So I went to the state capitol to stand with folks in opposition to HB1412… Also known as the “Tennessee Defense of Natural Marriage Act.” It was my first time going to the capitol building, and the first thing I figured out is that I had no idea where I was going. Luckily, a sweet lady (who wasn’t able to get in because she didn’t have her I.D.) saw that I was wearing red (the folks who were against the bill and for equal rights for LGBT people were asked to wear red to show their support. I wrote about it HERE), and she waved me over. I emptied my pockets at the entrance. The officer at the door was having some trouble scanning my license, and I asked if the trouble might be caused by the fact that my picture was too handsome for the machine to handle. She acted like she didn’t think I was funny OR handsome, but something told me she was lying… Anyway, she sent me through the metal detector. Which made me think–You know what they DON’T allow in the state capitol? Turns out they don’t allow average citizens to carry their guns in there. Doesn’t matter if you took a safety course or not… No guns. So right off, I was feeling like my God-given right to “keep & bear arms” was being infringed. They probably had some ridiculous reason like “they didn’t want folks to be able to easily kill other people,” or something else we can thank Obama for.
I found my way to the room the hearing was in, but they weren’t allowing anyone else inside–And even in the hallway, watching the proceedings from the closed circuit TV, it was standing room only. Within moments, I was very thankful for the “No Guns In The Capitol” policy, because there were some seriously angry people in that hallway. People who–I’d be willing to bet just about everything I own–had more than one gun at home. Probably more than one gun IN THEIR CAR. I had planned on seeing a bunch of other folks wearing red to show their support for the LGBT community, but I had forgotten that people who actually supported the bill were free to show up as well. There were many women in simple dress, most of them with hair down to their asses… Their were glassy-eyed kids who got the afternoon off from homeschool to come down to the capitol… There were men with bald eagles on their tie… And there was this guy:
The matter being discussed was whether or not the Supreme Court has the right to make same-sex marriage legal. All of the people who had a chance to speak before the subcommittee were of the opinion that NO–They did not have that authority. There were a lot of references to “judicial overreach,” but there was NO MENTION WHATSOEVER of the 14th Amendment… You know, the one the five SCOTUS Justices referenced when voting that preventing same-sex couples from having the same right to marry that straight couples have is illegal under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. But the people trying to pass today’s bill were convinced that the Supreme Court had exceeded its authority with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, and they were trying to pass a law to basically “nullify” that interpretation of the 14th Amendment’s reach. It would not only protect government officials from the consequences of not complying with federal law, but it would also make illegal any act of compliance by government officials with federal law (surrounding this issue, at least). It was basically like getting in a time machine and going back to watch arguments made for the state’s right to decide who gets to have slaves… or their right to decide if their schools get desegregated… or their right to decide if blacks and whites should be able to marry. It was, as attorneys call it, “completely bonkers.”
If I wrote down ALL the crazy I came across this afternoon, this blog would be way too long. So I’ll just give you some highlights…
- At one point, when someone in the General Assembly asked, “What do we do when the Supreme court exceeds its authority?” a man next to me said, “Shoot ’em.” This probably goes without saying, but the man who said this was NOT wearing red…
- When a member of the subcommittee suggested that doing something like this would take a Constitutional Amendment, the bill’s sponsor Mark Pody seemed to think the odds of that were very long. He said, “It would take 38 states to ratify an amendment… What if there were only about fourteen states who wanted it?” I wondered to myself if 14 was the number of states in the Confederacy, so I decided to ask Siri (loud enough for people to hear), “Siri, how many states were there in the Confederacy?” Turns out I don’t get service in the bowels of the capitol building, but today, the role of Siri was played by a displeased woman standing near me, who immediately said, “Eleven!” She answered that question with the ease someone might answer the question, “What color is the sky?” Or, “What goes up, must come _____.”
- David Fowler got up to speak (president of the “Family Action Council of Tennessee,” who I’ve written about before in a post called “Rejecting Jesus For All The Right Reasons” when F.A.C.T. supported a bill attempting to make it legal to bully gay kids). When he started talking, my friend pictured above–the one who purchased his outfit from Westboro Baptist Church’s Etsy store–said, “He doesn’t have a very strong voice, this guy… Sounds a little too effeminate.” #CredibilityLost
- During the hearing, as a self-described constitutional scholar named Jeffrey Cobble scrambled to attempt to answer 1) How a law like this wasn’t an act of rebellion, and 2) How it wouldn’t set a precedent for EVERYONE being able to disregard the laws that they didn’t like, subcommittee member Mike Carter looked at him and said, “Are you just making this stuff up as you go along?” Followed by uproarious laughter from Team Red.
- At one point, a lady next to me yelled out, “Go back to England if you don’t like it!” I mean… England? The look on her face told me she thought the people in the hallway were laughing WITH her.
- And possibly my favorite moment, at a time when a committee member expressed concern for minorities if a precedent was set where 80% of the people could decide to take away the rights of the 20%, the guy with the “Shoot ’em” idea, burst out: “MINORITIES?!?” And “Go Back To England” seemed bewildered as she replied, “I know… They get EVERYTHING!” I swear this happened.
People vocally commented every now and then, but for the most part, people were respectful and quiet. Other than a few moments of laughter, I was mostly quiet. In a moment of misguided hope, I did attempt to explain to “Go Back To England” that the danger of this sort of action was that it could lead to any city or county or state OR EVEN INDIVIDUAL deciding which laws he or she wanted to follow. There was one moment–as the person speaking in the committee made an appeal to how “God’s law” should override our nation’s laws–where I said, loudly enough for everyone to hear, “And that is the ideology of ISIS.” Without any sense of irony, “Go Back To England” said, “No… Because they worship a different God than us.” I put my pointer finger up and opened my mouth to respond… But then I closed it. And I smiled at her.
For most of the afternoon, I basically just stood there and smiled at people. And it wasn’t just an, “Awe… bless your poor, ignorant heart” sort of smile. I don’t know–I’m sure there were times when I was being patronizing… But they probably didn’t pick up on it. (<– I just made myself laugh there). Honestly though, I was genuinely filled with love for the people in that hallway. From the very beginning it was clear to me that the people who were there in support of that messed up bill had no other option available to them. I looked at those kids. Standing there in silence. With a parent’s hand on their shoulder… It wasn’t like those people had a couple of choices in front of them, and they decided to choose the really hateful one. Their level of consciousness at this particular time in their lives affords them one option. I remembered a time in my own life when I would have been right there with them–Certain that I was doing God’s work–and I offered them the same grace I offered myself. I know this probably sounds fairly hokey, but I wanted to “minister” to them with my smile. I smiled at those kids with everything I had. I smiled at the moms. I smiled at the dads. I just wanted to hug every one of them. It was love… It was a frustrating love, but it was definitely love.
And the good news is the bill was defeated. So that’s at least a small victory… For now. Afterwards, a new friend in red (who had read my previous blog post) interviewed me for a documentary she was making. Which was fun. THEN, I was able to talk to the guys who were making the case for this bill. Which was really fun. I challenged Rep. Pody on the precedent this action would set… Nice enough guy. I listened to some interesting theories from Mr. “Shoot ’em.” I spoke for a while with Jeffrey Cobble, and even got a peek into his theology. Which is totally bizarre. In short, he believes that each individual person is like a sovereign nation, and if there is a dispute between two neighbors, God basically decides who is right by whoever is stronger and comes out on top. It is Social Darwinism with a theological twist. When I asked how he possibly got that from the life and teachings of Jesus, he explained that Jesus was only concerned about the poor and vulnerable “for a time.” He basically extended an idea of dispensationalism to explain away Jesus’ apparent concern with social justice. Which–to me–is completely. Bonkers. But it was cool to at least see where these folks are coming from.
Long story short, I’m really happy I took part in this… And even though I felt like there was a really good chance I was going to get my ass kicked on the way back to my van, I can’t recommend it enough. When you have the opportunity to talk (and listen) to people who think completely differently than you do, you almost always come away from it better than you went in… Especially when you go into it looking for the humanity–and the divinity–in the ones you might otherwise call your enemies. What a completely awesome day.
So hey. I had two jobs for about nine years… but a few months ago, I left one of those jobs. And I wanted to say a special THANK YOU to the folks who have decided to become Patrons and help support me and my writing. I was able to attend this event, and even able to pay a couple bills (that we might not have otherwise been able to pay) partially because of your generosity. One of those completely kick ass, generous people who just decided to be a Patron is named Kim McCallum. If you’re like Kim and you value this blog and want to help support it with a couple bucks a month or more, you can do that RIGHT HERE. Otherwise, if you want to leave a “Tip” on PayPal, you can do that as well. Either way, you should be following me on Twitter. I mean… Seriously. But mostly I’m just honored that took the time to read. Thank you!