Silas House: Beshear lawsuit embarrasses state, tarnishes his legacy; Backward thinking on Ky.'s gay-marriage ban

May 13, 2014 

Silas House, author of five books, is the NEH Chair in Appalachian Studies at Berea College.

Last week, Gov. Steve Beshear used taxpayer money to file an appeal arguing against marriage equality after a federal judge ruled that gay marriages must be recognized in the commonwealth.

Beshear's lawyers argue that marriage equality will have a profound effect on Kentucky's birth rates, and only — according to their suit — "man-woman couples can naturally procreate."

This defense is not only laughable, it's incredibly offensive on a number of levels. First, it outright proclaims that gay people are not equal, with this line: "Same-sex couples are materially different from traditional man-woman couples." Different. Not the same. Not equal.

The filing goes on to say that procreating "serves a legitimate economic interest." Because, you know, money is more important than that pesky equality. And because — unbeknownst to everyone except Beshear — apparently there is a baby shortage in Kentucky, a state where 65 percent of women are fertile, according to state vital statistics; a state that has the seventh-highest teenage birthrate in the nation, according to the Office of Adolescent Health; a place where 83 percent of those teen pregnancies happen outside of "man-woman" marriage.

What the filing doesn't explain is how allowing marriage equality would cause birth rates to decrease. Perhaps because once the gays take over, everyone will be gay and then there will be no more babies?

The filing also doesn't explain why infertile couples or elderly people or folks who simply make the decision to not have children should be allowed to marry if marriage is only about procreation. Instead, it merely implies that if you're not a baby-maker, then you're not a productive member of society.

This filing is so clearly grasping at straws. The whole "if we allow folks to be gay then the human race will end" argument is so old-timey that most old-timers don't even believe it any more. It seems Beshear and his lawyers latched onto this because it allows them to talk about economic impact.

And we all know if we want to put fear into the hearts of voters, the first thing to do is talk about how (insert-issue-here) is going to delve into taxpayers' pockets.

It's insulting to Kentuckians to assume we will fall for this tactic so easily.

The idea that marriage equality would hurt the economy just does not hold water. In fact, statistics show that gay people actually have more disposable income, and they spend it. Marriage equality has a track record of contributing to state economies, as it did in Massachusetts, where marriage equality brought in at least $111 million the first five years of legalization.

Big businesses like states that have marriage equality and want to build there. Last year, 60 of the biggest companies in America — including Apple, Morgan-Stanley and Nike — signed on to a brief submitted to the Supreme Court that supports marriage equality.

Beshear and those like him can wheeze these antiquated notions all they want, but marriage equality is going to happen in Kentucky, and in the entire nation. It's inevitable because ultimately America is a nation that steadily, yet slowly, works toward equality.

It's inevitable because polls show that young voters have started to see through the fear tactic that allows politicians to get people all worked up about social issues so they don't have to talk about the economic issues. They've begun to realize that many of the people they know and love and call their friends and family members are gay and that they deserve equal rights. They've started to have a more complex view of the Bible and to understand that we cannot just choose to focus on some Scriptures (the ones about being gay, for example) while ignoring others (the ones about divorce or stoning adulterers to death, for example).

For a while now, people have been putting down those old notions that all gay people are pedophiles or out to convert them or just plain evil.

Instead, Kentuckians are evolving on the issue, just like the rest of the nation. And our governor is going backward. He has greatly damaged his legacy, a legacy that was looking shiny and progressive for a bit with his leadership on health care enrollment that garnered national praise.

How are we to respect anyone who negates the equality of others, whether they be gay, infertile, elderly or childless by choice? How are we to respect a governor who spends our money to file a lawsuit this antiquated and thin in its logic?

Beshear is on the wrong side of history. And history is going forward.

Silas House, author of five books, is the NEH Chair in Appalachian Studies at Berea College.

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