What We Can Gain From NJ Senate’s Vote Against Civil Rights

The civil rights movement has seen some remarkable losses in the last few months. In early November, voters overturned a marriage law in Maine. A month later, the New York Senate voted against civil rights in marriage. Then yesterday, after a brief period of debate, the New Jersey Senate voted against a similar civil rights bill. David Badash of The New Civil Rights Movement was good enough to put some of the speeches online. Below are four of them.

[wpaudio url=”http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/baroni.mp3″ text=”NJ Sen. Bill Baroni:"Unequal treatment by government is always wrong."”]

[wpaudio url=”http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/Gill.mp3″ text=”NJ Sen. Nia Gill: "I believe in the constitution."”]

[wpaudio url=”http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/cardinale.mp3″ text=”NJ Sen. Gerald Cardinale: Straight people are "disenfranchised."”]

[wpaudio url=”http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/kean.mp3″ text=”NJ Sen. Bill Kean: The Worst Kind Of Hypocrite”]

And so to the question: What can we gain from this experience? I think we can use this failure (theirs, not ours) as an opportunity to reconsider our strategy.

We need to remember that we never chose this war. Remember, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) came about 14 years ago because the Hawaii Supreme Court ordered that the state must show compelling reasons to exclude lesbians and gays from marriage. Anti-gay forces recognized the repercussions if that battle didn’t go their way, so they got DOMA passed to preempt a potential loss.

Then they got busy on individual states. In every single case (someone correct me if I’m wrong), the Religious Right pushed us into a marriage battle, most notably in 2004 under the direction of twice-divorced Karl Rove. Now Maggie Gallagher uses lies to continue their assault on civil rights.

Understand, even if civil rights were to win at the ballot box, you can bet they would be ready to drop another load of lies that we would waste another couple million dollars defending against, and then we’d lose. Again, that’s not because we’re doing something wrong, but because bigotry and fear are easy sells, especially when the opponent has no relationship with the truth.

My point is that we’ve been on the defense from the start. That’s a losing plan. After 31 popular votes and I-don’t-know-how-many state legislature votes, it’s time to start playing offense.

And that’s not the only reason.

The biggest problem is that when the votes from the legislature or the people are counted up we’ve still encouraged either the legislature or the people to vote on someone’s rights, regardless of who wins. That’s not just unethical, it’s downright Unamerican.

You know what I’d really like to see? The next time the question goes to the public, we make one ad, not telling people to vote for us, but telling them not to vote on the issue at all. We should acknowledge up front that we anticipate a loss but have made that sacrifice in favor of the greater constitutional principle. Then we take the millions we would have spent on a losing campaign and give it to the homeless or some other worthy cause.

In other words, stop playing the game. Opt out.

I think we win something if we opt out of their battle and lose. We’re 0-31 in the popular vote, and the last one in Maine was lost by a nearly perfectly run campaign. We will continue to lose that battle regardless of what we do, so why not turn that energy toward a different battle, one of our choosing?

We should pour some money and effort into finding the best attorneys to fight the best court cases, like the upcoming challenge to Prop 8 (more on that later) and the case being brought by Lambda Legal and Garden State Equality against yesterday’s decision in the New Jersey Senate.

In the end, that’s where we’ll win.