Sunday, July 31, 2016

Oh, Nebraska

My home state doesn't make the national news very often. We Nebraskans tend to be staid, good-natured but somewhat vanilla folk. That unremarkable nature can be annoying. When my old junior high was evacuated in 1998 because of a foul, unknown odor, several national news reports gave the city as Grand Island, New York. (Thankfully, when a stray accordion case caused a similar evacuation earlier this year, there was no such confusion.)

When Nebraska does make the news, though, it tends to be entertaining. Take for example the story that broke this week of state Sen. Bill Kintner being asked to resign over allegedly having an explicit sex video starring himself on his state computer. Kintner, of Papillion, is a Tea Party-backed politician with a track record of deriding gays, women, minorities, and the poor. From Joe My God:
Kintner has loudly opposed same-sex marriage, gay adoption, and transgender rights. He has also publicly declared that Christians should let gays know their business isn’t wanted by providing them with bad service.
The good senator appears to have a keen eye for other people's splinters. Pity he can't turn that hawk-like gaze on his own actions.

As I said, Nebraska rarely makes the headlines, but I've managed to compile a fun, if modest, set of stories over the past year or two. Some of my favorites are below the fold.

Back in April, a federal judge in Nebraska ruled that Pastafarianism is not a real religion. This judge clearly has not been touched by the Flying Spaghetti Monster's Noodly Appendage. He dismissed Pastafarianism as "satire", though exactly how that disqualifies it from being a religion is unclear. After all, many of us in the FSM's church have Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs and we demand to be taken at least as seriously as Scientology.

Early last year, the Unicameral "accidentally" recognized same-sex marriage well before the Obergefell decision. An attempt to pass legislation allowing military spouses to carry concealed handguns may (or may not, depending on who you ask) have extended rights to same-sex spouses whose marriage, according to Nebraska's constitution at the time, was not valid in the state. From the Omaha World-Herald:
Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus, however, questioned whether the bill would allow same-sex spouses to obtain gun permits given Nebraska’s constitutional ban on gay marriage. He proposed an amendment so the gun privilege would apply to anyone receiving the federal benefits of a military spouse.
The Department of Defense extended benefits to same-sex spouses in 2013 following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
“Is not the Second Amendment sex blind? Color blind?” Schumacher said. “What great evil would come from saying a partner of somebody in the military … is entitled to exercise their Second Amendment rights to carry a concealed weapon in this state?”
The amendment he proposed passed 38-0. Schumacher was something of an unlikely ally of marriage equality, staking his case not on LGBTQ rights or equal protection under the law but rather "the Second Amendment belongs to everyone". Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

Also in 2015, a woman from Auburn filed a federal lawsuit against all homosexuals -- yes, all of them -- to determine "is Homosexuality a sin, or not a sin". Perhaps not surprisingly, she represented herself... and was swiftly shown the door. Earlier that year, a state legislator threatened to reverse his support for a ban on employment discrimination because he didn't like what Sen. Ernie Chambers (my favorite Unicameral legislator) said about Catholicism. Because that's what well-adjusted, productive adults do -- use other people's civil rights as a tool with which to settle personal disputes.

Oh, and then there was that time that Nebraska repealed the death penalty and caught up to much of the rest of the world. Except then Governor Pete Ricketts had a big sad over it and threatened to kill prisoners anyway, out of spite. In any case, it sounds like Nebraskans will have to decide in November whether they're cool with state-sanctioned murder or not. That's one absentee ballot I'll be sure not to miss.

It could be worse; we could be Kansas. Aside from basketball, the only time Kansas seems to pop up is the latest update on Governor Sam Brownback's grand experiment with the state's economy. "Starving the beast" sounds great on the stump; much less so when school funding withers away to nothing and government departments start looting the highway budget just to make ends meet. In contrast, Nebraska really does seem to live up to its self-glossed moniker of "The Good Life". Thanks, Kansas!

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