Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Linda Burt on the culture wars in Wyoming

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” Justice Robert Jackson

Last week began with a group of “family values” lobbyists praying every hour on the hour in the Capitol hallway. In addition to the prayer the group presented huge flat screen videos of the human fetus along with questionable “scientific” information. There was testimony that abortion caused cervical and uterine cancer, infertility, miscarriages, depression and suicide. Of course, none of these statements are true although testimony from experts to this fact never seem to deter individuals from continuing to insist on their misinformation.

I respect the fact that people do not believe in abortion because of personal or religious values. That is defensible and understandable. What I will never understand is insisting on false and misleading information as a rationale for beliefs.

Testimony by the bill’s sponsor Representative Brechtel was, at one point, stopped by Speaker Buchannan as inflammatory and outside the scope of the bill... While supporters claimed the bill was about providing information and protection for women, it was clear the bill was about burdening the Wyoming Statutes with a set of particular religious beliefs. The bill directed physicians to do and say certain things and required a 24 hour waiting period for women wanting an abortion. In the history of the Wyoming Legislature there has never been a medical procedure the legislature has given physicians direction in dealing with. There is no indication that physicians in Wyoming are so lacking in skill that they must be instructed by the legislature in carrying out their duties. The bill also made it clear that women were not able to make intelligent informed choices without the assistance of the State of Wyoming. For a group of individuals that claim to hate government intrusion, this bill exemplifies intrusion.

Three of our outstanding women legislators made compelling arguments against this bill and ended up being singled out by MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show two nights in a row. The segment on Wyoming was excellent but pointed out the inconsistency in small government conservatives continuing interest in interfering in women’s reproductive privacy.

Early on in the session Representative Brechtel’s original abortion bill was voted down by the House. The Representative quickly wrote and filed a similar bill; this bill has now passed the House and has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture Committee for debate. Representative Brechtel has brought legislation that interferes with women’s privacy year after year, session after session.

While this session has been filled with useless bills and resolutions regarding federal health care, constitutional instruction for elected officials, property rights, federal balanced budgets and repeal of the 17th Amendment, few have taken the countless time and energy the so called same-sex marriage bills have taken. These bills are bills that the culture war lobby supports using the same tactics of misinformation and hysteria regarding the destruction of traditional marriage and family life. One bill would ban same-sex marriage or civil unions and deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states; the other bill is almost identical in nature but would enshrine the discrimination in our constitution. Again, while I understand why religious groups would not perform same-sex marriages based on their religious beliefs, I do not understand why any lawmaker would support the State enshrining discrimination into our laws or our Constitution.

I have watched individuals this session, who claim to be patriots, claim to love America, and I believe that these individuals are sincere in their beliefs; I have no reason to doubt that. I believe they love America – I don’t believe that they like other Americans. They don’t like Americans of different races or colors. They don’t like gay and lesbian Americans. They don’t like poor or unemployed Americans. They don’t like or respect religions other than their own, or politics other than their own. They believe in the Bill of Rights only as it protects and supports their own beliefs.

Linda Burt
Executive Director, Wyoming Chapter
American Civil Liberties Union