Saturday, September 15, 2012

Paul Ryan Disappoints Young People on Gay Rights

Guest blogging this week is my nephew, Thomas Strieker, who shares a memorable 2005 meeting with Paul Ryan. Thousands have viewed my take on Paul Ryan.  Readers seem interested in perspectives from Ryan's hometown of Janesville. Thomas was raised in Janesville and graduated from Parker High School.

Janesville feels so far off the map that when someone gets any national attention my heart beats faster.  So I was excited when Mitt Romney tapped Paul Ryan as his running mate.  The all-seeing eye of American Politics gazes on my hometown.  Janesvillians want to share their encounters with Ryan and his family, and almost everyone has a story. 

My first and only interaction with the potential Vice President was in Washington D.C. back in 2005.  I was fortunate enough to be part of an audience with the then four-term congressman.

When we got to Ryan's office, he wasted no time talking about his life “on the hill.”  We were allowed a short Q&A session when he finished.

Someone asked a question that got Ryan fired about human rights issues.  He said the federal government should protect people’s right to liberty and happiness.  Then he listed how he’s defended those rights while in Congress.

The next question was about gay marriage.  Ryan said he agreed with Former President Bill Clinton’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that makes gay marriage a state issue and NOT a federal concern.  He was relieved, because he thought gay and lesbian couples shouldn’t have that right.  My hand went up.  

I asked him to clarify his previous statements about human rights issues and all he does to protect them.  I pretended to scribble notes as he espoused how he would defend anyone whose human rights were violated.  Then I asked why that didn’t include the right to marry.

People in the room started to get antsy.  Ryan stumbled to his previous answer about gay marriage being left to the states and not his responsibility.  I reminded him that he thought it was the federal government's duty to protect human rights and then asked why gay marriage didn’t qualify.

Someone interrupted the exchange and said we should get back to the line of questioning.

In hindsight, it was inappropriate to challenge Ryan in that setting.  He gave us his time, which was generous.  I was a young punk trying to help him understand how my generation thinks gay marriage is a human right.

Since then, I’ve matured and researched this topic more thoroughly.  The majority of Americans support full, legal marriages for gay and lesbian couples according to a Public Religion Research Institute study.  Almost three-quarters (74%) of 18-29 year-olds support it.  Six states legalized it.  Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed.  A federal appeals court ruled DOMA unconstitutional.  The judges’ decision was unanimous.  The country’s opinion on the issue is changing, and Ryan’s changed too but in the wrong direction.

His running mate and he will work against what the majority of Americans want when it comes to gay marriage.  If elected, they promise to amend the Constitution to define marriage as a union between only a man and woman.  This will exclude gay and lesbian couples from a basic right that the majority of people have and want to share.

What Ryan said to me in 2005 was a contradiction.  Recent history proved it. Gay marriage is a human right.  One he should defend on the federal level if he wants to keep his record as a champion of people’s basic rights.  He won’t, though.  Knowing that, the excitement for my fellow Janesvillian fades away.

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