Queer Nebraska

Let's face it. Some states beg to be called backward.

Take Nebraska for instance, where last Tuesday residents voted to affirm the intolerant reputation their state holds in the national consciousness.

Initiative 419, the ballot measure by which they did this, reads "Only marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in Nebraska."

The initiative, a pre-emptive strike against legal measures that would force Nebraska to recognize gay marriages if legalized in another state, shows how far conservatives are willing to go to deny gays and lesbians equal protection under the law.

At issue wasn't whether gay and lesbians should adopt children or receive legal protection from discrimination in the workplace. This wasn't the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, hate crimes or even separate but equal civil unions. It wasn't even about Nebraska. Rather it was the possibility that another state might legalize gay marriage, and that in due course Nebraska would be forced to recognize the requisite civil rights and legal prerogatives associated with marriage licenses from that state.

As if the ballot language didn't spell out what was at stake, commentators everywhere, including the editorial boards of the state's three major newspapers, made it abundantly clear the proposition was a referendum on the decency of Nebraska itself. Even the football coach came out against it. Was Nebraska going to keep an open mind on the question of gay rights or define itself as absolutely intolerant?

The result was unambiguous.

Seventy percent of a state's voters rarely agree on anything, but when it came time to pre-emptively disenfranchise gay and lesbian Americans from a civil right they already lack, the state that endorsed a candidate claiming to be "a uniter not a divider" united to divide. Of all issues or people voted on, only one candidate attracted a higher percentage of state-wide support than did Proposition 419.

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