by Max Brantley
From the Capitol today:
The resolution passed on a voice vote. No roll call. Many audible nays were heard.
Roll the tape at the House website if you get a chance for a moving speech by Rep. Deborah Ferguson of West Memphis who spoke warmly of the friends, neighbors and others that she and others know who are gay. "I have personally seen their struggles, first for acceptance and now for their rights under the law. This resolution is hurtful to our sons and daughters and an entire community. It says we don't value them as equal citizens." She said Arkansas had repeatedly been on not only the losing, but "wrong" side of history — in support for slavery, in early opposition to women's voting rights, in the civil rights era when the legislature passed seg laws following the Brown v. Board of Education decision and now in voting to deny gay people equal treatment under the law. "How do you want your grandchildren to remember how you voted today?" She urged the members to "stand up for love and tolerance and understanding."
Republican Rep. Justin Harris also invoked the grandchild angle, but in defense of the resolution. "What will be your response when you are asked, did you defend marriage between one man and one woman?" Harris also set a few heads scratching when he said this: "Although the nation may be trending one way, Arkansas has been proven to be a leader on issues dear to the mainstream...." Huh? He explained that these issues may not be mainstream to the "liberal media" but "they are mainstream to heartbeat of everyday Arkansans." Harris acknowledged remarks earlier in the day by Justice Anthony Kennedy that many have taken to mean DOMA is to be struck down. Arkansas will still have its constitutional amendment against gay marriage, Harris said. A little discrimination is better than none, in other words.
Rep. Greg Leding of Fayetteville, in opposing the resolution, recounted telling gay friends about his own engagement. "I felt guilty. Here was something I was excited about that I got to do, that they don't get to do."
Like Leding, Rep. Warwick Sabin of Little Rock said he couldn't see a reason to prevent two people from entering marriage. It comes down to freedom, he said. Sabin also said he didn't think people in Arkansas who opposed same sex marriage hated gay people. But he was overcome by emotion as he began to elaborate and couldn't continue, leaving the well of the House.
Dotson closed by saying he didn't see the need to redefine marriage. Nobody had asked him to.
PS — Republicans will get a chance tomorrow (CORRECTION: The ERA is actually on a Senate committee agenda next Tuesday) to again kill the ERA in committee. What a hit list. Minorities (voter ID); gays (today); women (tomorrow); poor people (tax cut bills); non-Christians and non-believers (prayer and Bible teaching bills). The only people unscathed by this legislature are gun-toting old white male fundamentalists.
*LOVE THAT DIRTY WATER: The industry bill, HB 1929, gutting Arkansas's clean water standards came out of a Senate committee 5-0 after debate was truncated. Bill Kopsky of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel comments: "A legal challenge to the bill is sure to come, tying up the implementation of the bill for years and costing the state millions. There was a better way!"
* FOOTBALL: Rep. Andy Mayberry is presenting his bill to require the UA Razorbacks and Arkansas State to play a football game at War Memorial Stadium, with $250,000 of the proceeds going to Children's Hospital. It's in House Rules. I haven't checked old school ties of members, but normally you wouldn't expect such a bill to survive the UA's historic opposition. UPDATE: The bill failed.
* BIG RIVER STEEL: Roby Brock at Talk Business reports that details have now been added to the bill to provide $75 million in grants and $50 million in loans to the startup Big River Steel project in Mississippi County. It could have a committee test Thursday.