Columns » Max Brantley

Conventional 'wisdom'

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Conventional political wisdom is often little more than wishful thinking. When Gov. Mike Huckabee said John Edwards couldn't connect in hunting-happy Arkansas because he doesn't hunt, he overlooked not only Edwards' syrupy Southern accent and working class roots but also the inconvenient fact that more than 85 percent of the people in Arkansas are like Edwards. They don't hunt either. When Republicans say a proposed Arkansas ban on same-sex marriage is a sure-fire vote producer for George W. Bush, I'm again not so sure. Yes, Missouri voted 70-30 to ban same-sex marriage. But it's significant that fully 30 percent expressed approval for marriage. Same-sex civil union, more acceptable to many voters, was not mentioned in the proposal. Arkansas voters are going to be asked to vote on a broader proposition, unless a possible legal challenge to the constitutional amendment is successful. It would ban both same-sex marriage (already illegal by statute in Arkansas) and civil unions. Worst of all, it would make it illegal to give members of a household anything resembling the legal preferences accorded husband and wife. This hazy provision is a can of worms. It will require many lawsuits to determine just how much damage the amendment does to, for example, family health insurance coverage for unmarried heterosexual partners; to child custody, adoption and support rules; to provisions for hospital visitation by loved ones, and to who knows what else. It will be a nightmarish burden on loving family units, all in the name of punishing people for their innate sexual chemistry. The tiny human rights community can't muster much money to get this message out. Business executives and politicians who know better are too timid to speak the truth. They fear the folks who show their love of mankind by marginalizing a narrow sector of human beings. The good news is that bigots are not the majority. A series of national polls this summer by organizations like the Wall Street Journal, CBS and Fox News showed voters at least evenly split, in some cases clearly opposed, to a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. More interesting still were questions by CBS and Fox on a range of marriage choices. In the CBS and Fox polls, 28 and 25 percent, respectively, favored legal same-sex marriage. Another chunk, 29 and 26 percent, favored legal partnerships or civil unions, but not marriage. Only 40 percent, in both polls, opposed all legal recognition for same-sex couples. In other words, a clear majority of Americans support at least civil unions for same-sex couples. These voters also seem content to leave the matter to the states. That is more or less John Kerry's position. Is that a dangerous political position in Arkansas? It shouldn't be. In poll after poll, Arkansas voters land squarely in the discerning mainstream on social issues. These include gun control (sorry, Huck, but we Arkies support the ban on assault weapons and use of background checks); abortion (we want them legal, but with plenty of restrictions); capital punishment (we're wary about its use against the retarded and minors), and medical use of marijuana (toke up!). We are not, thank goodness, the Deliverance territory of Alabama or Texas. Given education and opportunity, Arkansans will do the right thing. Opportunity calls in November. It's the education that I'm worried about.

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