Many of the Republicans in the Arkansas legislature want to stick their noses into people’s personal lives. I guess it’s to be expected since our Republican president in his State of the Union speech said he wanted to amend our Constitution so that gay people could never be married in this country.
I had just finished reading about President Bush’s speech when I looked at the TV and saw Steve Barnes begin interviewing four legislators. They were: Rep. Roy Ragland of Marshall, a former Baptist pastor, who has sponsored a bill that would forbid Arkansas schools from having any textbook that said that in some places (Canada and Massachusetts, for example) a man could marry a man and a woman could marry a woman. Also on the program and in favor of the bill was Rep. Jeremy Hutchinson of Little Rock, who favors not only the textbook censorship but another bill that would forbid unmarried and/or gay couples taking care of orphans.
The other two lawmakers opposed these bizarre bills — Rep. Sam Ledbetter, a Little Rock lawyer, and Rep. Linda Chesterfield of Little Rock, a teacher and a former president of the Arkansas Education Association.
Of course, this idea about textbooks is the result of the large majority of voters in November adopting a strange amendment to the state Constitution that says that a marriage in this state could only be between a man and a woman. This was the work of the ultra-conservative churches in the state who believe that religion and politics should mix.
The director of the state Education Department and others spoke against the textbook bill, and experts also testified that there is no evidence that homosexual parents abuse foster children. But despite all this, the bills are moving along toward becoming law in Arkansas.
Ledbetter said it was a silly mistake and would cost millions of dollars for companies to produce textbooks only for the state of Arkansas. Chesterfield said it was poor schooling to have Arkansas kids learning from textbooks that can’t tell them what are the laws and practices in other states and countries.
Then they turned to the bill that would forbid the Department of Human Services to allow unmarried couples and gays from taking care of foster children. Hutchinson explained that the department did not place children in the homes of gays, but in December Circuit Judge Tim Fox held that the department’s policy was unconstitutional. In other words, it’s the judge’s fault that we have to pass a new law. Hutchinson said that he and others believe that the judge’s decision only meant that the department could carry out the policy if the legislature passed a law prohibiting the use of the homes of gays, but I’m sure the judge doesn’t see it that way.
Ledbetter opposed the bill and said he tried for compromise, but its backers wouldn’t give. Ledbetter said it was a mistake because the Department of Human Services has many more orphans than they have homes that will accept them. Chesterfield, who is black, said that she thought “the discrimination was moving the state back to segregation.” She talked about a young person who had grown up with a homosexual family who was now studying for a Ph.D. Hutchinson said he was not discriminating, and, in fact, he had friends who were gay.
Many times during the 30-minute show Hutchinson and Ragland said that they were supporting these bills because they knew that the people they represented wanted them made into laws. They found this out, they said, when 75 percent of the voters in November were in favor of the amendment that would not allow gays to marry in Arkansas.
So often we hear legislators, especially the young and new ones, saying that they vote the way they are told to by the people they represent. After all, they are the people who send them to Little Rock for a few weeks of work every two years and provide them a nice salary. In fact, some of us wince every time there’s an effort to raise the legislators’ salaries. We don’t want legislators who take the job for money. We want people to represent us who are intelligent and fair and want to improve the image of Arkansas and make it a better place to live and to work. We want them to make their own decisions before they vote rather than counting their luncheons, contributions, votes, e-mails, letters and telephone calls.
Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, is one of my favorite presidents. He was brave enough to fight for his country on the battlefield as well as on Wall Street where he stopped the dishonesty of the barons for the first time. Here’s something he said one time that every legislator ought to remember:
“It may be that the voice of the people is the voice of God in 51 cases out of a hundred, but in the remaining 49 it is quite as likely to be the voice of the devil, or what is still worse, the voice of a fool.”