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steve beshear

Gov. Steve Beshear (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

[dc]“I[/dc] want to be in Kentucky when the end of the world comes because it is always 20 years behind,” Mark Twain supposedly said of the state in which I was born, reared and still live.

Daily, the media is filled with stories showing growing support nationwide for gay rights.

Few minds have so broadened in the Kentucky legislature.

Bluegrass State lawmakers overrode Gov. Steve Beshear’s veto of a bill that critics say will encourage bigots to cite “religious freedom” in discriminating against gay and lesbian people.

House Bill 279, disingenuously dubbed the "religious freedom" bill, was evidently aimed at local ordinances in Covington, Lexington, Louisville, and Vicco that are designed to safeguard gay and lesbian rights.

The Louisville Courier-Journal, the state's largest paper, editorialized that "someone who has a problem with gay people, under HB 279, could refuse to hire them, rent property to them or serve them in a business, no matter if the community has banned that type of discrimination."

The paper observed that "anyone who follows politics knows that the bill is nothing more than an attempt by state Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, the primary sponsor, to curry favor with religious conservatives."

A number of Kentucky religious organizations oppose the law.

Beshear said HB 279 was too vague and, “as written...will undoubtedly lead to costly litigation." Doubtless, the law will be challenged in court and likely be ruled unconstitutional.

The likes of Rep. Stan Lee don't care. A tea party-tilting Lexington Republican, he was extra gung ho for Damron's bill. Few lawmakers can out demagogue Lee on anything.

“You know it wasn’t so long ago we had prayers in the schools, but they made us take it out,” he bloviated, according to news reports. “It wasn’t so long ago you could read the Bible in school. They made you take it out. There have been attempts to take God out of everything.”

For the record: The courts, in keeping with the First Amendment to our federal constitution, which separates church and state, only outlawed public school-sponsored or school-mandated prayer and Bible reading. Voluntary, outside-of-class student-led prayer and religious observances are alive and well in public schools, even in Kentucky.

There are religious clubs at the community college where I teach and at the high school where my wife teaches. Yearly, students gather around the flagpole in front of both schools to pray.

Of course, the likes of Lee think if they can’t impose their religion on the rest of us, they are victims of discrimination.

Anyway, I understand CYA politics. The Bible Belt loops around Kentucky . I figure several Democrats – and maybe a few Republicans – were scared not to vote for something labeled "religious freedom."

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At the same time, I'll admit it's easy for the likes of me to throw rocks at the legislature. I couldn’t get elected dog catcher. I’m an endangered species in my native state. I’m a union card-carrying Hubert Humphrey Democrat who doesn’t consider “socialist” a slam.

Yet I doubt that Democrats like Damron will score many points with the Jesus-loves-me-but-He-can't-stand-you crowd that hosannaed HB 279. Given a choice between a Republican like Lee and any GOP-lite Democrat, they’ll vote “R" just about every time.

In any event, I admire Rep. Darryl Owens, a Louisville Democrat, for having the guts to speak out and vote against HB 279.

“I’m unaware of efforts to take away anyone’s religious freedom,” Owens said in media reports. “This is an issue that has been concocted to appeal to a certain segment of the state, because there are no efforts made by anyone to take away anyone’s religious freedom.”

I’ll add a Presbyterian “amen” to that.

Anyway, Republican reactionaries like Lee are ever ripping reputed RINOs – “Republicans in Name Only.” House Bill 279 and its main sponsor are more proof, as if proof were needed, that the Kentucky legislature is home to a herd of real "DINOS” – Democrats in name only, at least when it comes to the so-called social issues.

“You get elected in Kentucky on the ‘four-Gs,’” one of my union buddies says, “God, guns, gays and government.” A multitude of Bluegrass State Democratic legislators are almost indistinguishable from Republicans on the first three. More than a few of them sound like Republicans on number four, too.

Cynics might harrumph that Beshear wouldn’t have vetoed the bill if he were up for reelection in 2015. He can’t run for a third term.

History instructs he might have anyway. Back when Beshear was attorney general, the legislature passed a law requiring copies of the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom. The sponsor was Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, an especially zealous pro-HR 279 DINO.

The Ten Commandments law was clearly unconstitutional and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned it. The public school chief dove for political cover, leaving Beshear to say, flat out, that the court meant what it said: the Ten Commandments had to come down.

(The state spent a ton of taxpayers' money having to defend Riner's indefensible bill. We'll also be footing a big bill for Damron's equally unconstitutional pet if it winds up in the courts.)

When Beshear ran for lieutenant governor in 1983, his Republican opponent blasted him over the Ten Commandments. Beshear won in a landslide.

Berry Craig

True, he lost bids for the governorship in 1987 and the U.S. Senate in 1996. But he was elected governor, also by wide margins, in 2007 and 201l.

To be sure, some of the DINOs will lambast "liberal unelected judges" if the courts toss out the "religious freedom" law. Bless their hearts, these DINOs still won't get to first base with the Lee-leaning "You can't be a Christian and a Democrat" crowd.

Berry Craig

Thursday, 28 March 2013