Over the course of the past week or so, I've been feeling that I'm oblivious to SOMETHING BIG & BAD about to happen. It started with a phone call from "FRNKCMPN" on April 15. FRNKCMPN turned out to be a robot working for the National Organization for Marriage (well, not really; Googling suggests that FRNKCMPN is a telemarketing company located in Washington, D.C. which contracts out to organizations wanting to skirt around the Do Not Call lists by masking their agendas as "surveys").
The FRNKCMPN robot, on behalf of NOM, asked me a somewhat convoluted question about marriage between one man and one woman, and spoke the question so quickly that I barely had time to understand it. The question was phrased in such a way that I instinctively knew the correct answer was "yes" and instinctively felt inclined to give the "correct" answer. [I've spent 10 years writing test questions--I know very well that questions can be phrased in such a way.] I answered "no" even though I wasn't 100% sure that's what I meant. Anyone who is conducting a survey with questions designed to elicit only one response will never gain my support. Their dishonesty and deviousness instantly discredits them.
The phone call from FRNKCMPN left me feeling slightly unsettled. Why was someone conducting a survey with a political agenda that seemed almost guaranteed to get their desired results? I dismissed it, but the unsettled feeling re-emerged days later when I spotted this full-page advertisement in the Republican-American:
It's a very clever ad. My first response was to think it was for something pleasant. Then I read the second line and became instantly concerned that there was indeed something very bad about to happen. Which of my rights was about to be taken away and how?? According to the ad's text, a bill I've never heard of before will deny my religious rights, force the schools to teach gay marriage, force parents to teach gay marriage, punish church groups and shut down businesses. Boy is that scary! SOMETHING BIG & BAD is about to happen!
Fortunately, I've spent most of my life developing and exercising critical-thinking skills (something they don't seem to teach in the schools anymore). The lavish advertisement is clearly a fear-mongering variety, providing very few facts while preying on emotions. So I dismissed it. When it appeared again the next day, I dismissed it again, although briefly wondered if I should write something in opposition to it. On Monday, a new full-page ad started. I stopped to read it, because it looked like it might be challenging the "truthiness" of the previous ad:
This ad has the same agenda as the first, but appears to be present a sound argument: "Bill 899 provides no significant protection for First Amendment religious freedoms. It does not recognize the fundamental right--found in both the U.S. and Connecticut Constitutions--of churches, religious groups, and individuals to act in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs." Like the first ad, this one urges the reader to tell state senators and representatives to vote NO on Bill 899. Both ads offer the general 800 numbers for state senators and representatives and also direct the reader to a "convenient" form to fill out at ActNowCT.org.
This is when I decided to do research. My primary questions: is Bill 899 really unConstitutional? what exactly does Bill 899 say?
I had a few other questions as well: if they're worried about gay marriage being taught in the schools, does that mean straight marriage is currently being taught and, if so, what course is it taught in? Home Ec? Legal stuff everyone should know about before they are legally an adult? Is there even a course for Legal Stuff?
I don't like the idea of any type of marriage being "taught" in the schools. I can just imagine some chauvinist instructor telling all the little girls that they should focus on developing the right skills to be good wives, barefoot & pregnant in the kitchen, while telling the little boys that they have a duty and an obligation to work high-paying jobs no matter how unhappy they are, and that they should expect women to serve them in all things. I know I'm being overly dramatic and extreme, but there really are people who would teach this version of marriage. Come to think of it, how would a school decide on a curriculum for a course on marriage? No two marriages are the same, and it's up to the married couple to sort out how their marriage works.
I visited ActNowCT.org to see what they had to say. Mostly they seem to think that Bill 899 is going to force everyone in Connecticut to be gay, or that gays will become more powerful than straights. They provide easy access to a page that very easily lets you protest the bill via a pre-written message. You can "customize" the message by adding four optional reasons to be against the bill. You are not allowed to make any changes to the pre-written text (darn!).
While ActNowCT.org presents you with many reasons to be afraid of Bill 899, nowhere does it include any portion of the actual bill [CORRECTION (4/22): There is a link to the bill, in small print. Was it there before and I just didn't see it?]. They do provide a link to the Connecticut General Assembly website, but they do not provide a link to the bill itself, which is available online. As far as I'm concerned, the fact that ActNowCT is campaigning against the bill without quoting or referencing any actual text from the bill destroys any credibility they might have had. How can anyone be opposed to something when they don't know what it is? I hope that any state senator or representative receiving an email through the ActNowCT website will immediately dismiss it, since the odds are good that the sender has no idea what is actually in Bill 899.
Thanks to Google, I was able to find a copy of Bill 899 in less than 20 seconds. It is available online for anyone to review at http://www.cga.ct.gov/2009/TOB/S/2009SB-00899-R00-SB.htm.
My reading of the bill shows nothing that I would consider unConstitutional. I also see nothing about forcing schools or parents to teach gay marriage. It looks like they're just changing the language of existing marriage legislation so as to no longer exclude same-sex couples. Despite ActNowCT's claims, this does not make gays a privileged class. It extends to them a legal right that they have been excluded from. That's a far cry from taking away religious rights. This is a legal right, not a religious right. There's a huge difference.
As far as religious rights are concerned, they look pretty well-protected to me:
Sec. 7. (NEW) (Effective from passage) No member of the clergy authorized to join persons in marriage pursuant to section 46b-22 of the general statutes shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the first amendment to the United States Constitution or section 3 of article first of the Constitution of the state.
I guess that SOMETHING BIG & BAD really does exist, but it's not Bill 899. It's the fear-mongering propagandists who use devious, underhanded tricks to get what they want. I wish I could tell you who those propagandists are, but on the ActNowCT website, they simply call themselves "concerned Connecticut citizens", with no way to figure out who exactly they are, which makes them seem even less credible. (Yes, I know I write under a pseudonym, but follow the links and you can figure out who I am in two clicks or less.)
Thanks to the magic of the internet, we all have access to factual information. Unfortunately, many of us never think to look for the facts. Think of all the emails floating around that have been discredited by Snopes, but still get forwarded and are trusted by their recipients. As Barnum's competitor David Hannum said "there's a sucker born every minute" (unless, of course, the internet is lying and Barnum really was the one who said it... in which case I just got suckered again.)