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There Are Blue States and Then There Are Blue States


Rhode Island and Oregon are two of the most reliable states for Democrats each election cycle. If anything, Rhode Island is even more a sure thing than Oregon. But the reality of public policy in the two states shows some pretty large differences. Admittedly, the following is anecdotal, but it also provides more evidence for my thoughts after a lifetime of following Oregon and the last 18 months in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island is the last state in New England to have no form of marriage equality. A bill will be proposed in the next legislative section. Hopefully it passes. I suspect it will be pretty close, despite gigantic Democratic majorities in the legislature. One big reason why is the influence of the Catholic Church over public policy in the state. So when the Bishop of Providence rails against same-sex marriage in offensive ways that deny that gays and lesbians actually exist, it actually matters. Although I probably shouldn’t overstate his influence, it’s arguably a greater influence over state policy than any other bishop in the country.

Meanwhile, Oregon has now outlawed insurance company discrimination against transgender people.

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  • I don’t know much specifically about Rhode Island politics, but I suspect a large part of the issue is that the Democratic Machine in either state is of vastly different ages. Oregon has only been a reliably blue state since the Clinton years or maybe a little earlier whereas Rhode Island has been a Democratic stronghold since FDR. This means there are more old labor Democrats who are homophobes and misogynists hold conservative positions on social issues.

  • Jeffrey Kramer

    Bishop Tobin:

    Where is the moral or legal “right” to marry a person of the same gender found? It certainly has not been part of the human experience, of human history. Is it simply the personal happiness or fulfillment of individuals…?

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that some stuff is just gross and unnatural and downright unAmerican, and that among these are that queer “pursuit of happiness” nonsense.

    • DrDick

      Nice counterfactual screed he delivers there. Not only is same sex marriage a part of the human experience and human history, it is part of the history of the Catholic Church, as it performed same sex marriages in the early days of the church.

    • Murc

      Last time I checked, personal happiness and fulfillment was a damn good reason for doing something.

      • djillionsmix

        then you weren’t checking with the catholic church because they hate that shit

        it’s all suffering and dying until judgment day comes and some unconfessed moment of happiness gets you sent to hell

  • RSP

    As a former three year RI resident, I was always amazed at the conservatism that ran throughout the Democratic party. With absolutely zero legislative party competition since the reapportionment revolution of the 1960s (when the Republican grasp on the malapportioned Senate came to a complete end) the party is deeply split between social conservatives and liberals and while I lived there the former held all of the major party offices. Friends tell me the leadership is slowly changing though and that’s nice to hear.

    • DrDick

      I think this is fairly common in one party areas. The same is true of the Chicago Democratic Party and was also true in the South before they all went Republican.

      • Yeah, in Massachusetts a lot of people who might be moderate Republicans elsewhere run for office as Democrats because it’s the only way to win. My state rep is an anti-choicer who’s always talking tax cuts. He’s a bit of a fossil, but my youngish ex-state senator was a relatively conservative law & order type too.

        • efgoldman

          Hell, the two (then) state legislators who wrote the MA anti-abortion laws (long-since overturned by the state Supreme Court) were nominal Dems [Ray Flynn and some guy named Doyle.] Of course Ray has since converted to TeaHadi.
          I am embarrassed for my tiny, corrupt, backward adopted state.
          We are also the only state with Democratic majorities in the legislature to pass a voter ID law.

    • mpowell

      It’s the cost of national political lines translating poorly to the state level. Oregon is genuinely liberal, RI is not. But RI voters are still smart enough to recognize that voting for Republicans is a terrible idea. So conservative RI voters support conservative Democrats instead.

      • Linnaeus

        Oregon is genuinely liberal…

        I might modify that to say that the Portland metro area and the Willamette Valley are liberal, and the rest of Oregon not so much. Then again, since the Willamette Valley is where most of Oregon’s population lives, maybe that’s a trivial point to make.

        • LeeEsq

          This is true for practically every state in the union. The major metropolitan areas are the liberal parts. Most people are either liberal through genuine belief or default to the culture of the place. However, the metropolitan areas contain the bulk of the population in most states, meaning that the state is geuinely liberal.

          NYC and its suburbs are more liberal in social values than upstate New York, besides maybe Ithaca and the other upstate cities like Syracuse or Rochester. Same goes for Washington, California, etc.

        • Pestilence

          Wait, people live in Oregon? I was under the impression they merely eked out a miserable and lightless existence, grubbing for roots in a perpetual leafy rainsodden gloom, emerging periodically to roar ‘BCS! BCS!’ and smite down the swollen arrogance of the SEC ? So my Californian friends all assure me, anyway.

  • Sly

    Is it simply the personal happiness or fulfillment of individuals, the “right to do whatever I want to do?” If that’s the argument, it opens up all sorts of other social experiments for us, doesn’t it?

    Right on. Where the fuck do people get the idea that they have a right to pursue happiness, anyway?

    • spencer

      Oh, you do have that right, of course – Tobin is just saying that the only acceptable way to exercise it is through slavish obedience to his god.

  • dave

    Massachusetts has the same issue. I’ve always believed that for both states the issue is Catholicism. Both states have large Irish and Italian catholic communities. These communities, even if their level of religiosity has declined over the years, have retained certain conservative cultural beliefs.

    Massachusetts is more “progressive” than Rhode Island only because Cambridge and Western Mass and most of the wealthy suburbs elect social progressives while Rhode Island, because it is smaller, has fewer wealthy suburbs and no strong socially liberal constituency. Check out the last several Massachusetts speakers of the House: its a virtual parade of socially conservative catholic democrats.

    • MAJeff

      The great thing about the marriage equality moment in Massachusetts was the way the Bishops got their asses handed to them, including by some relatively conservative legislators. Not only were they unable to get the Constitution amended to take away marriage rights, they also were unable to get changes to legislation exempting them from non-discrimination laws on adoption. Their petulant little fit over adoption, withdrawing from a contract with DSS over the unanimous disagreement with the Catholic Charities Board of Directors, was unable to sway the Commonwealth, despite Willard’s efforts on their behalf.

      • I liked the empty threats the anti-equality forces made when the state legislature refused to put repeal on the ballot. They were going to end some careers, you betcha!

        Except that not a single one of the legislators they targeted lost that next election, while a few of the anti-marriage legislators did.

    • efgoldman

      mrs efgoldman and I are MA born and raised, and lived there for the first 25 years we were married. We’re now going on 36 years. We’re still waiting for all those same sex weddings to destroy our marriage.
      Still waiting.

  • Davis

    The Archbishop of Baltimore was tireless in his opposition in Maryland, too. It’s what they do.

    • Davis

      I wonder about how much they are retaining their conservative cultural beliefs. A friend of mine, a woman in her 40s and a life-long practicing Catholic, told me she just doesn’t get the Church’s stand against gays.

      • A lot of people are “Catholic” the same way they’re “Irish” or whatever; it’s just a cultural identifier that might come into play at Christmas Eve Mass or the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but it doesn’t really mean anything day to day. And most “Catholics” around here know about as much about what the Pope & the bishops are doing as they know about the Government of Ireland (i.e. fuck-all).

        • There is that, but there are also a lot of people who are strongly religious among the liberal Catholic population.

          Bishops should transmute bread and wine, mumble in Latin, lend a dignified presence to rituals, and stop telling us how to vote.

      • Murc

        Catholic laypeople are increasingly divorced from their church leadership.

        You’ve probably heard the term ‘cafeteria Catholic.’ There’s a lot of truth to it. Most Catholics use birth control. A majority are perfectly okay with gay people. A ton of them think it would be fine for women and men to hold equally authority in the church. They don’t believe that only a priest can intercede with God for them or that the protestants, jews, pagans, and muslims they live surrounded by are going to hell.

        These are positions that will get you excommunicated if you try and hold them as a priest but are tolerated in the rank and file. To an extent. Pope Sidious and his fellow travelers are on record as wanting a smaller, purer church.

        • NonyNony

          Yes, but in truth the “cafeteria Catholic” namecalling works both ways. Most anti-choice Catholics are also pro-death penalty, are perfectly willing to back any war an American President wants to wage regardless of whether it fits the Vatican’s definition of a “Just War” or not, and are angrily against the idea that everyone should have a living wage – all things that the Catholic Church supports as well.

          Every American Catholic and every American priest in the Church is a “cafeteria Catholic” because the aggregate beliefs of the Catholic church do not map one-to-one to modern political ideology. And these days it’s pretty damn clear that in the USA at least political ideology trumps religious beliefs every single time.

          • NonyNony

            That should be “anti-choice Catholics in the USA”, as I’m sure that anti-choice Catholics in Guatemala are not up on the idea that the President of the USA should be able to bomb whoever he wants.

        • They don’t believe that only a priest can intercede with God for them or that the protestants, jews, pagans, and muslims they live surrounded by are going to hell.

          That isn’t actually standing doctrine anymore.

          • Murc

            I was never actually confirmed (although I still self-identify as a lapsed Catholic) so I’m not totally up on all aspects of modern doctrine.

            I stand cheerfully corrected and informed. Much obliged, joe.

      • LeeEsq

        I have a friend who is both a devote Roman Catholic, a weekly mass goer, and a very open and active in the LBGT community homosexual. The Roman Catholic Church can change their policy without any threat to membership probably.

        • To speculate idly lots of people love the ceremony, which accounts for a lot of priests, ministers, rabbis, imans, wiccans, what have you.

    • Bruce Vail

      Yes, the Catholic Church campaigned against gay marriage in Maryland, and lost.

      The vote was close, though, so it is not quite accurate to say the Church doesn’t affect ow people vote.

      • Bruce Vail

        FYI – the final vote in Maryland was

        1.37 million votes for marriage equality
        1.24 million votes against marriage equality

        The Board of Elections calculates that as 52.4 percent for, 47.6 percent against.

  • JL

    I do want to point out that while Rhode Island has no same-sex marriage, it was the second state in the country to incorporate gender identity into its anti-discrimination law all the way back in 2001, while Massachusetts only pulled that off last year.

  • Jason

    Of course, it is in the Oregon State constitution that marriage is between a man and a woman. Kind of negates the argument about Oregon being better for the gay community…

  • Andy

    So why are these guys tax-exempt again?
    Why are we putting old folks on catfood while the Catholic Church get a free ride while giving the finger to the concept of civil government and separation of church and state? Since when do pedaphiles in robes get to define civil rights?

    • speak truth’s mom’s pancake fumes

      Why are taxpayer dollars being given to an organization and the affiliates of an organization with a history of enabling and covering up the rape of children? In the county I live in, the local branch of Boys R Us administers welfare benefits.

  • CJColucci

    Do I hear anyone calling for Tobin’s head on a stake?

    • rea

      I think you are confusing the Catholic and Mormon heirarchies. Bishop Tobin is head of a diocese–his Mormon equivalent would be head of a stake, like Mitt Romney was . . .

      • Bill Murray

        I’m not sure that’s right. IIRC (and it’s been 20 years), a stake is a neighborhood, a ward a collection of stakes and a district a collection of stakes. I think district and diocese would be closer to the same.

  • Bitter Scribe

    Is anyone going to enter a Catholic church with a shotgun and demand that the priest marry two men or two women? No? Then, Catholic clergy, kindly STFU.

  • Trollhattan

    Blue Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality might consider climbing out of the sack where they’ve been hanging with industry and do a better job of protecting the citizens.

    Just sayin’.

  • ema

    Denying sex-specific care (such as pap smears and prostate exams).

    This doesn’t make any sense. (The insurance co denied, say, prostate exams on patients because they were trans women?)

  • cpinva

    to answer bishop tobin’s question seriously, the law giving gays/lesbians the right to same-sex marriage would be:

    1. the due process clause.
    2. the equal protection clause.
    3. the supremacy clause.

    laws against interracial marriage were struck down, on the basis of these clauses, for the very same reason that laws/amendments to state constitutions, disallowing same-sex marriages have been/will be struck down.

    • DocAmazing

      Silly cpinva! Those are all secular documents. Where is it in the Baltimore Catechism?

  • The Pale Scot

    The pic in the linked article, is that Bishop Tobin or Buddy Jesus? I thought he was in Red Bank? not R.I.

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