New Mexico’s DP bill is dead, as far as we know
New Mexico’s domestic partnership bill is dead. Like the zombies of late-night horror that we recall from childhoods before cable was invented–remember the VHF channel that ran ‘It Came From the Deep’ at 11pm, inviting you to scare the bejesus out of yourself?–it had to be killed three times and the process was gory. Like the horror films, killing this bill brought out the monster inside the characters, which allows for some reflection on where our movement is stuck and where we’re heading.The theme of the horror, for me, was how good the bill was. It was developed by some very smart people, using all the data points from the past 15 years of organizing. It was designed to get us around, over and through the hurdles that have prevented other alternative tracks to marriage from being effective.
Would I rather have full citizenship, in the form of equal access to the existing family law for all couples? Well, yes, and I’d rather have a free pony for every child in my kid’s class, too. Pragmatism is the key to progress, and without a victory in state court, we’re getting neither ponies nor marriage licenses.
As we’ve seen in other states, a DP registry that tries to enumerate everything our families get is already a failure. These registries end up giving some families some of the privileges, but don’t do a lot for those who lack the resources to have other additional contracts and affadavits created.
The reason we’ve still yelling about marriage equality is simple enough. We need tickets to ride in the lumbering, stable, predictable boat that holds straight couples and their kids, the rights and obligations that come with marriage, not a free pass to build our own leaky little skiffs.
So the overwhelming objection to any parallel track for getting us those tickets, whether it’s called DP, civil unions or Free Dill Pickles for Gay Couples, is: How do we know what this will do for us? This bill was written to overcome that objection and create a route to all the problems and perks that come along with a marriage license, including access to divorce court and inheritance.
Since all relationships end with dissolution or death, these two aspects are really where the rubber meets the road. And this bill did it. Allowing our families to buy the same $25 ticket for the same ride, despite the fact that we’re required to travel below decks in steerage, is an outcome that is worth fighting for–until the day we have access to marriage.
Naturally, since we started with a bill so strong even a marriage equality advocate like me would fight for it, the next scene is the amendments. Our citizen-legislators offered amendments that would have cut off access to inheritance, divorce, and parentage rights. One at a time. Over and over.
In committees and on the floor, if our Governor was going to force them to do something for our families, they made it clear that it was going to be something, not equality in fact. A substitute bill, that would have backed out so much of family law that you could do it with your sister, actually passed our Senate and had to be replaced back in the House.
It was a zombie from there forward. The first all-nighter was getting that repaired bill, The DP Registry That Won’t Die, back through the House. The Senate then ran out the clock on it, so the bill was once again dead. But the spectre wouldn’t rest. The governor called for it to be resuscitated, on his proclamation for a special session three days later. The fighting straight people of the NM House rolled away the stone and brought forth…the DP bill. At this point it was slightly improved, to overcome some of the stated objections, while still allowing same-sex couples to opt in to family law’s most predictable set of protections and obligations, those that come with a marriage license.
And this juncture was truly the place where the ugliness of human behavior took center stage. Our hard-working volunteers had re-written the bill to get past the small stuff–why we were describing the partners as ‘intimate’ or ‘committed’ in the first place we genuinely didn’t know, so why not take those words out? And that just meant we were on the way to the big stuff. It was the part of the horror movie where you’re screaming at the screen, ‘No! Don’t take a ride from him! The blood of the last teenage girl is on his passenger seat!’ The amendments were the place where the soundtrack really heats up, to tell the weak-stomached that it’s time to run out for popcorn.
Amendments were proposed that were supported by the statement that our families don’t exist. Amendments that were debated using objective lies. But worst of all, speeches and rants that deliberately positioned us as outside the law for a reason: because we don’t deserve protection. Because our choice to be deviant makes our commitments worthless and our needs beneath contempt.
The arrogance was sweeping, but the most disturbing aspect wasn’t the hate. It was the apathetic nature of their bigotry. The bottom line, for the few who oppose us on their own rather than being bigots for pay (see my earlier post on Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, who is getting paid by Focus on the Fetus to lie about my family), is that they just don’t give a damn.
They don’t acknowledge the human suffering that arises from their actions, instead they lie to themselves and each other. They seem to be comfortable asserting that we’re just too ignorant and radical to go get a lawyer to draw up a contract that will give us all these same rights.
Never mind that I’m not getting $142 a day to sit in the hearings and explain to them how wrong that is–we can’t contract our family into divorce court, you ignorant used-car salesman, and you’re getting paid my tax dollars to find that out.
Never mind that my family has spent over $5000 on privately lawyering our way to some of the protections that come with a $25 marriage license–and yes, I would have rather taken my kid to Disneyland. Twice. Which, yes, makes us the most privileged dykes in the desert Southwest, and this bill was for the protection of those who don’t have the choices we do.
Never mind that we’re talking about letting old, sick people keep the promises they made to care for each other before I was ever born, and protecting the surviving non-spouse from the interference of some distant cousin who will be the legal next-of-kin otherwise.
Their bottom line is, Reality be damned, you deserve to suffer so what do the details matter? It was the apathy that came out of them like pus from an infected cut.
Somehow we got through that without anyone yelling obscenities from the balcony, without rotten fruit being thrown, really without much response other than sheer horror. It was shocking, at a literal and emotional level, to sit and listen to all that, and by the end of it some of us were in shock. Too tired to cry.
But last night, when it become clear that after all that mess and ugliness the bill was going to die of neglect once again in the Senate, I got angry.
The mechanics of the final stake through the heart of this bill say a lot about the priorities: We dragged it through the House a third time, unleashing the truth behind the amendments, that they just hate us and don’t give a damn, only to have it referred to the Senate. Where our Democratic leaders, locked in struggle with the Governor about who sets their agenda and schedule, were unwilling to bring it to the floor at all, knowing that our supporters weren’t at work.
So had it been brought to a vote last night, it would have gone out with a bang rather than a whimper. But the political position of our Democratic majority was better served by doing nothing. They could certainly still call the bill next week, or anytime before April 20th, if there were a chance of getting something passed. But getting basic human rights for our families just isn’t important enough, compared to sticking a fork in our Democratic governor’s eye, for anyone to expect that to happen.
Now, I’ve been angry all along. I work out every day, drink a little more than I should, trek to the gym and beat the hell out of the 15-pound bag. I’m hardly less furious after having all that bile spilled on me, and getting nothing for it but the roads bill that apparently was what the Governor really wanted. Of course, he also wanted to be able to ask us for money based on his good intentions and his position that is stronger than the other Democrats in the ’08 primary. It’s a pretty pitiful bar to leap over and hand yourself a medal, but at least he thinks it’s a bar he wants to clear.
But I’m also worried about where we’re going, because I feel like I’m the only one who is reacting with outrage. Except Larry Kramer, but the two of us are alone in a big room. What are we thinking, handing our money and our talents to these half-assed jokers who want it to be good enough that they ‘helped’ us get slimed, in exchange for the feeling of having exerted ourselves?
The truth is, those who oppose our families getting basic protections from the law are bigots. They are hateful, evil people. There is no justification for their position other than, Because you aren’t human, that’s why. There are more complex, religious justifications for fencing us out of marriage that I disagree with, but I’m a pragmatist in that area–calling for secular law to hold sway makes the ACLU so popular, they get flowers from Catholics priests every day of the week, right?
Obviously we can’t expect elected officials to act on the courage of their convictions. No one who has the will to power is going to end up Dennis Kucinich over our rights, and we wouldn’t want him to; because then he’d be as useless to us as Dennis is, much as I love him. But there is no religious argument for making us strangers to each other and the law. There is only a hateful indifference to the lives of your fellow citizens to support that position.
That’s easy enough to see, and it’s easy enough to say. If the Richardson campaign wanted to hire me to tell them how to say it and how to sell it, I’d take the job, because it’s not some complicated and flexible set of negotiating positions, it’s fundamental stuff. These are the easy pitches, warm-ups for talking North Korea off the ledge, nothing to it.
But until someone takes the simple approach–These families need protections, and whether my church happens to sanctify their choices is irrelevant to my job, which is to support families that want to take care of each other–it’s hard to accept that we should be pragmatic. I don’t want to take a meeting with the Governor’s people, in which I explain yet again why something lousy is worse than nothing, I want to set the building on fire.
And to exactly that extent, I am deeply worried about the longtime activists in my community. They’re not angry or resigned, they’re just numb. Focusing on whether we get some incremental political influence from enduring that fire hose of hate is not healthy.
Our partners, our kids, our families need us to stay alive through this, and fury is a good indicator that I’m alive. So why am I the only one who’s screaming out loud that we shouldn’t quietly accept nothing, in exchange for the reward of being the realistic insiders who get to attend the fancy party for big donors?
What we really need, to achieve a significant practical victory, isn’t complicated. It isn’t outside the realm of what’s reasonable to ask for, in exchange for our continued support for Democratic politicians. I’m not being particularly radical, or irrational, to believe that we’ve moved the goalposts by demanding marriage rights. I think we’ve replanted them in a place where it’s politically pragmatic to ask our supporters for a firm, clear statement that endorses basic rights for our families.
Asking for less than that, no matter what we stoically endure in the meantime, isn’t moving us forward–it’s just selling us out.
So that’s the report from New Mexico. Hope it gives y’all as much indigestion to read as it did me in writing it all down.