
All that gay and lesbian people are asking for is, if not understanding, then at least tolerance. All they are asking for is the same basic civil equality that all Americans yearn for and should be entitled to.
To those in this body who know in their hearts and consciences that this bill is wrong, yet are afraid to vote against it, I ask you to consider the powerful message this bill sends to the people of Iowa. It sends the message that discrimination against gays and lesbians is acceptable and officially sanctioned. It sends the message that itís O.K. to deny civil and equal rights to some minority groups in our society. It sends the message that the gift of marriage is good for some yet forbidden to others. And for those in my own party who plan to vote for this bill, it sends the message that Democrats, who have traditionally stood up for and protected everyoneís civil rights, arenít willing to do so in the case of homosexuals.
If you are weighing the political consequences of opposing this bill and find they are too heavy, Iíd like you to think about the great moral changes that have occurred in this country over the past 200 years. Ask yourself when you would have felt safe to speak in favor of the separation of the colonies from Great Britain? When would you have taken a public stand for the abolition of slavery? When would you have spoken in favor of womenís suffrage? In the 1960s, when would you have joined Martin Luther King and others in calling for equal rights for African Americans? When would you have spoken out against restrictive marriage laws banning inter-racial marriages?
While the choice before us today ó between a green button or a red one ó is a difficult one to make, it is nowhere near as difficult or dangerous as the choices faced by the many freedom fighters who came before us.
Weíre elected not to follow but to lead. Weíre elected to cast what might sometimes be a difficult, challenging, and politically inexpedient vote. Weíre elected to represent our constituents when theyíre right, and to vote our consciences regardless of whether our constituents are right. And our conscience should be telling us to stand up for civil rights regardless of how unpopular it may appear. [See Poll of New Hampshire Republican voters on Marriage Issues.]
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ďA time comes when silence is betrayal.Ē Such a time is now. With your ďnoĒ vote on this bill, you can help break the silence and stand with those who have no one to stand with them.
Rep. Ed Fallon may be contacted at email@example.com
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