Monday, December 19, 2011

Senator Menendez Repudiates DOMA

Discrimination against same-sex marriages cannot be tolerated in our society as a matter of law
By Robert Menendez

Since my vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act 15 years ago, like tens of millions of Americans, I have reflected deeply and frequently about this issue. During this time, I have engaged in discussions about the issue of marriage equality with friends, family members, colleagues and of course, the people I serve in New Jersey. I have heard and listened to many different views.

But for me, this comes down to an issue of fundamental fairness. For me, this comes down to the principles I learned as the child of immigrants and that I cherish as an American: that we believe in equality for all people under the law.

So today, I am announcing my support for the Respect for Marriage Act, which repeals DOMA and ensures that all lawfully married couples — including same-sex couples — receive the benefits of marriage under federal law. 
No American should have to wait outside a hospital room while a loved one suffers inside. No American should lose inheritance simply because the federal government does not recognize the couple’s marriage. No child should feel that his or her parents are somehow less equal under the law than a best friend’s parents. 

This kind of discrimination cannot be tolerated in our society as a matter of law, and it should not be tolerated. Two people who want to be committed to each other should be able to enter into marriage, and they should receive the benefits that flow from that commitment.
What took him so long? His daughter & son agree Wicked, the long-running gay allegory musical, is his favorite Broadway show.

Senator Robert "Bob" Menendez is a fairly good senator;  New Jersey doesn't have a tradition of electing great &/or colorful senators. Our governors tend to be characters. The guy Chris Christie beat, Jon Corzine, was the first outright boring elected governor we've had since I was a kid.  Menendez is a polished, urban politician, & if he comes across as sort of a stiff, I have seen a You Tube video of him dancing the salsa with an attractive young woman at a campaign event. There are over 1,500,000 Latinos in Jersey (well, we ain't California), most of them legal,  giving him an almost untouchable base in any race against  the country club candidates  Repugs tend to run for the office.

On the whole Menendez is one of the more liberal members of the senate, so far as he's given an opportunity to be safely liberal. Over the years as a congressmen & senator he's tended to duck some issues by  not co-sponsoring progressive  legislation (so he isn't  on-the-record  if the bills never come to a vote) or casting a "safe" vote, as he's done with anti-flag-burning laws & DOMA. He's vocally against giving Cuba any slack, although his parents fled fascist Batista, not commie Castro.  Of course, he accepts plenty of moola from the finance, insurance and real estate industries.  A reform Democrat  he ain't. Voters  don't pay  much attention to the fine print legislation that benefits big business. He's up for reelection in 2012 & it won't do to attach himself to Barack Obama's coattails. New Jersey is more   Clinton territory. Barack can draw &  impress a crowd here, but Jersey Democrats go nuts when Bill or Hillary show up for an event. They are money-in-the-bank at fundraisers.

So what changed Menendez on DOMA? No doubt he's sincere. The urban Latino & African-American Democratic base in Jersey is at best generally indifferent to gay rights. But the suburban middle class part of the party, as well the much-coveted independent, educated suburban women, are  long past debating gay rights. Jersey's most prominent gay rights organization, Garden State Equality, can channel a lot of support, monetary & practical, into local races. The GSE chairperson, Steven Goldstein, is very outspoken about who he likes & doesn't like & knows how to get media attention. If you're a Democrat, you gain nothing by getting on Steven's sh*t list. No conservatives will change their votes to you, but many Democrats will decide not to give you money & will skip over your name on Election Day.

Republicans can't win statewide in Jersey running on conservative social values. Not even pro-life, anti-marriage equality Chris Christie did it. He put those positions on his campaign resume & then ignored them except when speaking to Repug audiences, making his successful campaign for governor about the only issue that uniformly gets suburban voters riled up: property taxes. Those suburban independent women actually like Gov. Baggy Pants. 

It won't be easy to beat Menendez. Being "liberal" isn't the kiss-of-defeat in Jersey. You can call Menendez a boss, an insider, a deal-broker, a professional politician, & he's all of those. But he comes across as a serious, studious, wonky person; he's all of those too. I'm glad he came around on marriage equality.  His daughter, Alicia, makes talking head appearances as a political commentator on cable networks. I think she had much to do with  changing her dad's mind.

(You can argue that all Broadway musicals except La Cage Aux Folles are gay allegories, & the spirit of La Cage is like  Charley's Aunt & Some Like it Hot in its cross-dressing mistaken identity plot.)

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