TWO SENATORS

It has recently come to my attention that Wyoming (pop. 532,000) has the same number of U.S. Senators – 2 – as California (pop. 36,756,000) or New York (pop. 19,490,000).

Did you know this?

This is crazy!

But it explains how something can enjoy wide popular support – even 70% or 80% – and still lack the 60 votes required for “cloture” to get a measure through the Senate.

Perhaps the solution is to require literal, physical, old-fashioned filibusters – the kind that tucker a fella out, even if he’s from Wyoming.

There would be quite a few. And a lot of stuff might not, in fact, achieve “cloture” so as to allow an actual majority vote.

But the minority might decide to pick its battles carefully, and not, say, go to the wall to prevent people like Lieutenant Dan Choi and Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach from serving their country.

HOW FAST TO MOVE

The Washington Post argues here that the President should not act unilaterally to halt military discharges under “Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell” but should, rather, lean on Congress to repeal the ban, as he already has called upon Congress to do.

With leaders like Colin Powell and General Shalikashvili – and the newly named Secretary of the Army, former Republican Congressman John McHugh – calling “Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell” out of step with the times, we ought to be able to get those 60 votes.

Not only is it a matter of equality, it is a matter of national security. Why on earth are we separating war heroes and Arab linguists who want to serve their country? (Dan Choi speaks Arabic. Carl Fehrenbach has won so many medals in his 18 years with the Air Force he was handpicked to help defend the Washington, DC airspace in the aftermath of 9/11.)

STONEWALLING

Colbert on our slow progress. It’s unfair (it would have been illegal for him to extend health and retirement benefits, which is why he’s called for legislation to fix that), but it’s funny.

AND A QUICK EXORCISM

Colbert on loosing gay demons.

HOW ANGRY TO BE

My friend Tobias Barrington Wolff – no relation – teaches law at the University of Pennsylvania. He writes, on a list serve of LGBT donors and leaders:

Subj: Tired of Fighting with Friends

The 16 months that I spent as the chief policy advisor on LGBT issues for the Obama campaign represented the first time that I had participated in national politics in any significant fashion. In the 10 years prior, most of my advocacy work had been in the legal world, as it now continues to be. One of the hard lessons that I had to learn during those 16 months was that, sometimes, politics leads people who should be friends and allies to attack each other. I had long since developed the skills necessary to deal with the vicious attacks that our true adversaries turn against us. But I was unprepared when the debates within our own party over differences in approach and policy turned into such ugly fights. It was a kind of internecine strife that I had never encountered among my colleagues in the legal advocacy world. I learned quickly.

Two of the lessons that I took from that experience seem pertinent here. The first involves the distinctive responsibilities of those in positions of power and influence. When dealing with an issue like LGBT equality — one that involves not just abstract claims of justice but real pain, experienced over a lifetime by real people — there is a high duty of respect borne by those who occupy positions of influence. It is a duty to think actively about how to make people feel respected and included, even when disagreements arise, and even when those people become angry with you. That is one of the obligations of power. If anything, that responsibility is heightened when it comes to LGBT equality. The official second-class status of our community under federal law and the law of most states is a singular affront in the current legal landscape of America, and it translates into real people suffering, from pre-teens to seniors.

The President and his administration understand this responsibility. They really do. I did not agree with every decision that the Obama campaign made in its interactions with the LGBT community, nor have I agreed with every decision that the Obama White House has made. But I saw in the campaign first hand, and have seen in this administration from a step removed, a genuine commitment to learn how to deal respectfully with the 12,000,000 LGBT Americans that they now represent. Our President and the people who work for him care about achieving full equality. Even on the issue of marriage — where our President’s current position is simply wrong — the President used the occasion of his first Oval Office statement on LGBT issues to reiterate his commitment to repealing DOMA, which he correctly said is discriminatory and interferes with the prerogatives of states (contra the indefensible suggestion to the contrary in the brief filed by DOJ). That was not just an important moment politically. It was also a gesture of respect. I do not think that anything is gained by willfully refusing to recognize it as such.

The second lesson that I learned during the campaign is that people in positions of power and influence are still people. They are human beings with feelings, egos that sometimes become fragile, and sensibilities that sometimes get offended. When good people in positions of power are working actively to do the right thing and disagreements over priorities or tactics lead people to respond not just with a firm hand of resistance but with insults, denigration and accusations of betrayal and evil motives, then the working relationships that are necessary in order to achieve progress will suffer.

I know a lot of the people in this administration, both from my work on the campaign and from my ten years as a law professor and civil rights lawyer. They are friends, colleagues, and former students, and they are good people who care about doing the right thing. Sometimes, they need to be educated about an issue or prodded to make the issue more of a priority, and sometimes they make mistakes, even serious ones. But they do not deserve the kind of denigration that they have been receiving from some in our community.

The President has frequently said that it is the responsibility of communities to elect leaders who are prepared to do the right thing, and then to make them do it. We should push hard to advance our equality in the administration and in Congress, point out their mistakes, criticize when criticism is warranted and celebrate progress when it happens. But if we expect the administration always to recognize and respect our humanity — as of course they should — then we, in turn, should not fail to recognize and respect theirs.

STONEWALL

Yesterday marked the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. (One more Colbert video describes what happened that night.) For all the frustration and justifiable impatience – how would you feel if YOU were a second-class citizen under the law? – the progress since 1969 has been astounding.

The Times concluded one political overview by quoting David Mixner, a longtime advocate for equality: “‘Listen,’ Mr. Mixner said, ‘in 1992, what we were begging Bill Clinton about – literally – was whether he was going to say the word ‘gay’ in his convention speech. Even say it. We had to threaten a walkout to get it in.”

And this afternoon the President and First Lady will be welcoming a couple of hundred LGBT leaders and families into the White House for a reception marking what the President has proclaimed “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.”

Is this a great country, or what?

 

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