|Sen. Dan Swecker|
You never know what incredible bits of truthiness you might hear from anti-gay activists at a legislative hearing. On March 15th the Washington state Senate Committee on Government Operations and Tribal Relations & Elections heard public testimony on the bill updating the Uniform Parentage Act of 2002 (HB 1267) by “clarifying and expanding the rights and obligations of state registered domestic partners and other couples related to parentage” as well as on a bill to automatically recognize married same-sex couples from out-of-state as domestic partners when those couples are in Washington state (HB 1649).
Two standard bearers of homophobia, Sen. Dan Swecker (R-Rochester) and Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn) sit on that committee and didn’t seem at all inclined to let honest consideration of legislation distract them from polishing the anti-gay plank of the Washington State Republican Party’s platform.
Especially, it seems, when one of the bills up for discussion (HB 1267) was the bill that Sen. Swecker used last week as a gratuitous opportunity to accuse gays of perpetrating forced pregnancy, human trafficking and slavery.
With and assist from Sen. Don Benton (R-Vancouver), Senators Swecker and Roach got their crusade on. Whether they helped their cause or just made a hash of it is an interesting question. After all, bill opponents only employed smears and fear-mongering rhetoric whereas bill proponents included real families sharing real stories about how these changes in the law would benefit loving families.Sen. Pam Roach used the public hearing on the out-of-state marriage recognition bill (HB 1649) as a vehicle to smear gay, lesbian and bisexual people, much like Rep. John Ahern (pictured right) did a few years ago with his vile insinuation that LGB people would create domestic partnerships with dogs, and that the state needed a “Gestapo-like” system to police them. Here is Sen. Roach’s smear posed as a question to the bill’s prime sponsor Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) after Rep. Jinkins introduced the bill to the committee:
It says that in our law, that you can’t it says be not married to someone…nearer of kin to each other than a second cousin. So be related in other ways. Well, I think heterosexual marriages would have this be the case because there’s an assumption of having children together and they don’t want essentially in-breeding.
So I’m wondering if it isn’t possible for other states to have a domestic partnership or same-sex marriage statute that would have left this part out because it’s a moot point in a relationship of two people of the same gender.
So if you had somebody, say, in Massachusetts that had the law basically like ours, however it didn’t mention this, could you possibly have same-sex couples in Washington who are in fact first cousins or brothers and sisters?
Sen. Roach’s intent here is clear: imply that gay, lesbian and bisexual people form incestuous relationships while reminding the room in a manner insulting to same-sex couples that they can’t procreate without assistance from a third party. Rep. Jinkins deftly responded:
I think there’s actually two responses to this and staff may be able to clarify this too. One is that the law says that the laws have to be substantially equivalent or the relationships have to be.
But right now in Washington state I believe Washington state recognizes marriages done in other states between first cousins as basically reciprocal relationships, even though we don’t allow first cousins to marry in Washington state. I think Colorado, for example, allows first cousins to marry. If you’re first cousins and you marry in Colorado and move to Washington state, we don’t declare your marriage null and void, we recognize it.
Sen. Swecker’s benefactor, the Oregonian Gary Randall, complained that “I was not given opportunity to testify, although I had requested it”. He has only the Republican members of the committee to thank for wasting the extra time that Sen. Craig Pridemore (D-Vancouver) had made available for public testimony through his thoughtful organization of the hearing schedule. Republican Senators Roach and Swecker wasted valuable public testimony time by repeatedly asking witnesses often long-winded questions that were better directed to staff after the public hearing.
In an especially cringe-worthy moment, Sen. Swecker asked a time-wasting technical question about adoption law to John Geis who was there representing the Washington State Catholic Conference. The misdirected question relegated Mr. Geis to give this embarrassingly impotent answer:
You know I think as far as the legal questions can be asked to, there’s a lawyer that’s going to be speaking against this bill, or con to this bill. So you can ask him the real nitty gritty legal questions which I’m not the expert for that.
Mr. Geis and Sen. Swecker both oppose the bill, so the senator in effect embarrassed his own witness while wasting valuable committee time.
The hearing wasn’t without it’s amusing moments. Senator Don Benton (R-Vancouver) managed to get the most unexpected statement out of Mr. Geis. According to Mr. Geis, the Washington State Catholic Conference is a “women’s rights group”!:
BENTON: My question for you is, I’ve been made aware of the fact that there are a number of well-known women’s rights groups and feminist groups that oppose the bill based on some of the testimony we’ve heard here today, you know in terms of women. Are there any, I mean are you affiliated with any what would be considered feminist groups or women’s rights organizations within the Catholic church that have taken a position on this bill?
GEIS: I think we as the Catholic Conference are very much concerned with the proper protection of women in the state of Washington. And this is our primary concern. Our number one concern is really – and I think the feminists – I’ve read a New York Times article about Gloria Steinem and several many other feminists who oppose surrogacy altogether.
SEN. PRIDEMORE: Let’s not have hearsay. If you’re representing a women’s group that is opposed to the bill, I think that is the nature of Sen. Benton’s question. You can’t speak to other organizations unless you’re here as their representative.
GEIS: Ok, so to answer your question, we as the Catholic Conference are responsible for standing up for the rights of women. So in that sense yes, we’re a women’s rights group. It’s for that very reason that we do oppose this bill. One of the reasons.
Publicola reported this interesting post-hearing exchange between Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle), the prime sponsor of the Uniform Parentage bill, and Sen. Swecker:
After the hearing, conservative Sen. Dan Swecker (R-20, Rochester) approached Pedersen and told him politely that he intended to be a “responsible opponent.”
Pedersen politely responded: “You can start by using responsible language,” pointing out that Swecker is featured prominently on the Christian conservative Faith and Freedom Network Foundation website which says Pedersen is trying to “enslave women” and Swecker himself is quoted saying the bill would: “open up yet another avenue for those who would use their fellow humans as slaves.”
Pedersen also addressed the ubiquitous “Not for Sale” stickers, which he noted were worn by lots of older women. “OK, I won’t use you for a surrogate,” Pedersen quipped, explaining that the bill wasn’t forcing anyone to become a surrogate, only those that choose to be. “Last I checked we have freedom of contract,” he said.
And another thing: Pedersen noted that while the opponents of the bill were mostly people who don’t think gays and lesbians should have kids, most of the people who testified in favor of the bill were straight couples who were infertile.