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Who’s Hiding Now?

September 23rd, 2011 4 comments

Since 365gay is shuttering after next Friday, I’ll be doing a lot more blogging back here. This is good, in a way, because I’ll be motivated to write on a broader array of subjects than I’d be covering for the past year or so. (I’m also told that the site will…disappear, along with all my work. I’m trying to figure out how to preserve it. Any ideas?)

Anyway, here’s today’s penultimate column; might as well reproduce the whole thing:

Who’s hiding now?

A couple of recent developments – one seismic, the other not so much – point to a tidal shift in the battle for LGBT equality and dignity.

The biggie, of course, is the long-overdue interment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” You’d have to be made of a certain kind of dense mineral not to be moved by the stories that we’re hearing of soldiers who can now go about their jobs without fear of being outed, then ousted. And the squawking of those on the hard-right who’d threatened to get repeal undone are dying away like the gasps of an almost-extinct species.

Yet the repeal creates problems more complex than the one it solved. Once these gay and lesbian (but not transgendered) soldiers stand revealed in the fullness of their identity, it’s also going to become almost immediately apparent that they’re still not equal. While they now are allowed to exist, their relationships are not, because these soldier are not considered legally married for federal purposes. So all the benefits that straight service members take for granted – including housing for their families and spousal death benefits – aren’t available to sames-sex couples. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) that’s true even if the couple is considered legally married in their state of residence.

This glaring inequality has the potential to do some serious damage to the anti-equality forces. Soldiers not only enjoy tremendous respect, but they live in such stifling proximity to each other that these inequities can’t be missed. In short order, this new set of stories – told now neither by ex-soldiers, nor by soldiers concealing their identities, but by open and proud service members – will create a compelling narrative that should accelerate the momentum toward the repeal of DOMA. Equality and openness beget more of the same.

This could finish even better than you’d think it might. Because members of the military are constantly on the move, and often overseas, it won’t do to have their marriages recognized some of the time (when they’re in states that allow same-sex marriages) but not always (when they’re anywhere else). So the move to pass something like the Respect for Marriage Act (“RMA”) will also gain steam. Under that proposed bill, once you’re legally married in any state that allows it, you’d be forever deemed married for federal purposes. While the RMA still won’t force states to recognize marriages from other states, the pressure on them to do so will increase dramatically.

No other approach makes sense for the military – it would be a logistical nightmare for the government (and the same-sex couples) to move in and out of legal marriage as they changed location. This is already a problem with same-sex marriages under state law: try dissolving your Massachusetts marriage in Texas, for example. But the military setting brings the problem into sharp relief.

So the reality of our lives, as we push further and more boldly into the open, has created irresistible pressure for equality. Look no further than recent polling data on marriage equality for evidence that the message is getting through.

And that brings me to the second development, which is a sort of flip side. As our openness and equality become an increasingly tight and strong braid, our opponents find themselves on the defensive. That’s not a good place to be when you have no good arguments for your position.

So, once again, we had the Prop 8 opponents trying – but failing – to keep the videotape of the trial from being made public. (An appeal has been filed, of course.) And a couple of weeks ago, the lawyers working for the House of Representative on the DOMA case politely refused to consent to the videotaping of oral arguments before the federal appellate court. They gave no reason for their refusal, but let me suggest one:

They know their arguments are neither sympathetic nor compelling.

The more they say, the worse — the meaner, frankly — they seem. David Boies, one of the attorneys on the Prop 8 challenge, said it succinctly: “The witness stand is a lonely place to lie.” (Watch the video, especially around the 3:00 mark. Boies is devastating.) Indeed, the Prop 8 defenders’ witnesses were such a disaster that the release of the videotapes would be a huge boon for our side. Better to keep it – and all opposition arguments – under wraps. I’d be begging for the same result were I the lawyer representing them.

Who’s hiding now?

John Culhane is stepping up the pace of his own blogging at wordinedgewise.org as his work on this site rockets toward its conclusion next week. You can also follow him on Slate, Twitter (@johnculhane), or through his legal scholarship. He’s also working on a book about civil unions, and invites your stories.

From 365 to Zero

September 18th, 2011 No comments

Am I leaving 365gay? No, it’s leaving me…by ceasing to exist. Here’s this week’s column, explaining how I expect this unexpected setback to actually become a plus, as I rededicate myself to multiple issues, as I’d done before taken over by the all-gay, all-the-time (except for Slate!) bug.

I’ll have two more columns, each with what I’m guessing will be diminishing readership as people flee the site. So I’ll step up the pace here. Expect a more detailed announcement of my plans soon…

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The Tale of the Illegal Dress

August 19th, 2011 No comments

Once upon a time, a lesbian walked into a bridal shop…

Read the story here.

How To Protect Yourself, and How You Can’t

August 12th, 2011 No comments

For those in relationships that aren’t legally recognized, it’s tougher than you think to gain all the protections and peace of mind that you’d want.

Wait — it’s impossible. Read all about it.

Death and Documents

August 5th, 2011 No comments

Yet another in the sad volume of stories about what happens when we don’t protect our legal interests.

Result: Tragedy compounded by stress.

A Traveler’s Guide to Gay Relationship Recognition

July 15th, 2011 No comments

Some of it ain’t pretty. But most of it’s good. It helps to venture into Canada! Here’s the report, with emphasis on developments in NY.

Three Straights, You’re Out?

July 8th, 2011 No comments

Here’s my take (including personal experience on a gay-identified sports team) on the recent decision upholding the right of a gay softball team to restrict the number of straight players.

Categories: 365gay column, sports Tags:

Are Those Who Oppose Marriage Equality Bigots? Some of Them

July 3rd, 2011 No comments

Here I examine the current move of the equality opposition forces — to cast themselves as victims by saying we’re calling their defense of “traditional marriage” bigotry.

NY Passes Marriage Equality Law — With Strings (That I Can (Barely) Live With)

June 25th, 2011 No comments
Andrew Cuomo hands pens to legislators after signing the bill into law late Friday. | AP Photo

This will go up on 365gay.com soon, but since I don’t know when, I want to get this posted ASAP:

[Update: it’s now up. Here is the link.]

Marriage equality is coming to New York! The bill was signed within about an hour of its passage through the legislature, and marriage licenses will start issuing in thirty days.

It’s hard to write a column when all you want to do is scream and dance. I’m in Pennsylvania, not New York, but I grew up there and am still enough of a NY snob and realist to know that this is a very.big.deal.

Only the more populous California rivals New York in legal and symbolic importance. The state’s financial and cultural clout are exported around the world. Now this news about marriage will be, too, and I expect other states and nations to use this development as powerful ammunition for their own marriage equality movements. Our opponents – especially the National Organization for Marriage – know this, too.

When they’re being honest with themselves, they also know that their tactics at best delay the inevitable. That defensive game just got a lot tougher, especially since it was Republicans that made the difference in the state senate: Senator Skelos, the majority leader, allowed the measure to come to a vote; and in the end four Republicans put the measure over the top.

Consider the two whose votes were declared only last night: Mark Grisanti, who represents the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area; and Steve Saland, from the beautiful Hudson Valley part of the state.

These are exactly the kind of measured, moderate voices that quietly voice the doom of the anti-equality effort. Saland has a reputation as a thoughtful (if dull) legislator, but he spoke with confidence and conviction about his vote, declaring that his emotional journey towards recognizing the dignity and equality of gay couples was now at its end. He knew, somehow, that his parents would be proud of him

It was Grisanti, though, who is going to have the Catholic-inflected NOM et al. scrambling for a new playbook. He’s a real Catholic (check out his bio to see how very Catholic he is), yet was, in the end, able to separate his religion from what he concluded the law must allow.

Both Saland and Grisanti, significantly, are lawyers. I know, I know – a law degree doesn’t confer infallibility. But when it comes to legal rights, any attorney should be able to articulate a reason to exclude a class of people from equality. And Grisanti said: “I cannot legally come up with an argument against same-sex marriage.”

Others have, though. It’s worth recalling that the New York Court of Appeals ruled in 2006 that the state could ban same-sex weddings, using some of the worst arguments you will ever see in a body of such stature. This win more than makes up for that serious misstep, and is more satisfying, in a way.

This brings me to the one part of the law about which I have serious reservations: the religious exemptions. I’m well aware that the bill wouldn’t have passed without them, so the question is: Was it worth it? Are the exemptions too strong? Are they justified? Or should we have waited for a better law, bearing in mind that this version of marriage equality is likely to be ferried from state to state, going forward?

On balance, I think the exemptions are tolerable – but just barely.

First, they’re not the broadest – and dumbest – exceptions that have been suggested by a small, seriously misguided, group of law professors. These folks lurch from state to state arguing that businesses should be able to refuse to cater, photograph, provide flowers for, or put up guests for same-sex weddings if their objection is based on religion

This has been, and will continue to be, a non-starter. Although ostensibly limited to transactions connected to the wedding, in fact the restriction is impossible to police and would result in the rollback of anti-discrimination protection in states that have worked so hard to get it.

But the exemptions that are in the bill remain troubling. They go beyond what the state law and the U.S. Constitution already require, which is that no religion is forced to solemnize any marriage that violates its tenets. Under the amendments – released, maddeningly, just hours before the vote – neither these religious organizations, nor any non-profit organizations they control, nor any other “benevolent association” (think Knights of Columbus) has to have anything at all to do with a same-sex wedding.

As a pointed example, the measure would foreclose a suit such as the one filed by a New Jersey couple denied use of a beach pavilion by the Methodist church that owned it. The facility was routinely rented out for all kinds of weddings, so one might think that the decision to enter the world of commerce means you have to take all comers.

Yes in New Jersey — but not in New York. A church, synagogue, or mosque, can spin off as many organizations as it wishes, and engage in whatever businesses it wishes, without having to get involved in anything to do with our weddings. They can’t be sued for their actions, and they can’t lose their tax-exempt status because of them. I prefer the New Jersey approach, which strips away the religious fig leaf from naked acts of commerce.

There are also provisions in the law designed to reassure religious organizations that marriage equality can’t be used as a sword to get them to provide housing, employment, or services to the LGBT community where doing so would be inconsistent with their basic message. But those protections are already in state law, so the law isn’t as troubling there. Or at least it’s not newly troubling.

One thing that the law seems to leave out is an exemption for adoption agencies affiliated with religious organizations (like Catholic Charities) that will not place kids in households headed by same-sex couples. This is a vexing question that deserves its own post (coming soon!).

Let me close by panning back out, away from the details of the law to the broader commitment to dignity and equality that it embodies. Openly gay and HIV+ Senator Tom Duane ran well past his allotted time to provide a brief history of the progress of our movement, culminating in this huge victory. Then he said: “Nothing is going to change about how we love or take care of each other.” It is just that the state is now going to recognize and support us in these efforts.

And it is about time.

Marriage Equality: Three Updates

June 16th, 2011 No comments

This has been such a busy week for marriage equality that I’ve had trouble keeping up. Over at 365gay, I look at these three developments (with big emphasis on the first):

New York seems poised to pass a marriage equality law. But it depends on whether the Republican leadership in the Senate will let the matter come to a vote. If it does, it will very likely pass. If it doesn’t, then the Republicans will seem more out-of-step that ever, in a state where the party has maintained its moderate cast over the years — even in the face of Tea Party mania.

A judge in California rejected the ridiculous challenge to Judge Walker’s Prop 8 decision, which was grounded in the outer-space argument that, because the judge was gay and in a long-term relationship, he should have recused himself. An appeal, of course, is planned. The Prop 8 proponents’ best best is to avoid the merits, as the trial — and the proponents’ obsessive insistence in keeping the trial videotape out of the public view — itself clearly showed.

Also in California, the bankruptcy court declared DOMA unconstitutional as applied to a case where a legally married same-sex couple sought to file a joint petition. Only married couples can do so, and under DOMA, a valid state law marriage is nonetheless not recognized at the federal level. Most of the judges (20 of 24) signed the order.

Happy reading!