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Welcome to Red State/Blue State, a feature presented by The Anniston Star of Anniston, Ala., and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

In the December 2001 edition of the Atlantic, David Brooks wrote an essay titled "One Nation, Slightly Divisible," in which he suggested that America is divided largely into two political cultures, one "red" and one "blue." His idea is based on those electoral maps in 2000 that colored majority-Republican states in red and majority-Democratic states in blue. Brooks' witty essay pictures the red-state voter as trending rural, a salt-of-the-earth type, concerned with individual liberty and family values, whereas the "blue" voter trends urban, more of a book-reader, a Beltway-savvy intellectual, the environmentally conscious soccer mom or dad.

Cliches? Maybe. But Brooks does have his finger on two very strong currents in the American votership. It's not that Pennsylvania is a "blue state" or Alabama is a "red state." It's that our two political cultures don't talk to each other much, or even know much about each other. To bridge that gap, we've brought together two "red" voters - John Franklin and Cynthia Sneed - and two "blue" voters, Terri Falbo and Timothy Horner. Each week, they'll ponder and debate the issues arising in the election campaign. The hope is that they'll model an intelligent discussion, a great big conference room where red and blue sit down together.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Terri Falbo, Blue Stater 

The Senate recently rejected a Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have banned same-sex marriages. Some say this issue is simply a diversion from more important issues. Others feel it will have an impact on this falls election. How do you see it? The Senate recently rejected a Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have banned same-sex marriages. Some say this issue is simply a diversion from more important issues. Others feel it will have an impact on this falls election. How do you see it?

On Feb. 25, President Bush announced his support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. At the end of his statement, he said that we should conduct this debate "in a matter worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger. In all that lies ahead, let us match strong convictions with kindness and good will and decency."

I would welcome such a discussion, but unfortunately this is not what I have heard. Instead, I hear the same emotional, fear-producing phrases repeated constantly, with little questioning and no reasonable explanations. The fact that I do not see the President and other advocates of the proposed constitutional amendment conducting the discussion with "good will and decency" leads me to believe that they are deliberately using it to stir up unfounded fears, divisions and hatred, and as a diversion from other issues. This does not mean, however, that the issue will have no impact on this fall's election. Unfortunately, prominent proponents of the constitutional amendment are probably correct in their assessment that they can sway some voters into not really analyzing the issues, but rather to vote based on negative emotions.

The President's Feb. 25 statement spoke of a few "activist judges" and local officials making an "aggressive attempt to redefine marriage" and "presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization." "Democratic action" is needed, according to the President, "if we are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever."

Our own state's Sen. Rick Santorum recently said, "We're in the process right now of judges and vigilantes - people taking justice into their own hands," devaluing marriage, and "deciding to change the law without either the courts or the legislature acting."

Former Presidential candidate Gary Bauer, President Bush, and many other proponents of the constitutional ban have stated that every civilization known in the world has "defined marriage" in the same way for thousands of years!

So the basic message demagogued every day is: A few vigilantes with no decent values are aggressively changing timeless (God-given?) "meanings" and "definitions" and threatening the welfare of children, the stability of society, and the whole of civilization! Pretty scary, "evil" stuff! Maybe the work of the Devil!

But what about conducting this discussion in a manner worthy of our country? Instead of name-calling, instead of language cleverly designed to promote fear, hatred, and division, what about a reasonable discussion based on answering questions with real explanations?

If I could sit in a room with the President or Sen. Santorum, these are some questions I would like to ask: Why do you portray the judges in question "vigilantes" who are taking the law into their own hands and "redefining" marriage? I am sure they do not consider this to be what they are doing. For instance, the Massachusetts State Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law for all citizens. Couldn't it be that the judges really believe they are properly interpreting their state's constitution? Just HOW does extending marriage rights to all citizens "devalue" or harm marriage or children - or anyone, for that matter? (Can you answer concretely, without resorting to vague emotional phrases about changing meanings and definitions?)

How can you possibly say that marriage has been the same in all civilizations for thousands of years? I can remember being disappointed and a bit shocked as a child when reading the Bible, to find that there was no mention of the wedding ceremonies and vows I had witnessed repeatedly on television - and that quite a few great men of God had many wives! What about the human societies where the brothers of the mothers had responsibilities for raising her children - not biological fathers? And who could argue with the fact that the "commitment to love and serve" was normally a one-way commitment on the part of the woman until recently?

Why do you say the "purpose" of marriage is for raising children? If that is the case, then what about opposite-sex couples who are elderly or infertile? Or those who just don't want to have children? Should they be banned from marriage?

What kinds of policies will do the most to encourage the long-term commitment of people to each other, promote the welfare of children, and bring out the best of human values? What about economic policies that guarantee a living wage, time off with pay, child care, and good health care for all? (The June 17 report from the Project on Global Working Families found that the United States offers fewer working family benefits than most other nations.) This would ensure that these issues would not be sources of stress leading to tearing families apart. What about free marriage counseling? What about less promotion of a corporate/consumer culture and promotion of a culture of citizenship instead? Corporate culture is about thinking of the greatest returns for the least investment, me first, no longterm commitments or relationships, externalizing costs (making someone else pay) - that is, the worst possible human values.

Suppose we thought of ourselves mainly as consumers in a marketplace. Would that not promote a breakdown of society and decent human values? Everything and everyone becomes a commodity to be used, bought, and sold.

These are the types of questions that need to be seriously addressed to conduct a discussion with kindness and good will and decency. Are there any strong supporters of a Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage willing to go the distance to have this debate in a manner worthy of our country?
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Monday, August 02, 2004

Tim Horner, Blue Stater 

The Senate recently rejected a Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have banned same-sex marriages. Some say this issue is simply a diversion from more important issues. Others feel it will have an impact on this falls election. How do you see it?

This attempt to move sexuality to the front of the political line is just another attempt for neocons to portray Bush as the "moral president." For the last year, at least, the Bush machine has been moving steadily to the right. This makes sense; this is where his support is. With Bush's fourth refusal to address the NAACP's national meetiong it became glaringly clear that Bush has no interest in courting voters that are not already predisposed to him.

In other words, Bush wants only to preach to the choir. Bush is not trying to regain disenfranchised Republicans, or even broaden his appeal. Ironically, he is trying to focus on a single demographic and make sure that he gets almost total devotion from them. These are the Evangelicals. This is the group that Bush seems most concerned with. He knows he will not get more than 8 percent of the black vote. He also does not care if he loses other voters who are offended by his I-am-not-going-because-they-weren't-nice-to-me-last-time attitude. Even though he took a fair bit of flak for this decision, in the end the balance may tip in his favor. Why? Because pandering for the black vote is not something that a "morally conservative" president would do. There is a Pandora's box of latent racism within Fundamentalist Christianity. (Save that topic for another day.)

But what does this have to do with the vote in the Senate about the "sanctity of marriage"? This is a religiously-driven issue. Marriage is described as a sacrament, meaning that God is somehow involved. Most Christians would not like to know that the earliest Christians did not see marriage this way. Marriage was not done in church. It was a legal procedure done to protect inheritance rights and guarantee certain privileges in society (sound familiar?). People were not married in church by priests until the Middle Ages!

More than anything else, the neo-cons need to keep God in the equation. It's their ace in the whole, and they are banking on this association for the election. Coupled with Bush's feelings about stem-cell research (excluding the study of Alzheimer's), liberals might think Bush is already as far right as he could go on this issue. Wrong. Many Christian political groups don't think he has gone nearly far enough to establish a "faith-based" society.

I don't think anyone believed that this amendment would actually pass the Senate. It served only to polarize politicians so that later, the voters could see who is for the "sanctity of marriage" and who, by voting against the amendment, supposedly is for a free-for-all in which any combination of people (more than two!?) could show up at a courthouse (even a church?!) and get legally married.

The whole issue is designed to make people choose. It is hoped that it will become a defining issue. And I have to hand it to them, they picked a good one, even better than the abortion issue. There is a great deal of ambivalence in our culture toward sexuality. This confusion is best seen in our attitude toward homosexuality. And now sexuality has been paired with marriage. The way the debate has been framed by the neocons (and I consider Bush to be a neocon, a category that does not include all Republicans) does not allow us to be tolerant of other people. Tolerance, from their viewpoint, amounts to endorsement, if not encouragement. If we tolerate gay marriage, we then endorse gay marriage, which means that we encourage gay marriage, which means that traditional (even biblical) forms of marriage will be undermined.

This is the same kind of thinking that told us that either we were for the war on Iraq or we were with the terrorists. It is the same tactic used to silence dissent during the war. If you question the President, then you strengthen the terrorists. The way this debate has been framed so far shows that Bush does not want debate or public discourse. He wants you and me to make a choice - a choice selected from his list of options.

This is nothing more than a trap to get people to make a decision that they might not choose to give priority in their everyday lives. I know that my marriage will not be eroded if two women get married. As a father with four children, I hope that if one or more of my children are gay (they are too young to know), society has room for them to enter into a love relationship without having to live secret lives.

And maybe that is it. Maybe we fear that if there are gay marriages, then our children will think it's OK and become gay. What kind of crazy thinking is that?

I can see one of my kids saying: "Gosh, Dad, I really can't decide whether to be gay or straight."

"Son," I reply, "marriage is defined as only between a man and women. I think you better go with the straight life. That way, you can get all those great benefits from the government. Plus you won't be looked down on as a second-class citizen."

"Thanks, Dad, I'll do just what you said."

What else but fear drives this debate - a fear based on insecurity? If the only thing going for traditional marriage is the perks, then we are in serious trouble. Even the religious angle does not hold weight. Yes, the Bible is tough on homosexuality, but it is equally tough on any kind of sex in which love is not at the center of our sexuality. Let's make a law that says that a man and woman have to love each other in marriage. Even to be found not to love each is to be in violation of the Constitution and therefore a criminal. Divorce would then be a criminal act. If you want to preserve the sanctity of marriage, then outlaw divorces based on "irreconcilable differences."

It's not that we should all just shut up about homosexuality - or any sexuality, for that matter. The issue is whether this is the kind of topic to have on a presidential platform. Bush has chosen, it appears, to run as the moral candidate (the irony of this is rich indeed). And so we see him pandering, not to black voters, or the poor, or the even the middle class, but to conservative Evangelicals who will not be satisfied until the Bible - and their selective interpretation of it - is our Constitution.

Gay marriage is a non-issue. If it has any relevance, that relevance lies in the arena of civil rights. I think most people instinctively know this, but the pressures of a presidency in decline have forced Bush to retreat to his power base.

I, for one, do not believe that America was designed to be governed by an aggressive, intolerant, Christian ideology. If we allow this kind of divisive tactic to split us, we as Americans will lose much of what is great about our country.
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Joe Franklin, Red Stater 

The Senate recently rejected a Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have banned same-sex marriages. Some say this issue is simply a diversion from more important issues. Others feel it will have an impact on this falls election. How do you see it?

I do not foresee the rejection of the Federal Marriage Amendment having any effect on the upcoming election here in Alabama.

President Bush might get some attention over this issue, but if he loses any real ground in Alabama, it will be from other issues. There will be no repercussions from this amendment in the Bible Belt.

To be candid, I have not followed this story closely. As I understand it, the Federal Marriage Amendment would have defined marriage as a heterosexual union.

We already had the Defense of Marriage Act, which left the choice to define marriage to the states. Then, the Massachusetts Supreme Court gives the go-ahead for same-sex marriage without the voters or legislature getting involved.

We in South Alabama recognize three types of marriage: past, present, and common-law. One sure way to unite the less spiritual, the nonbelievers, and far right Christians is just to mention the gay culture. Folks here understand the gay culture about as well as they know and understand radical Islamic fundamentalists. Most have no desire to learn more about it, either.

It is amazing how such a small segment of our society gets so much attention in Washington. Who's next? The left-handed, the colorblind, or the obese? Now, that's a good one. We overweight folks need to unite. I know a lot of good ole boys that don't fit within their doctor's height-to-weight chart.

Perhaps the government should get out of the marriage business altogether.

Look at all the clutter that could be eliminated in courthouses throughout the nation. While we are at it, let's abolish divorces. (Now of that I've had a couple). More clutter eliminated. We could replace these Taj Mahal courthouses with trailers.

But listen to the lawyers scream! The more I think about it, it's the lawyers who really are pushing gay marriage legislation. More divorce litigation means more money. That's probably why the Massachusetts court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage: more money for the lawyers. I hope they realize that, just on the basis of biological reasons alone, there would be a decrease in child-support litigation. Just look at the money we could save.

There would be more for education, defense, welfare, and AIDS research.

If I remember my history, this country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. For a definition of these principles, go to the clergy, for God's sake; don't ask Congress.

To speak seriously for a moment, the Federal Marriage Amendment failure was disappointing to both "Wal-Mart" Republicans and "Granddaddy" Democrats. (For those who don't know about "Granddaddy" Democrats, they are sworn Democrats but walk and talk like "Wal-Mart" Republicans. When questioned about their party allegiance, they launch off into a tirade about "my granddaddy was a Democrat, and I'm a Democrat." The truth is Granddaddy would scratch out of his grave if he knew of the Federal Marriage Amendment failure.)

On the other hand, many people, including the old Democrats, don't care nor have no opinion. The sad part is that the common folk knew so little about the pending amendment.

An interesting observation regarding the Federal Marriage Amendment and same-sex marriage comes from African-Americans middle-aged or older. They are quick to tell you that marriage is for a man and a woman. These folks are 24-karat Democrats, the backbone and guts of the Democratic vote in South Alabama. Here they are in agreement with both "Wal-Mart" Republicans and "Granddaddy" Democrats. Ask a 50-plus-year-old African American working man from the dirty South, with calloused hands and streaks of salt in his sweaty shirt, and stand back - he may explode. He is going to tell you what a foolish question that is and what a fool you are for asking. Then he will explain that marriage is for a man and a woman and that there ought to be a law prohibiting two men or two women to marry.

The whole debate is not a partisan issue, not an ethnic issue, or a racial issue, but to these people it is a moral issue.

The sad matter is that with all the problems of our great nation, the U.S. Senate is debating this issue at the public's expense. For that matter, it is a waste of time and money for Congress, state legislatures, or the Courts to debate this issue. This whole debate is not worth two dead flies. Leave them in the closet and let God bring them out.

There is no intention to bash any of the aforementioned groups or make a joke of the sanctity of marriage. It is just a few thoughts I have about an issue with a lot of fruits and nuts on both sides.

Living Large in Lower Alabama,
Joe Franklin

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Cynthia Sneed, Red Stater 

The Senate recently rejected a Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have banned same-sex marriages. Some say this issue is simply a diversion from more important issues. Others feel it will have an impact on this fall's election. How do you see it?

I believe the redefining of our traditional view of marriage by legalizing same-sex marriage issue is the most important social issue of this election. Democrats, stalwart champions of gay rights, are reluctant to discuss any support of gay marriage.

Gays and Lesbian are an important supporters to the DNC (just like the NRA or conservative Christians are to Republicans). They have made numerous promises to the gay community who have, in return, given Democrats their support and money.

During interviews prior to convention week, top Democrats were struggling with how to handle the gay marriage issue. "This convention will not be about those (gay rights) issues. It's not going to happen," DNC Chairman and Clinton acolyte Terry McAullife told the Boston Globe.

Our political leaders have an obligation to talk about same-sex marriage because gay and lesbian couples are legally marrying in Massachusetts, then returning home to their native states in hope that courts will force the states to recognize the marriages under Full Faith and Credit in the Constitution. The first such lawsuit was filed on July 20 by a lesbian couple in Florida, married in Massachusetts, who returned home to Florida and is suing to make that state recognize their marriage.

The Advocate writes that DNC chairman McAullife is among the "most dangerous men in America" in the fight for Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender (GBLT) equality. The magazine's Web site reported, "Commentator Laura Flanders blasted the chairman for the Democratic Party's 'going weak' in supporting civil unions instead of full marriage rights for same-sex couples, and for what she claimed was a lack of dedication to gay and lesbian rights despite the party's appeals to them for financial support."

Gay and lesbian advocacy groups must have had reason to believe that Democrats supported same-sex marriage, not just civil unions, for Flanders to have made those comments. I would like for the DNC leadership to explain how they can be for gay and lesbian rights in every single area but this one.

McAullife refused to give gays and lesbians a leading role at the convention. He refused to allow the same-sex marriage topic to be discussed. Considering how important gay support is to Democrats, it seems as if he is trying to mislead the American people about the relationship between the DNC and the gay and lesbian activist groups.

A leading gay rights advocacy organization bragged that gay voters could significantly influence the Democrats' choice of a nominee. "The 2004 Democratic presidential candidates, as a group, hold the most pro-gay positions ever taken by a field of candidates for president," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF).

Some of the issues the Democratic party ranked high on in a GLTF survey included: legal recognition of "domestic partnerships, civil unions and same-sex marriage; tolerance education teaching children that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle choice; hate crimes laws establishing greater penalties against homosexuals than heterosexuals; "comprehensive sex education" curricula that include the disputed theory of condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS; homosexual couples receiving Social Security survivor and spousal benefits and allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military (killing the "don't-ask, don't-tell" policy).

The DNC should be honest about their support of gay and lesbian rights and discuss openly, at the convention, on national television, in prime time the issues the gay, lesbian and transgender community are lobbying for them to support and which ones Team Kerry/Edwards will support.

What the Democratic Party wants is for their politicians to argue same-sex marriage is a "state's rights issue," knowing full well that activist judges will overrule the legislators like they did in Massachusetts. The Democratic leadership understands that same-sex marriages and/or civil unions can become law without any liberal politician having to run on the issue and voters having no say in the matter. Judges will decide.

All one need do is look at how President Bush's conservative judicial nominees have been blocked in the Senate to understand the liberals agenda for the courts.

Republicans and conservative Democrats find themselves in the unenviable position of being branded "mean-spirited, bigoted homophobic religious fanatics" for opposing same-sex marriage while Democrats have found a way to support an issue that they concurrently oppose, in effect taking no position and making everybody happy.

Neither political party should be allowed to hide behind "what ifs" and doubletalk on this issue. If the Republicans are against these issues, they should say so in public and be specific in how they are going to address the unfair discrimination faced by gays and lesbians in America concerning taxes and Social Security. If the Democrats are for some of these issues they too should be honest. Oddly enough, the "compromise" of civil unions only applies to state issues while excluding federal benefits such as the assignment of Social Security to a life partner or filing "married filing joint" for a tax break, issues high on the gay rights agenda.

I think the American people deserve to know what each party considers thoughtful solutions to these issues before, not after, the election.
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Bloggers from
Blue State (Pa.)

Terri Falbo

Born and raised in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Terri Falbo is a union organizer who has lived in Philadelphia for almost 30 years. She graduated from Temple University and previously worked as a construction worker for 17 years.

Tim Horner

Tim Horner grew up in Iowa, but has lived out significant chunks of his adult life in Chicago, IL and Oxford, England. He is married and has four children (14, 12, 10 and 7). Having grown up as an Evangelical in the Midwest and still a practicing Christian, he is concerned with how religion and politics mix. Because of a combination of circumstance and apathy, he has never voted in a presidential election. He currently teaches Humanities at Villanova University.
Bloggers from
Red State (Ala.)

Joe Franklin

Alabama native Joe Franklin, 58, was born in Pike County and grew up on a farm in Crenshaw County. He graduated from Troy State University in 1967. After working for 28 years with the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles as a parole and probation officer, retired to Crenshaw County, which is just south of Montgomery, where he spends his days working on the farm.

Cynthia Sneed

Gadsden resident and local college professor Cynthia Smith Sneed has a doctorate in Accounting from the University of Alabama. Her fields of academic research are in state pension and employee benefit issues. She has been published in numerous academic accounting journals and has done research for the Alabama Policy Institute. She is a member of the American Accounting Association, Governmental Finance Officers Association as well as being active in the Republican Party.

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