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Cute kids, repulsive politics

While heading into work on Friday, I saw a small group on the corner of Second Avenue and Lincoln Street waving signs in opposition to Referendum 71, which would give voter approval to the “everything but marriage” law that was adopted by the Legislature last spring. The law grants to registered same-sex couples the same rights and benefits accorded married couples under state statutes.

Normally, I wouldn’t mind such a political display, but among those holding “Protect Children” placards were children themselves. Do you suppose the kids independently researched the topic before deciding they’d be imperiled if discrimination against same-sex couples were brought to an end? More likely, adults shoved the signs into their hands for emotional appeal. Must be that indoctrination I’ve been hearing about.

The use of children in politics has always bugged me, whether it’s the serene family photos on glossy brochures or those oh-so-cute appearances at political rallies. Then there’s the positioning of children near the lectern to dissuade questions about why politicians were sleeping around. But the anti-Referendum 71 example strikes me as particularly odious, because the signs make it seem like the issue is about child predators and one side is all for them.

The logical leap is that a household with a man and a woman is better for child-rearing. There is no firm empirical evidence of this, but even if there were, there are many socioeconomic factors that determine outcomes for children. Divorce and single parenthood matter. So do income, educational level and the age at which people marry.

So where are the campaigns to prohibit marriage (and the rights that go with it) for those who have low incomes or are under 25 years old or don’t have college degrees? Where are the signs protesting the impending marriages of those who tried it before and failed? There aren’t any, and I wonder why. Isn’t this about the kids?

Mixed message. Speaking of protecting children, a justice of the peace in Hammond, La., is making headlines for refusing to sign a marriage license because the couple is biracial. That’s right, Keith Barnwell turned away the couple because of his concern for their yet-to-be-born children. For one thing, he says, mixed-race couples are more apt to get divorced.

Barnwell says he’s not racist, because he has officiated at many marriages involving African-American men and women. But why would he do that when those couples have an above-average divorce rate? Don’t those kids matter?

Maybe we need to pass a law that prohibits adults from using children as an excuse for their bigotry.

You don’t say. It’s interesting how many arguments against gay marriage were first used to defend state laws that barred mixed-race nuptials. Here’s one:

“We aren’t bigoted,” said the backers of anti-miscegenation laws. “We just worry, what will happen to the children? They’ll be taunted and teased.”

It’s like telling a shoe salesman that size matters. Minorities don’t need a heads-up on the possibilities of bigotry. Neither do gays and lesbians. It’s a truth that’s self-evident.

Follow the balloon. A nation is transfixed. What is it? What keeps it aloft? How high will it go? What if it crashes? What if there’s too much inflation or sudden deflation? What if rescuers can’t get there in time? What if there’s no way to bail out? Who built it? Who approved it? Who could think it would ever be safe?

But enough about the economy, how about that balloon boy?

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Wednesdays and Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026.


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