Mike Beebe’s speech to the Stonewall Caucus was supposed to be a sign of progress for Arkansas. Unfortunately, it looks like the bar for “progress” was set a tad too high.
Now personally, I’m not upset about Beebe shying away from marriage equality or even civil unions. There’s a certain realistic streak in me that has always said that wasn’t going to come out of his mouth and I never expected it to. It’s the other stuff that I’m upset, and down right bewildered by.
First off, Beebe said in the meeting that you couldn’t be fired for being gay in Arkansas. That’s false. Beebe tried to explain that he just didn’t know that after the event (see the above video) to which I ask, how? The man is a lawyer by trade, was a state legislator for twenty years, and was Attorney General before becoming Governor. How the hell does he not know something that’s such a well known fact? Or for that matter, couldn’t he have at least have his staff google it before he went in there and started talking about things he didn’t know about?
On top of that, Beebe not only distanced himself from the idea of passing legislation to combat discrimination in, say, housing, but outright dismissed the chances of it passing, adopting the attitude of why even try? Umm…because discrimination is wrong Governor and at least trying would show some effort to do the right thing?
Then he wanted to say that gay people, or at least some gay people in his view, are intolerant. Umm, Governor, do we need to go back to that whole being fired for being gay thing and your lack of willingness to do anything about it? Really Governor?
What’s really sad though is not anything the Governor said in particular. It’s not the little Ku Klux Klan wannabes in the GOP slobbering over this on twitter. (What they have to say really doesn’t matter as far as I’m concerned.) It’s the fact that this echoes an earlier time in the South’s history where the words “Segregation now! Segregation forever!” were said with much more confidence than in the whimper that escaped Governor Beebe’s mouth. (Which if progress if you think about it.) The worst part of it all is that we once had a governor, a Republican no less though the party as it is now would quickly disown him, who when a civil rights icon was shot and other southern governors were practically celebrating his murder, lead a chorus of we shall overcome on the steps of the state house. This could have been a proud moment for Beebe and for Arkansas. As it stands, it’s just an embarrassment for both.
Now, is this the equivalent of George Wallace thundering those famous words or Orval Faubus trying to stop the integration? God no. But history will lump it in the same category, as it should, for it’s all part of the same ugly thing.
An additional thought: In the past, Beebe has actually been pretty good on gay rights. He was a quiet opponent of Act One, reportedly helping to derail it legislatively before it got taken to the ballot, and did voice some opposition to it. What’s more, he signed into law an extremely progressive anti-bullying bill. It’s a real shame that this incident, which could have been handled much better by the Governor, is now going to be a blemish on that.