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Knight Initiative Has Another Agenda

Brian O'Leary Bennett is a member of the state executive committee of the California Republican Party and the board of directors of the Gay and Lesbian Center of Greater Long Beach

At the end of a meeting with gay and lesbian leaders, Ronald Reagan smiled and said, “Don’t think we can allow something like that to happen here in California.” So Reagan, who by then had served his two terms as governor, wrote a commentary denouncing the Briggs Initiative, which would have permitted the firing of gay teachers. His opposition is credited with the defeat of the measure by more than 1 million votes. That was September 1978.

Reagan knew the Briggs Initiative was about the abuse of government power to target a class of people. So, too, Proposition 22, the so-called Knight Initiative on the March 7 ballot, which has intentions well beyond its stated purpose of outlawing same-sex marriage.

Indeed, Proposition 22 does not even make same-sex marriage illegal in California, as its supporters want us to believe. It is already illegal here, and the chances of California ever recognizing an out-of-state union are remote.

Its promoters really see this unnecessary initiative as a vehicle to re-energize their anti-gay platform. Remember, these are folks who can’t bring themselves to support hate crimes legislation when gay men are being shot in Northern California, tortured to death in Wyoming, burned in Alabama and beaten to death in Kentucky. They won’t even support hospital visitation rights for domestic partners in committed relationships.

Consider this too: Sen. Barry Goldwater, after learning late in life that his grandson and grandniece were gay, said, “To see the party that fought communism and big government now fighting the gays, well, that’s just plain dumb.” Until his death, “Mr. Conservative” remained a passionate spokesman not just for tolerance but for acceptance.

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Contrast that with the author of Proposition 22, state Sen. Pete Knight (R-Palmdale), who no longer talks to his Gulf War fighter pilot son after learning the son is gay. Nor did Knight discuss the subject of AIDS with his brother, who died from it. You tell me which of the two, Goldwater or Knight, was motivated by compassionate conservatism and whose approach you would embrace as parent, family, friend or voter.

The recent state GOP endorsement of Proposition 22 and the opposition last year from virtually every Republican state legislator to a package of bills protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination (bills that were passed and signed into law) were unfortunate and out of step. This is not the party that Goldwater and Reagan rebuilt. We are letting the likes of Pete Knight, Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer and Lou Sheldon tear it down. What does it say of a party when it loses its grace and compassion in pursuit of power?

You would think we would have learned from Proposition 187. How many party leaders wished we had never engaged in that battle? How many will regret this one? How many have failed to speak up?

State GOP Chairman John McGraw and state Sen. Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga) are opening up unprecedented dialogues to gay Republicans. Not long ago, several GOP congressmen, including Chris Cox of Newport Beach, Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach and David Dreier of San Dimas, joined with 60 Republicans to defeat a GOP-sponsored repeal of job protections for gay and lesbian federal employees. These are baby steps but in the right direction.

But when it comes to the Knight Initiative, Ronald Reagan is not available anymore to say it is OK not to discriminate against gays. Twenty-two years after Briggs, we ought to recognize on our own that the Knight Initiative is unnecessary, divisive, meant to demean gays and lesbians and to have you think we are threatening. Why?

As Knight now knows, we are your sons and brothers. We are your daughters, sisters, aunts, uncles, colleagues, neighbors, close friends. As African Americans fought for the right to be treated as men and not “boys,” as women fought to be treated as equals and not chattel, as Catholics and Jews fought to be known as neighbors and not papists or conspirators, now gays and lesbians are fighting to be seen as people and not deviants. There is no going back. Science, genetics, common sense and, most of all, human compassion are now on our side.

So the question is whether the day after Knight will be one of reconciliation or regret. Reagan saw beyond the words of the Briggs Initiative, as we must now see beyond the 14 words of the Knight Initiative. One can even imagine Reagan again saying, in his own plain-spoken way, “Don’t think we can allow something like that to happen here in California.”


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