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Iowa Marriage Decision: Further Thoughts and Some Perspective

April 4th, 2009 No comments

With the ramparts crumbling all around them, marriage equality opponents seem to be left with two talking points, which are really cris de coeur, the last howlings of a doomed defense. First, they fall back on their definition of marriage. Thus, the Iowa Supreme Court, in recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples, has spoken an “untruth.” Second,  they tirelessly remind us that, where people get to vote on others’ right to marry, they consistently vote against it (otherwise put, “courts are undemocratic”). The first is an assertion in search of an argument, while the second overlooks what is probably the central function of courts: the protection of minority rights against the vicissitudes of majority will, whim, or prejudice.

When this is the best you can do, you’ve lost the argument.

Of course, the Iowa court’s unanimous decision, portentous as it is, can’t be expected to bring a quick end to the debate. In fact, in the short run it may yet impel a few more states to strengthen their marriage bans by driving them into constitutional concrete. (For reasons cogently developed here, it’s somewhat unlikely that Iowa’s own constitution will be amended in this way. It certainly won’t happen soon.) Nonetheless, the opposition to marriage equality is starting to seem like a last stand. (Remember the Alamo?) Perhaps this commentator is right in thinking that a “tipping point” may just have been reached:

Moving from politics back to law: The Iowa court shoved the debate towards conclusion with its brisk and effective dismissal of the state’s arguments. I was especially struck by how the court, echoing the California Supreme Court’s decision from last year, gave no credence at all to the vague speculation that marriage equality will somehow harm the institution “in the long run.” And by now courts have seen just about enough of the  “virtual equality” promised by the civil union — Iowa would have no truck with it, and all three of the states that currently have it  (Vermont, New Jersey and New Hampshire) are likely to take the marriage equality plunge very soon.

The court’s willingness to address the religious argument directly will prove important, too. I read the point to be this: “We  respect religious opposition to same-sex marriages, but you need a properly public, secular reason to exclude people from a privileged institution.” That is a thoughtful and respectful response to citizens who sincerely oppose marriage equality for religious reasons, or because of a more general unease. Both of these sentiments were poignantly reflected in the comments of one Iowan:

“Diane Thacker’s eyes filled with tears when the ruling was read to a crowd that had gathered outside the Iowa Judicial Building.

‘Sadness,’ she whispered. ‘But I’m prayerful and hope that God’s word will stand.’ Thacker said she joined a group of gay-marriage opponents ‘because I believe in the marriage vow. I can’t see it any other way.'”

With respect to Ms. Thacker and so many like her, do we really want to deny basic equality on this kind of basis?1 Here’s a quote I’ve always liked, from a California tort case:

“No good reason compels our captivity to an indefensible orthodoxy.”

Finally, I find myself asking yet again: How much energy can opponents justify expending on this issue? In Afghanistan, a law is passed that sets back women’s rights (and arguably permits marital rape); in Iraq,2 gay men and condemned are killed for their “perversion.” I could go on and on.

Yet stopping the marriages of gays and lesbians is worth all of this time and effort? Go build a house, or something. You’re not going to stop marriage equality in any case.

  1. This, by the way, is a “rhetorical  question.”
  2. Nb., the nation we liberated from a dictator.

A Totally Unexpected Benefit of Arising at 3:30 am

February 2nd, 2009 No comments

I’m a huge tennis fan, so despite the danger to my short-term health and the expected impossibility of keeping up with my family for the rest of the day, I woke up in the middle of the night on Sunday to watch the Men’s Final of the Australian Open, live.

The graceful Swiss, Roger Federer lost, again, to his arch-foe, Rafael Nadal, in what would surely be the most riveting rivalry in all of sports if even one of them were American. (If you’re sitting there thinking that the problem is tennis, not the nationality of the players, I offer this rebuttal: Michael Phelps. I doubt many knew the difference between “the butterfly” and “the moth” before his impossible accomplishments. Do we still love him if he’s a committed stoner, though?)

But I’m not going to write about the match, because either you care a lot about tennis — in which case I’m hardly the place you’d go for analysis — or you don’t. In either case, why bother? But if you have a few minutes, check out this video and then we can break into small discussion groups (if you’re in hurry, move ahead to just before 2:00  in….)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58F4As4Y89c

I love where Nadal puts his arm around Federer in a genuine gesture of sympathy, empathy, and comradeship. During his interview, Nadal was remarkably reflective for a young man of twenty-two; according to the account in the New York Times (which might have been translated from Nadal’s native Spanish), he said of Federer’s breakdown:

“It was an emotional moment, and I think this also lifts up sport, to see a great champion like Federer expressing his emotions. It shows his human side. But in these moments, when you see a rival, who is also a comrade, feeling like this, you enjoy the victory a little bit less.”

Compassion? Empathy? Context? What is wrong with Nadal?

No sooner had I digested this unlikely breakfast — along with dangerous levels of caffeine — when I came across a provocative article, again in the Times: this one, about groups of mostly separatist lesbians living in often secret communes throughout the United States. These “lost tribes of lesbians” harken back to the 1970’s, an earlier era of feminism and perhaps the high-water age of identity politics. One comes away from this brief account with the sense that these womyn’s (if this word seems to have avoided spell check, you’ve missed a little piece of linguist/social history) lives are happy —  yet limited, and scared. Several confessed to fearing men (even the presence of a six-month-old grandson of one commune member apparently had to be announced!), and the communes’ members generally concealed their sexuality from “outsiders.”

But these communes are dying out: Much like convents trying to attract women to lives that have lost relevance for most, the membership is aging and not being replaced. Lamenting this likely demise, one resident noted that the “younger generation” hadn’t had to go through what she and her peers did.

No, but that’s good, right? Yesterday I read that Iceland, which admittedly has only fourteen residents and has been the hardest hit of any nation during the global financial crisis,  just named a lesbian — one Johanna Sigurdardottir —  as prime minister. She is apparently the first openly gay leader of any country, but very few Icelanders (or Icelandiques?) care.

This is what’s been happening while these early feminists have been holed up in communes. Lesbians come out, and lead a country. Alpha male athletes cry and comfort each other. [See? A connection!] Federer and Nadal aren’t “every man” of course — they’re not even American, I must repeat. But they have their state-side analogues.

These pioneering women came out a long time ago — but I don’t think they’re “coming out” of their sanctuaries. It looks like six more weeks of winter.

Categories: Gay Rights, Social Justice, tennis Tags: , , , , , , , , ,