An open letter to Stephanie Herseth

Stephanie Herseth is running in a special election in South Dakota to fill the seat left vacant after a court convicted Bill Janklow (R-SD) of reckless driving and second-degree manslaughter. I sent this letter to her this morning.

Dear Ms. Herseth:

Yesterday morning, in a moment of enthusiasm, I sent your campaign $50. Not because I’m a resident of SD (I’m not), but rather because I’m a committed, Wisconsin-born Democrat who is tired enough of the Bush Administration’s ham-handed international and domestic policies that I’m willing to toss my own money across the country to try and make sure their agenda comes to a screeching halt.

Then I read your campaign’s statements on the subject of the Federal Marriage Amendment, and I felt a chill. While I recognize that the subject is a contentious one, I had hoped for better from you and your speechwriters. The Defense of Marriage Act was a bad idea to begin with, and the Federal Marriage Amendment is an profoundly bad idea; we’ve come too far in this country, through and beyond Jim Crow laws, through and beyond denying women the right to vote, to step backwards on this one. To pander, even in the slightest, to those righteous, mean-spirited conservatives who want to enshrine separate-but-unequal in an actual constitutional amendment … well, it’s absolutely not the sign of a party or a candidate I believe in.

The first 10 amendments to our Constitution defend the rights of all Americans. It is a document unlike any other in the world, and it makes me proud when I read it. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” What a simple, elegant sentence! Its brevity belies the difficulties overcome and labors performed by those who worked to pass it; once there, it made our Constitution and our country even better. It, like so many other amendments, rose from the awareness that we were harming our own citizens by denying them the rights and privileges afforded other citizens. Looking back, it’s clear that disenfranchising women was a demonstrable harm, though there were certainly legislators of the day who felt otherwise.

The idea that gay and lesbian couples who want to make lifelong commitments to each other are performing a demonstrable harm to our country is ridiculous. Are they performing harm enough to warrant amending a document referred to around the world as our “Bill of Rights” with an amendment explicitly denying civil rights and legal protections to an entire class of Americans? In what way will America be stronger as a result of such an amendment? Will our budget deficits magically disappear along with lesbian parents’ healthcare benefits? Will our children consume less arsenic in their drinking water once gay men cannot have power of attorney for each other? Will unemployed textile workers in the Carolinas get new and better jobs at the marriage factories? Will our alienated allies in NATO suddenly respect us and our policy of pre-emptive war more once we eradicate the threat of gay couples filing joint tax returns?

I know that the exigencies of running for office in the Midwest are different than on the coasts. I’m not expecting you, in the midst of a campaign in conservative South Dakota, to make supporting gay and lesbian parents and couples a centerpiece of your platform. But at a bare minimum, I do not want to hear these words from any Democratic candidate, “I agree with the president on this issue. Marriage should be between a man and a woman.”

Those are not the words of a candidate I can support with anything like a smile on my face. Sure, I’ll be pleased if you take the seat – I’d love to have a Democratic majority in the House, and it’s going to be something we take slowly, over years – but in backing the president’s bigotry, you do a profound disservice both to your party and your constituents, gay and straight alike. Come the day a candidate in South Dakota calls hateful prejudice “hateful prejudice,” and stands up for Christian love and acceptance for all, even gay and lesbian couples and parents, I’ll be sending that candidate as much money and support as I can muster. I can’t, in good conscience, send you anything more. Had I heard your statements 24 hours earlier, I wouldn’t have sent what I did.


Adam Hirsch