The Ricketts Family is Americaby Kyle Michaelis
Last week, I posted a concept-piece about Republican Senate challenger Pete Ricketts' sister - Laura Ricketts - being a lawyer, using Pete's repeated suggestions on the campaign trail that there is something dishonorable about the legal profession to highlight the manner in which he is willing to turn his back on his own family for cheap political gain as he attempts to defeat incumbent Sen. Ben Nelson.
In the subtext of that semi-satirical post, I also took issue with the unspoken but readily-apparent manner in which Ricketts' has turned his back on his sister on an issue of far greater importance and substance - the struggle for equal rights and privileges for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Americans.
I was, at first, hesitant to speak about such matters because there is a hard-to-define line respecting politicians' families' right to privacy that one should not cross lightly. I wanted to make my point about Ricketts' character, but I wasn't comfortable exploiting a member of his family to do so.
While such concerns would normally be quite valid, I've realized now that they are not and never were applicable in the case of Laura Ricketts because she is herself a public figure and a leader within the GLBT community. By not acknowledging her as such, I fear I was - myself - operating from a mind-set wherein sexual orientation is not something that should be talked about openly. As open as she is about the principles for which she stands and about who she is as a person - to the point of supporting a gay comedy troupe, hosting community fundraisers, and contributing to organizations leading the charge for gay rights - I still wrote of her from a place of shame.
She deserved and deserves better than that.
Now, I don't know the full nature of Pete's relationship with his sister. They might be very close. Family dynamics are often complicated, and I don't intend to judge or to question the love and affection they may be assumed to share. But, while siblings can not be expected to agree on all things and a simple difference in political opinions would oftentimes not be very relevant, here we are talking about the perpetuation of policies and furtherance of an agenda subjecting one sibling to second-class status in society.
I'm sorry, but that isn't the brotherly thing to do, and it doesn't speak to any coherent conception of family values.
Though not as extreme in its effect, the struggle for equal protection under the law for GLBT citizens has torn apart families in much the same fashion as slavery and states' rights did during America's Civil War. Though it's hard to understand why or how, this is one of those issues that has too often turned brother against brother and parent against child. It is painful to witness and sad to recognize, but to deny that it is so would be to blind oneself to the world in which we live.
Pete Ricketts has run a campaign fueled by platitudes about his intent to stand-up against liberal, activist judges who would "leave our values as bystanders to their agenda." And he tirelessly repeats his intent to support traditional marriage, as if Satan himself were leading some imagined charge against it.
Even Pete's most recent ad - which would be his best yet if it weren't so patently insincere and hypocritical on the issue of negative campaigning - talks of "Washington's erosion of our values," playing on voters' feelings of fear and mistrust to capitalize on anti-gay sentiments for his campaign's purposes. That is the clear intent, the only intent, of this sort of rhetoric. I will refrain from accusing Ricketts of being a bigot on this basis alone, but he's no doubt willing to use the fear and bigotry of others to his advantage.
Contrast that with his sister Laura, who sits on the national Board of Directors of Lambda Legal. This puts her in a leadership position in what is perhaps the leading gay rights organization in the country. In fact, it puts her at the forefront of the challenge to the gay marriage ban right here in Ms. Ricketts' home state, where a Lambda staff attorney declared Nebraska's Constitutional Amendment "by far the most extreme anti-gay family law in the country."
In conjuction with the ACLU, Lambda has led the charge against this Amendment since its passage in 2000. After a recent set-back in court, they continue the struggle, with the Associated Press reporting just this weekend of their appeal to the full 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Lambda Legal's "Marriage Project", separate from its actions in Nebraska, even has a stated purpose of "winning the right to marry for same-sex couples," while advocating that:
Denying equal access to marriage deprives LGBT people of critical rights, protections and responsibilities and violates our nation's fundamental guarantee of equality for everyone.
No one can say with a straight face that this division isn't news-worthy or a suitable topic of discussion. Here we have two people united by blood and by privilege who, on one of the most talked about and most controversial issues of our day, have taken as prominent of roles in opposition to one another as is conceivably imaginable.
A brother spending millions of dollars of the family fortune in an attempt to win one of the highest political offices in the land. He runs on an all-too-familiar but proven message of intolerance that his own sister has dedicated herself (and some sizeable chunk of her share of the family fortune) to defeating.
Tell me that isn't some powerful, high-drama stuff. This is the sort of story that perfectly captures the heart of this conflict, while also going a long way towards defining the true cultural climate in which we live. It is bigger than the Ricketts family, bigger than Nebraska politics, even bigger than the respective agendas of those on both sides of the issue. This is the struggle for America's future - here a war between family painted in shockingly stark terms that is no less being fought on a grander but less personal scale in homes, in classrooms, and in ballot boxes all across the country.
Unless I've made a terrible mistake in my use of Google, the Ricketts family dynamic, on the issue of GLBT rights and the U.S. Constitution, might just be one of the most important stories in the country. That it is a story that has so far gone untold is yet another sad testament to the failure of the Nebraska media.
No one likes the idea of his or her own life being used for metaphorical purposes, but the facts speak for themselves. This is a story to which the public has a right. This is a debate that can be silenced no longer.
It does not matter who you support - Pete or Laura. It does not matter who you are - Pete or Laura. Gay or straight - conservative or liberal; on some level, we are all Pete. And, yes, we are all Laura. The question is, as family, do we respect those differences while acknowledging one another's humanity, or do we let those differences drive us further and further apart.
What do you say, my brothers and sisters? Which of these is truly your vision for an America - and a Nebraska - in which we can believe and be proud?