Monday, July 19, 2004

The Anti-Gay Minority

This week's column uses a historical artifact, as if anyone remembers the superconducting supercollider anymore, to try to illuminate the Federal Marriage Amendment debate.  I was on a radio program on Friday and was asked about gay marriage; one of my co-panelists kept talking about how uncomfortable it made her, and I finally erupted, "Then you don't go, and send a nice gift instead."

Check out the headline; Bob Schuster was on vacation, so it's better than usual for my side.

East Valley Tribune, July 18, 2004

In the 1980s, the hottest thing in science was the Superconducting Supercollider.  The SSC would have been a huge underground "racetrack," with superconducting magnets that would accelerate and smash atomic particles into each other at fantastic speeds.  Physicists could have conducted otherwise impossible experiments into the very nature of matter and energy.

Particle physics was as "hot," in scientific terms, as genomics, nanotechnology, and Donald Trump -- the kind of science that nobody in government could explain, but everybody wanted a piece of the action.  It was The Future, and many states made big publicly-funded bets on landing the SSC.

In 1987, the Reagan administration announced plans to build the SSC, and 43 different sites submitted applications to host the project.  Most states picked their best location, then started working the system to win the selection contest.  States hired lobbyists, generated publicity campaigns, and got their congressional delegations working hard to bring home the subatomic bacon.

Typically, Arizona took a different approach.  We didn’t pick a single site as the state’s best; that would have been too easy.  Instead, we submitted two different locations, one in Maricopa County and one in Pima.  Both sites met the criteria set out by the Department of Energy, but it shouldn’t surprise you that when DOE chose the site in November, 1988, they chose Texas and not us.

Probably (due to the politics) Texas would have won anyway, but looking back, there’s no way we could have expected people in Washington, DC to pick one of two different Arizona sites as the best in the nation -- not when Arizona couldn’t even decide which was better.  If we wouldn’t pick one as the state’s best, would outsiders ever select one of them as the nation’s best?

Arizona’s misguided effort in the SSC site selection process was echoed this past week when Senate Republicans couldn’t even decide on which version of a so-called Federal Marriage Amendment they wanted.  If the red-meat social conservatives -- you know, the types who want to get government where it belongs, out of your wallet and into your underwear -- couldn’t choose how they wanted to defile the Constitution, did anyone really think the rest of us would help select one for them?

This year’s misguided FMA effort, as Kevin Drum noted for The Washington Monthly, was anti-gay side’s best shot.  Republicans, who have seized upon homosexuality as the last acceptable prejudice, control all three branches of government.  It’s an election year, and when most people think about gays, there’s still a "yuck" factor.  (Not that there’s anything right with that.)  Despite all those advantages, the FMA lost 48-50; its proponents not only didn’t get the two-thirds needed for a constitutional amendment, they couldn’t even muster a majority.

What’s more, time isn’t on the right-wingers’ side.  Most people born after 1980 or even 1970 view the "threat" of homosexuality about as seriously as the threat represented by that other Biblical abomination, shellfish.  How does two women getting married in Massachusetts affect anyone else’s marriage? The Republicans couldn’t even keep the vice president’s own wife and daughter on the reservation.

Just watch -- in another 20 or 30 years, conservative talking heads will discuss how Sen. Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum or Sen. John "Marry a Box Turtle" Cornyn have given up the gay-bashing and "grown" or "evolved" -- just like Strom Thurmond did.  (There’s your "yuck" factor.)

The SSC never was built; soon after construction started in Waxahachie, Texas, Congress lost interest in a single state’s Big Science pork project and stopped the funding.  And just like the SSC, the FMA will never get built, either.  Ain’t progress grand?

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