Tuesday, February 19, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: The "Gay" Memorial

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Feb. 17, 2013



There was a little dust-up in the state Senate last week that didn’t get much news coverage, but left some hurt feelings.

Wednesday, Feb. 13, was Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Day at the Roundhouse. As is the case with most “special” days during a legislative session, there was a memorial, in this case, Senate Memorial 39, sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque.

As is the case with most of these memorials, which have no force of law, SM 39 was pretty innocuous. About the most controversial thing it said was, “Whereas, the New Mexico Senate welcomes members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to the state Capitol …”

Yep, you can bet your sweet whereas that some people took offense to the memorial.

Most eyes in the Roundhouse on Wednesday were on the House, where the gun-show bill was being debated. So it was only later that I started hearing angry rumors about what had happened in the Senate. “The Republicans threatened to shut down the whole Senate for the rest of the session if they passed the GLBT Day memorial!” was what several sources told me.

That didn’t seem quite likely, so I decided to check it out with the GOP Senate leadership.

Republican Whip Bill Payne of Albuquerque told me right away that he was the one who went to Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez of Belen and asked that there be no hearing on SM 39. “It would have created a big floor fight,” he said. Another Republican senator was ready to introduce a “Traditional Family Day” memorial in retaliation, Payne said.

No Republican actually threatened to shut down the Senate, Payne said. But he made the point that encouraging politically charged memorials could open the door to memorials for a “Right to Life Day,” a “Pro-Choice Day,” on down the line.

“Those things should be in bills,” Payne said. If the Senate is going to get into serious, emotional debates about controversial issues, it should be over pieces of legislation that actually do have the force of law.

Memorials, Payne said, should be for uncontroversial matters — honoring champion baseball teams, the March of Dimes, etc.

Payne said he and Sanchez agreed to give the organizers of GLBT Day a certificate from the Senate instead of debating the memorial.

At the risk of offending a huge portion of my readers, I must say I see Payne’s point. For one thing, I’ve put myself on record saying the Legislature should drastically restrict the number of memorials and resolutions, which take up way too much time in both the Senate and the House.

I’m not for avoiding bitter floor fights over real issues that affect people, including gay rights.

But I’d much rather the Legislature spend time arguing over real legislation — like Rep. Brian Egolf’s proposed constitutional amendment to put marriage equality in the state constitution (House Joint Resolution 3) or Rep. Mary Helen Garcia’s House Bill 234, which would create a specific crime for bullying — than having some mud fight over some toothless but emotion-charged memorial.

Not everyone agrees, of course. Pat Davis, executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico, pointed out that other groups — Hispanics, Native Americans, African Americans, get their memorials. He called the Senate’s certificate a “second-class type of recognition.”

I also spoke with Amber Royster, the new executive director of Equality New Mexico, a major advocacy group for gay rights. She said she agreed that more legislative energy should be put into actual legislation.

Still, she wonders why such an innocuous memorial memorial like McSorley’s should be so controversial, why something that merely states, “New Mexico’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is composed of vibrant residents who are members of the state’s working community, including teachers, doctors, attorneys, accountants, activists and clergy,” should potentially lead to a floor fight.

Hopefully in the near future it won’t.

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