Larry Dale Keeling: Don't we have anything better to debate than birds and birthrates?

herald-leader ColumnistMay 18, 2014 

FRANKFORT — In a brief filed in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, attorneys hired by Gov. Steve Beshear argue the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage serves a public interest because limiting marriage to heterosexual couples helps sustain the state's birthrate and, by extension, its economy.

Cockfighting keeps popping up as an issue in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race.

John Oliver of HBO's Last Week Tonight shows us what the ultimate attack ads against each party's presumptive Senate nominee would look like: Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes as a chainsaw-wielding assassin of coal miners; Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell as an old, uh, well, maybe you better watch that one for yourself. Just make sure no children are present.

Lest you think I've rounded the bend from rambling old curmudgeon to completely incoherent old curmudgeon, there is a nexus where the above three paragraphs meet.

When I occasionally find myself wondering why I didn't stay fully retired (aside from the extra money being helpful when mortgage payments come due), Kentucky politics provides a plethora of ready answers.

Amusing answers. Embarrassing answers. Answers both amusing and embarrassing. Answers that might be amusing if they weren't so embarrassing. All of them answers that make an old curmudgeon glad he still has column space to fill.

The birthrate/economy defense of the same-sex marriage ban might be amusing if it weren't so embarrassing that a Kentucky governor with a legal background would sign off on an argument that fails on so many levels.

It ignores heterosexual married couples who choose not to have children or who are physically incapable of procreating. It ignores the multitude of heterosexually conceived children born and raised out of wedlock. It ignores the ability of homosexual men and women to be biological fathers and mothers of their own children. It ignores the concept of equal rights for all that is a fundamental principle of American democracy.

Mostly, though, it ignores the shift in public opinion since the ban was added to the state constitution 10 years ago and the gale-force winds of change currently sweeping through the federal court system on this issue.

Ultimately, Beshear's decision to appeal U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II's ruling that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states will be a loser.

And the birthrate/economy argument presented by the lawyers he hired will be a long-term source of ridicule for a governor whose legacy of being a decent caretaker who got it right in implementing the Affordable Care Act may not be strong enough to offset being on the wrong side of history in regard to same-sex marriage.

Cockfighting as an issue in a U.S. Senate campaign also qualifies as a Kentucky political phenomenon that might be amusing if it weren't so embarrassing because it enhances so many negative stereotypes of the state.

Considering the truly serious national and international matters on the Senate's plate at any given moment, casting a vote based on anyone's support for or opposition to a farm bill that made attending a cockfight a federal offense is the ultimate example of thoughtless single-issue politics.

I added Oliver's take on the Kentucky Senate race to this mix to encourage those Kentuckians who haven't seen it to do so. Watch the whole bit, not just the faux campaign ads. Prepare to be amused, and embarrassed.

Reach Larry Keeling at lkeeling@herald-leader.com

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