Sunday, September 1, 2013

County Commission Knocks One Out of the Park

I had planned to devote this column to our new radio show (“Speak Up, Las Cruces!” weekdays from 8-10 a.m., starting tomorrow, Labor Day, on KOBE-1450) and our lunatic hope that it will improve the quality of our community’s dialogue with itself.

But Tuesday’s County Commission meeting hijacked my day, and my column.  I’ve criticized the Commissioners and likely will again, but I was glad that they chose to express their consciences in a non-binding resolution supporting Lynn Ellins’s acceptance of marriage-license applications from same-sex couples.

When I arrived at the meeting, I was startled to hear that they’d just voted 3-2 to remove the item from the day’s agenda, but would hear the public input from the overflow crowd.

There were two lines: one (in which probably half the folks were pastors) opposed the resolution; and the other (which also contained quite a few pastors) favored it.  After awhile the first line ran out of people, while the second line seemed inexhaustible.

There’s more to say about the subject than space permits, but . . .

First, Ellins – aided and abetted by a small group of advisors – did nothing more than his job.  He took an oath to uphold the Constitution.  Particularly in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of the Defense of Marriage Act and the NM Attorney General’s comments, it’s a reasonable interpretation of the the U.S. Constitution and/or the New Mexico Constitution that both prohibit discrimination against same-sex couples.   New Mexico law is silent on the subject. (So, by the way, was Jesus Christ, although he was frequently mentioned by opponents at the Commission meeting.)

Ellins, the two judges who’ve ordered other counties to follow suit, and the handful of other clerks doing so are all acting appropriately (as are clerks who, in the judicial and legislative silence, interpret the constitutions differently).  The appropriate way to challenge his actions would be a lawsuit, by someone with legal standing.

The Commission also acted appropriately.  It didn’t pass an ordinance.  It passed a resolution.  That’s basically an expression of opinion.  With the Legislature trying so hard not to face the question, Commissioners felt that such an expression might help.  Before making up their minds, they listened to hours of argument from citizens.

Folks on both sides spoke passionately.  I sympathize with the fear of change that ran through the comments by folks opposing the resolution.

I was a kid a long time ago.  Homosexuality wasn’t a major topic, but it was something most people disapproved of.  Same-sex marriage would have been almost as unthinkable as a black President.

So in one scale we have those fears: I won’t be able to tell my children gay love is unthinkable; I might have to see a gay couple holding hands or kissing, or have to decide whether my kid can stay overnight with a friend whose parents are same-sex.

In the other scale, we have the tremendous joy and relief of the newly-wed couples, many of whom have lived together for literally decades, loving each other and feeling their love trampled on by the law and public opinion; and the shared joy and relief of “straight” couples like Dael and me who couldn’t resist marrying but felt uneasy that not all couples could do so; and finally add the love and care I’ve seen in the eyes of gay friends with adopted children who, but for their two dads, would have grown up in an orphanage or on some Guatemalan street.

It ain’t close.

Two arguments I don’t credit are that Jesus wouldn’t approve and that marriage between same-sex couples somehow undermines the value or beauty of heterosexual marriage.

I feel that the beauty of marriage is undermined more by excluding otherwise loving and faithful couples from it because they’re same-sex.   If my marriage were so fragile that what other folks were doing in their marriages could affect it, I guess I’d be in trouble already.

And (aside from issues of separation of church and state) I can’t recall Jesus discussing the subject.  Mostly he seems to have favored including folks the surrounding society excluded, honoring the poor and the downtrodden, and offering love and gentleness in response to most kinds of provocation.  I heard one pastor Tuesday thank Ellins for allowing her to fulfill a career-long dream by marrying a same-sex couple.  Jesus as the Gospels portray him might have approved.

I do wonder what folks elsewhere think of a state that makes the national news first for a confederate flag in an Independence Day parade and then for starting to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  Me, if I didn’t love the place already, that eclecticism would appeal to me – without endorsing the idea of putting up Confederate flags.

Tuesday the Commission put the resolution back on the agenda, and passed it by a 4-1 vote.  The endless chain of human stories, some told in tears, I found moving; but more moving was the realization that for once I was watching public sentiment help commissioners trying to decide what was right.

Six counties – including Santa Fe and Bernalillo, on judges’ orders – have followed our county’s lead.  Ultimately, acceptance of same-sex marriage is inevitable,  but Mr. Ellins may have materially altered the timing, at least in New Mexico.

Meanwhile I hope folks on both sides will express and discuss their views with us on the new radio show.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, September 1.]

I  had meant to write an extended blog post concerning the meeting, and the issue; but other commitments haven't left me the time.  I still hope to do that, because it was an important and interesting moment, whatever one's views, and also of some interest beyond the borders of Dona Ana County.
Those time constraints include starting some new legal work, putting up two photo shows, recuperating from knee-replacement surgery, and, above all, starting the new radio show.
The photo shows: "Fire and Ice", images from Iceland, opens Friday evening during the Art Ramble, September 6th, at the Big Picture on Main St.  I'll be there for the Opening; but I'm also putting up a show at Creative Harmony, a block away on Campo Street.  That one will be up fir three months and the formal "Opening" will be on the first Friday in November.  That one is from a series matching photographs with tanka poems.
The radio show:  I'll supplement this with a more detailed piece on what we hope to accomplish, but the basics are that I'll co-host "Speak Up, Las Cruces!" with Keith Whelpley on KOBE 1450 AM.  It's a news discussion show with listener call-in, but will also touch on the arts, sports, theater, gardening, the environment, interesting people we know around here, and just about everything else.  We're committed to getting diverse points of view represented on public issues, and to giving everyone a fair hearing.  We'll ask tough questions -- and encourage listeners to do the same -- but we believe that we can challenge others' ideas and political positions without rejecting those folks as people.  We're a community.  A community, like a family, ought to be able to talk frankly and hash out problems.  We hope that our radio show will contribute to our community's internal dialogue.
But it'll be a challenge!  We welcome suggestions -- for topics, for guests, for specific questions to scheduled guests, for additional features -- and invite folks to visit our Facebook page, where we'll have a schedule of upcoming topics and guests.  Go to Facebook and search Speak Up, Las Cruces if this link doesn't work:
Speak Up, Las Cruces
I'll try to post schedule here too later today.
Wish us luck!

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