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Toward equal rights

I would like to congratulate the young couple, Michelle and Leah, on their marriage announced in a recent edition of the paper. I wish them all of the love and joy in their marriage that I have experienced in the almost 40 years of our marriage.

It is very interesting the distance we have come as a society on the issue of being able to choose and love another person without legal restrictions on ethnicity, color, race or gender. Having lived in or near Marion for 50 years before moving to Wisconsin, I have many memories and observations of how times have changed in Marion County.

In 1996, as the primary election campaigns were getting started, a lot of attention was paid to the Republican side, where there were going to be two candidates on the August ballot. One candidate was a well-known local farmer that had been active in state and local politics, and by most was considered the heir apparent to the incumbent state representative Duane Goossen, who had chosen not to run for another term. A newcomer to Marion County, Don Dahl, had filed for the office and was the other candidate on the ballot.

In the weeks before the primary election the sexual orientation of the candidates became the “hot issue,” and it was aided and abetted by letters to the editor in the local papers, by ministers and others, about the dangers of homosexuality. At the candidate forum I attended before the election, questions about things like the “Man/Boy Love Society” (whatever that was or is) were asked so to keep the homophobic theme of Mr. Dahl’s campaign front and center. In the primary election Mr. Dahl was successful in narrowly defeating his opponent and, despite a gallant “write-in” effort, he prevailed in the general election and went on to serve in Kansas State House until 2008.

When I ran as the Democratic candidate opposite Mr. Dahl in 2000, I was amazed to see on his campaign handbill that one of his issue “bullets” was “Defeat the Homosexual Agenda.” In all of our campaign interactions he never revealed exactly what the agenda was that he was referring to in his issue statement. Perhaps that dreaded “agenda” was equal access to the rights stated in the United States Constitution, to access the rights and obligations afforded by legal marriage, freedom from discrimination in the workplace, or protection from violent hate crimes.

In April, 2005, Kansas voters went to the polls and approved an amendment to the Kansas State Constitution making it illegal to recognize same sex marriage and civil unions, which essentially institutionalized discrimination in Kansas. That amendment was the work of then State Senator Tim Huelskamp, who is now serving his second term as the Kansas 1st District Representative to Congress. Congressman Huelskamp is actively promoting a “same sex marriage ban” amendment to the United States Constitution that seems to be the center of his legislative service to the citizens of Kansas. Is this issue the most pressing and immediate concern to the citizens of Kansas? Tim Huelskamp wants to be rehired in November to continue his homophobic battle for another two-year term.

This spring a commemorative United States postage stamp was issued honoring Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, who was assassinated in 1978 while serving as a San Francisco City Supervisor. He is considered the pioneer of the movement to recognize the civil rights of the LBGT community. Politicians that promote and gain from demagoguery and discrimination rarely make it on to a stamp.

— Harry E. Bennett

Last modified Sept. 25, 2014

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