Archive for the ‘Civil Rights’ Category

Ho, Hum…. (Washington Passes Full Domestic Partnership Law)

April 17th, 2009 1 comment

In a story that attracted little attention outside of the state (except on gay news websites), the Washington State legislature on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that expands the state’s existing domestic partnership registry to grant same-sex couples the same benefits as married couples. Opponents have sprung into action, but have little chance of undoing the legislation in a state that’s prepared to take at least this step.

What does it say about the state of the marriage equality movement when “virtual marriage” has become the compromise norm in a growing number of states? (New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon and California now have laws approximating marriage for same-sex couples.) And it’s a norm that elicits a collective “ho, hum” from all but the most apoplectic equality opponents. It’s still not true equality, of course. I recall hearing Andrew Sullivan say, a few years ago, that these “virtual equality” laws are really “pure” discrimination. That’s exactly right: Once equality of benefits is granted, all that separates the two “classes” is status, or a kind of legal caste. Here’s one opponent of the domestic partnership legislation, in a comment posted to the Seattle PI’s website:

“Your [sic] not equal. You’ll ALWAYS be two same sex people who THINK they have what I have being MARRIED to one man for 27 years. You will never be equal to me.”

She might have added: “So, there!” But she’s right, as long as the law continues this separation. Further, this verbal foot-stamp is in fact no different from that of more sophisticated equality opponents. Consider Maggie Gallagher’s statement, speaking of why civil unions were better (from her perspective) than marriage:

If the 15 words “Marriage in the United States is exclusively a union of one man and one woman” are placed in our Constitution, we can point to those who claim civil unions are marriages and say with confidence, “Not in the United States.”

So, there!

It’s likely for this reason that courts have started to look much more closely at arguments that civil unions and domestic partnerships don’t satisfy equality guarantees built into state constitutions. This is from the Connecticut Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health: “Despite the truly laudable effort of the legislature in equalizing the legal rights afforded same sex and opposite sex couples, there is no doubt that civil unions enjoy a lesser status in our society  than marriage.”

To even more pointed effect, In Re Marriage Cases (from California): “[R]etaining the designation of marriage exclusively for opposite-sex couples and providing only a separate and distinct designation for same-sex couples may well have the effect of perpetuating a more general premise—now emphatically rejected by this state—that gay individuals and same-sex couples are in some respects   “second-class citizens” who may, under the law, be treated differently from, and less favorably than, heterosexual individuals or opposite-sex couples.”

Of course, these courts are correct. So are the civil union commissions in both Vermont and New Jersey, both of which came to a conclusion even Sarah Palin could understand (if not articulate): Civil unions don’t confer equality. Yet I’m starting to like civil unions and domestic partnerships. They’re training wheels, of a sort; not for the couples, but for the larger society. By granting formal recognition and the (state-conferred) benefits of marriage to gay couples, they bring us much closer to equality in the short term, and simultaneously give root to the idea that these couples pose no threat to marriage. Soon thereafter, the citizens become more confident; the training wheels are removed, and full marriage equality is achieved. It’s already happened in Vermont, and I expect it to happen in New Jersey and New Hampshire soon.

Civil unions? Domestic partnerships? Ho, hum… in the short run.

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 Few Uninformed Guys on the Corner of Main and Elm

March 29th, 2009 1 comment

It’s only a matter of a year or two until some state uses the legislative process to create marriage equality. Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine: any of these would be a good guess, but the states’ governors have all stated (expressly or  implicitly) that they would veto such legislation. (There may or may not be the votes in Vermont to override such a veto). The  other two real possibilities are New York and New Jersey; New York already recognizes same-sex marriages from other states, while New Jersey has: (1) a civil union law; (2) a governor who recently stated he would sign a marriage equality bill if  it came before him; and (3) a reasonably progressive legislature.

When that day comes, though, don’t expect the anti-equality forces to admit that “democracy has prevailed” over a judiciary consisting of those Professor Lino Graglia of University of Texas Law School has angrily called “philosopher kings.” By now it is comically apparent that the anti-marriage gang favors — anyone who’s with them, intellectual honesty be damned. My perceptive colleague Robert Justin Lipkin made this  point eloquently a few years ago, and subsequent events have proven him more correct that he probably could have imagined.  

Leading the Inconsistency Brigade is the all-over-the-place Maggie Gallagher, whose tactics I discussed in an earlier post. Now, having excoriated the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and the California Supreme Court for requiring marriage equality (the Mass court was wrong for applying a “rational basis” standard and finding that there wasn’t one for excluding same-sex couples from marriage; the Cal court was wrong for applying a higher level of scrutiny — what’s a poor court to do?), she finds fault with the legislative process in the New England States:

“[Marriage equality] is more a creature of special interest politics and legislative dealmaking. These are small states which can be influenced by fairly large amounts of outside money coming in. And it’s very hard for regular people to feel that they can have a voice on this issue in these states.”

Oh, the problem isn’t just the courts — it’s these darn small states! Hmm….wasn’t the tremendous influx of $$$ in California monumentally important (to both sides) in the Prop 8 fight? You  know, the not-so-small California (home to about one in every eight Americans). And I would have thought that people had more access to their government in the small states, what with the sort of “town hall” meeting style so closely associated with Vermont that it was popularized in Newhart.

It’s just too bad that the constitutions in these fly-speck states are so darn hard to amend, fumes Gallagher. She conveniently overlooks the fact that, when voters in Connecticut recently had a chance to call a constitutional convention that could have negate that state supreme court’s very recent marriage equality decision, they passed. Moreover, if recent poll numbers from Vermont (good summary and analysis at this site)  are to be believed, the “direct democracy” that Gallagher apparently favors won’t do the anti-equality forces any good in that state, anyway. Vermonters favor marriage equality.

This is all about tactics, then. Am I any more principled? Here’s my position: I think that matters of civil rights — especially where minorities are concerned — are for courts, and indeed go a long way towards justifying courts. Equality and fundamental rights go hand-in-hand in the case of marriage, because it’s  fair to require the majority to hold themselves to the same rules and definitions of what counts as “fundamental” as everyone else; simply put, if  marriage is a fundamental right, equality demands that it be offered to all consenting adult couples, neutrally. (And if that’s too much to bear, the state shouldn’t be in the marriage business.)

Politically, of course, it’s better if marriage equality comes from legislatures; courts, precisely because of their anti-majoritarian role within our constitutional scheme, are easily attacked as robed dictators. But courts are the check that’s needed,1  as anti-equality forces themselves usually recognize in other contexts, such as interracial marriage. [Gallagher: “The ban on interracial marriage was about keeping people apart; ‘this’ (opposing marriage equality) is about getting people together.” Nice sound bite, but inane. Which people, exactly, are going to be brought together by banning same-sex couples from marrying?)]

As Lipkin has put it:

“[T]hose opposing same-sex marriage should choose, once and for all, which branch of government is the proper forum for deciding this issue, or embrace both and cease carping at the courts when they enter the controversy. What they should avoid, at all costs, is adjusting their constitutional stories for result-driven purposes. Elementary decency in public debate demands as much.”

Or we could let the issue be decided by a few uninformed guys on the corner of Main and Elm.

  1. That isn’t to say, of course, that actual judges are reliable guarantors of equality. As a striking and distressing example, consider the flap over Justice Scalia that Barney Frank kicked off by calling the conservative justice a homophobe. The L.A. Times has a solid take on the whole thing.

Which is Worse?

March 18th, 2009 No comments

Way, way back in the supposed heyday of SNL (a “heyday” that  Jane Curtin now says was terrible), they did a great take on the smug morals enforcer of the day, Anita Bryant. Bryant, the former Miss America who led numerous crusades to roll back non-discrimination laws protecting gays and lesbians  (mostly successfully), was retrieved from obscurity recently in “Milk.” (Harvey Milk led the fight to defeat a Bryant-backed California ballot initiative that would have forbade “homsexuals” from teaching in the public  schools.) Her reappearance reminded me of this SNL exchange from the mid-to-late 70’s (not  verbatim):

Bryant (played by Curtin): “Would  you like some orange juice?”

Man: “Orange juice? No thanks, it’s not breakfast time!”

Bryant [reddening]: “It isn’t just for breakfast any more, dammit! I don’t know which I hate more, gays or people who think orange juice is just for breakfast!!”

Similarly, I don’t know which group gets me angrier: People who poured thousands of hours of time and money into the passage of Prop 8 because they (misguidedly) believed it was necessary to save civilization as we know it, or  those who voted for it even though they really didn’t care too much either way, and who also acknowledged that marrige equality was likely to come  to pass in the near future. In a series of interviews with supporters (no longer available on the web), I heard and saw several voters literally shrug when asked why they’d  voted for Prop 8. The comments were along these lines: I’m not comfortable with gay marriages. But it’s not the most important issue to me and it’s probably going to happen soon, anyway.

Excuse me?

If that’s really how people feel, they obviously haven’t stopped to consider the real and devastating effect that the denial of equality is having on millions of people every day. If this isn’t a big issue for you, please take a moment to think about the balance your vote strikes between a vague sense of “nah, I don’t think so” and the harm you’re contributing to.

At least those who spent their time and money in serious efforts to pass Prop 8 passionately believe in what they’re doing. And if all of them had the thoughtfulness of, say, a David Blankenhorn, I know which group I’d be angrier at — the casual voters. Of course, many of the “Yes on 8”  crowd complicate the equation with their sustained assault on the LGBT community.

So, which is worse? Does it matter?  Perhaps what counts is that the casual voters would seem especially susceptible to having their minds changed. In California and elsewhere, it’s vital to keep plugging away. Here’s a link to a National Equality Rally to be held on the first Sunday in May right here in my hometown of  Philadelphia (aptly, at Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell). The President of my university recently expressed his “outrage” at what’s been going on regarding the marriage issue, and we’ll need large numbers of the many millions of straight supporters like him to, er, come out in favor of this cause and for equality and justice more broadly. The Equality Rally is a good place to start.

That’s the main course. Time for dessert! I, for one, love pie:

Down Payment on Demolition

March 13th, 2009 No comments

I recently promised to end the career of anti-marriage-equality columnist Maggie Gallagher. As you can tell from this summary of her impressive accomplishments, this would constitute no small task (others have tried). It’s not exactly a fair fight, since I have no public career for her to reciprocally destroy.

Let me begin by saying that I’m not doing this because of her views; although I strongly disagree with them, they are far from unique. Grossly oversimplified, her argument against marriage equality is this: Marriage must embody the core principle of a mother and a father. Children have a right to know their biological parents, and to be raised by them. Once same-sex marriages are permitted, we will lose this notion — and the consequences would be grave.

Again, I strongly disagree on these points. First, adoptive children don’t have the right to know their biological parents in many states (nor would so-called open adoption be a good thing in many cases, in part because it might make would-be adoptive parents think twice before adopting). And let’s not forget in vitro fertilizations, anonymous sperm donations, and the presumption that the husband is the father of his wife’s child, biology notwithstanding. Same-sex couples would be just one more instance of such disassociation, and I don’t see the fairness of excluding this one group on grounds that don’t apply to anyone else.

Nor am I willing to accept the unsupported conclusion that the consequences of marriage equality would be grave. Fewer people will marry? See Eskridge and Spedale’s book for an effective refutation of this argument. Children won’t do as well in same-sex households? The social science research is to the contrary.

OK, so we disagree.  Maybe Gallagher isn’t convinced by Eskridge and Spedale, or doesn’t think their evidence (mostly from Scandinavia) would translate to the U.S. experience. Maybe she thinks the social science research isn’t sufficiently compelling, either.

Fair enough.* I respect and share her concern about children and about the institution of marriage, which is in plenty of trouble. I think that allowing same-sex marriages would be good for the institution of marriage — as, by the way, does the co-author of  her book, The Case For Marriage (Linda J. Waite; an actual social scientist) — and she doesn’t. Again, this disagreement is not the basis of the argument I’m about to make: That Gallagher’s arguments should be regarded as little more than populist polemic. Although she won’t so state, it’s obvious she has little use for gay and lesbian people and their relationships, or (as a practical matter) their children. If she did, she wouldn’t write the things she does. They’re intended to work on the emotions, rather than on reason.

(*On its face, fair enough. As I’ll point out in a future post, though, Gallagher has given herself a hedge against evidence that might call into question her position.)

For today, let’s take just one small but revealing example of the tactics she’s willing to use. Here’s a link to a column she wrote a few years ago. Please refer to it to check on what I’m about to say.

Let’s start with the title, which is already misleading: “Adult Children of Same-Sex
Couples Speak Out.” Well, no — it’s just one “child” that Gallagher spoke to. This isn’t picking a nit, because the error speaks to a broader sleight-of-hand: Presenting one case and leading the reader to think that the experience must be common, perhaps pervasive.

The column discusses one adult child (named Cassidy) of a lesbian couple who was uncomfortable with her parents’ relationship and with her status as the daughter of such a couple. To her this felt “unnatural”; it was “something [she] was conflicted with.”

Gallagher is clever enough to provide the requisite disclaimers: “Cassidy’s story is not science. It’s just her own feelings.” Remember, it’s also one person — if Gallagher had others, don’t you think she would have brought them forward? Well, maybe these others aren’t willing to speak — at least according to Gallagher’s avatar, Cassidy — because “they don’t want to make their parents feel bad.”

There’s nothing here besides the regrettable fact that one daughter of one same-sex couple wasn’t comfortable with her parents’ relationship. If I cite one example of an adult child who was uncomfortable growing up because her parents were of different races, what should we draw from that, as a matter of law or policy? What about the offspring of a couple with a substantial age difference? Or, for that matter, any grown-up who had substantial issues with her parents because of their class, interests, income — the list is endless.

But the point is to make same-sex couples seem different and freaky, somehow. Gallagher works hard to achieve this, describing the “artificial” method by which Cassidy was conceived in detail that isn’t emphasized by Cassidy. (Hard to know what she’d do with a child adopted by same-sex parents.) In another article, Gallagher makes more explicit her goal of “marginalizing and privatizing” the relationships of same-sex couples (by passing the Federal Marriage Amendment, a goal she supports). Viewing such relationships through the lens of a single daughter who had substantial problems with her lesbian parents is clearly meant to further that goal.

And what about the obvious argument that allowing Cassidy’s parents to marry might have helped her to feel less like an outsider? Gallagher again relies on Cassidy’s perspective to say that such societal approval wouldn’t have helped her. Now we’ve heaped the problem of asking someone (Cassidy) about a person who doesn’t exist (the Cassidy who grew up in a home where her parents’ relationship was valued and legally recognized) on top of the one-stands-for-many issue. One doesn’t need to have read Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling On Happiness to recognize that people are terrible at knowing their “possible selves.” (A one-hour lecture on personal identity in a Philosophy 101 class would serve the same purpose.)

That’s almost enough for the first salvo. Let’s conclude with a video that you might find interesting.

OMG! Meghan McCain, Like, Totally Gets It!

March 12th, 2009 No comments

Go here to find comments by the Arizona Senator’s daughter about the dismal state of the Republican party. She sees that Democrats right now are about 1,000 times cooler than members of her own party (being a Republican is about “as edgy as Donny Osmond,” she says). (According to her website playlist, McCain herself is pretty cool at least along one axis: Her website playlist includes artists ranging from flavor-of-the-month Lily Allen, to Charlie Parker, to the sludgy “Our Lady Peace.”)

But her criticism goes way beyond the GOP’s coolness gap: Warming to her task, she then expresses her disagreement with the party’s positions on stem cell research and marriage equality. She even offers this startling statement:

“Where has our extreme thinking gotten us? President Bush will go down as one the least popular presidents in history. I constantly hear stories about Republicans who previously worked for President Bush and my father feeling ostracized, unable to get jobs in D.C. right now.”

If I were a Republican strategist (about as likely as my being selected as host of Saturday Night Live), I’d say: Listen to this woman!

But no: Instead, the clownish Rush Limbaugh (played masterfully by the Obama Administration) elicits oohs and ahhs from the party faithful, while the comically inept RNC Chairman Michael Steele again finds himself in the soup for daring to suggest that the abortion issue should be left to the states (not, as he was “accused” of, stating that every woman should have the right to make that choice — no sirree!). Mike Huckabee and Ken Blackwell (his former rival for a position that now has all of the “earmarks” of a booby prize) jumped all over him, with Blackwell huffing that Steele needs to “re-read the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, and the 2008 GOP Platform.” So much for Steele’s promised — oh, and risible as well as cringeworthy — “hip hop makeover” of the party.

Let me offer some unsolicited advise for a quick, if incomplete, fix for the party’s problem; one suggested by Meghan McCain’s statements, above. The Republican governor of Vermont, Jim Douglas, should sign the marriage equality bill when, as is expected, it passes the state legislature. As his website discloses, Douglas is fairly progressive — a necessity for a politician in left-leaning Vermont. Yet he has signaled an intent to veto the bill, on the factually insupportable ground that the state’s civil union law is sufficient; and for the facially inane reason that the state has too many other serious problems, what with the collapsing economy and all. (Look again at the website for a list of the things he’s doing and tell me this argument passes the straight-face test.)

I’m no expert on Vermont politics, but I suspect Governor Douglas would suffer no significant backlash from signing the bill. And he might also help change his party’s image for the better. Almost certainly, this means it won’t happen. The GOP seems intent on marginalizing itself at every opportunity.

David Brooks, writing about the financial crisis, puts the party’s current ineptitude succinctly: “If Republicans were to treat this like a genuine emergency, with initiative-grabbing approaches, they may not get their plans enacted, but voters would at least give them another look. Do I expect them to shift course in this manner? Not really.”

He’s probably right, but maybe Governor Douglas can break the destructive spell.

The M Words

March 8th, 2009 No comments

The civil union has recently gotten a lot of air time, with pundits on all sides asking whether it’s an adequate  substitute for marriage equality. As I pointed out in a letter to the New York Times, the civil union (or domestic partnership, or “reciprocal beneficiary”, or whatever else) is a poor stand-in. It doesn’t confer any federal benefits, and wouldn’t even if the Defense of Marriage Act were repealed.

Yet the word “marriage” really does seem to be the sticking point for a lot of otherwise-reasonable people. In poll after poll, a majority favor granting equal benefits to same-sex partners, but an equally solid (though weakening) majority oppose same-sex marriage.  So we have the answer to Juliet’s rhetorical question: “What’s in a name?” Plenty. But why “civil unions”? If the word “marriage” is the problem, is “civil unions” the best solution? Why not something that looks more familiar?

I propose the word “mariage” — with one “r”! This neologism should make everyone happy. The familiar “two r” “marriage” is reserved for heterosexuals, while same-sex couples can hardly complain about the sacrifice of one measly letter.

Yes, there would be problems to solve, but they’re not insurmountable. The most obvious difficulty would be in pronunciation. While the words are distinguishable as written, how would couples signal which legal and social institution they were referring to when saying one of the two “M” words? We wouldn’t want to constantly say “one ‘r’ marriage” or “two ‘r’ marriage.” Here’s the solution: Since gays and lesbians are being asked to give up a letter, it doesn’t seem like too much to ask that the pronunciation of traditional “marriage” be changed to emphasize the two “r”s. Exaggeration of the “r” sound might be needed to make the distinction clear, but the high stakes in maintaining the separation will provide all the incentive that’s needed to make this work.

Here’s an example: “Oh, I’m so happy for Bob and Betty. Theirs is a marrrriage made in heaven.”

Of course, the trilled “r” sound that native Spanish speakers handle with such dismaying ease could also work here, because that mellifluous sound signifies a double “r.” Perhaps a side benefit of this new “one r/two r” world would be a rush to enroll small children in Spanish immersion classes, thereby arming them with the phoneme needed to keep the wall between the two institutions sturdy. Given the rising Latino population in the United States, this increased interest in the Spanish language would serve two vital goals at once: increased Spanish literacy and the protection of the institution of “marriage.” 

My only fear is that, over time, this nice distinction would disappear. Then people wouldn’t know who was “married” and who was “maried.” This must never be allowed to happen. For the last time, “marriage” means the union of one man and one woman. “Mariage” is something else entirely.         

Three Acts on Prop 8: I

March 4th, 2009 No comments

In advance of tomorrow’s argument on Prop 8, I offer this cautionary tale. My plan for tomorrow is to “blog live” as the oral argument unfolds, at 9 am PST (noon EST).  

News Item from California, November 5, 2008: “Yesterday, the voters of California approved Proposition 8, a measure that takes away the rights of gays and lesbians to marry someone of their own sex, a right that they had enjoyed since May of this year. Ron Prentice, Chairman of, which supported Prop 8, had this to say in celebration: “This is a great day for marriage. The people of California stood up for traditional marriage and reclaimed this great institution…. Proposition 8…doesn’t discriminate or take rights away from anyone….'”

Reader: Amen to that! “Gay marriage” isn’t even marriage..   

WordInEdgewise: So the voters could have done the same thing to interracial couples and it would have been OK under the California constitution?

Reader: It’s not the same thing. The right to marry is fundamental but it only applies to opposite-sex couples.

WordInEdgewise: Really? Consider this: The California Supreme Court has held that the fundamental right to marry is meaningless if one can’t marry the person of one’s choice. It further stated that denying gays and lesbians this fundamental right violates their right to equal protection of the laws. Finally, the court stated that any law discriminating against gays and lesbians has to be subjected to the same scrutiny as laws that discriminated on the basis of race or of gender.

Reader: Well, if anything it’s a “new” fundamental right. Prop 8 doesn’t affect any other rights.

WordInEdgewise: OK, then consider whether this would be permissible:

News Item from California, 2010:“In a vote that was not as close as had been expected, the California voters once again surprised the bloggers and bloviators by easily passing a ballot measure that amended the state’s constitution to remove the rights of free speech for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Maggie Eddings Bryant, spokeswoman for ‘Yes on Prop 4’ celebrated the voters’ wisdom: “Speech has limits, as the voters have demonstrated. And we don’t allow pornography, fraud, or lots of other kinds of speech. Too often, ‘gay speech’ is nothing more than incitement. We need to protect the institution of speech, so that children – who are somehow forgotten in all of this – learn the right lessons about its importance. And remember that we don’t necessarily know who is gay in these metrosexual times, so there isn’t a problem as long as people don’t identify as gay. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ – it isn’t just for the military any more.’”

Reader: “That’s just nutty! A fundamental right is a fundamental right, no matter who’s being singled out.”

WordInEdgewise: “Really? Can’t we say this is just a limited exception, too? And if it is, consider this:

News Item from California, 2012: “In a closely contested vote, the California voters shocked the pollsters and pundits by approving a ballot measure that amended the state’s constitution to remove the right of free speech for all men. Ernestine Bledsoe, spokeswoman for ‘Yes on Prop 1’, celebrated the decision: ‘For too long, the institution of Free Speech has been under assault from a minority promoting their own agenda of coarse speech. We needed to protect the institution of speech for future generations.’“’The No on 1’ forces were furious. Several thousand of them – mostly but not all men – marched in front of the headquarters of organizations that supported the measure. (The men were promptly arrested for exercising the right to free speech they no longer enjoyed.) Bledsoe was outraged by the protest: ‘We are at a dangerous time, when law-abiding citizens feel threatened and intimated for exercising their most precious right – to express themselves at the ballot box. What is happening to our democracy and for the basic notion of respect for opposing points of view?'”

Reader: “That’s crazy! You can’t take away a basic right that way. No court would ever put up with that.”

WordInEdgewise: “I guess it depends on whose ox is being gored.”

The Blame Game?

March 2nd, 2009 No comments

A reader (well known to your author) had some insightful comments on “The Name Game” post, which he graciously agreed to allow me to share with you.

Herewith:”For what it’s worth; I’ve always referred to you (the blogger) as [my fiance’s]’s cousin’s husband. It seems that aside from the negative connotation of “husbandry” it is the most fitting name. It’s the only name that adequately describes your relationship. Your ‘spouse’ is the person you list on insurance forms and tax documents – is lacks all emotion. ‘Partner’ leaves one wondering if you’re referring to your business or your tennis game. (Blogger’s note: My tennis partners would probably have a few other words to describe me.) It certainly doesn’t imply a committed, loving relationship.

“It seems to me that an important (the most important?) part of equality resides in the minds of people. People think in words so names are powerful. I guess what I’m saying is that equal rights may be a crucial part of this struggle but I think it all pivots on (and starts with) an idea. People need to say to themselves: ‘Why doesn’t his husband have the same rights as my wife?’

“Speaking of names: There has to be a name for what’s going on here. If you don’t believe in equal rights (and treatment) for another race you are a racist. So, what are you if you don’t believe in equal rights for gay people? Perhaps two can play the name game.”

OK, let’s play the Blame Game. Obviously the writer doesn’t think “homophobe” suffices — and neither do I. The term does capture something vital, because in many (most? all?) cases those opposing equality for the LGBT community are operating from a place of fear. But there’s also a kind of mean-spiritedness to some of it that can’t be fully explained by the “fear” trope.One colleague and I were discussing this very issue last week. He has recently been thinking about the ancient roots of this animus against homosexuality (as we discussed, the word “anima” itself is a primitive expression).

So what is the source of this anti-gay feeling? Is it nothing more than a socio-biological expression of the need to reproduce? And if so (piling speculation upon speculation now), why does it persist in the face if radically different circumstances? What would be required to extirpate it?Any suggestions for a new term? Please, no vulgarities.    

Categories: biology, Civil Rights, Gay Rights Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Worst Op-Ed, Ever

February 22nd, 2009 No comments

OK, probably not the worst, but pretty bad: This piece, which appeared in the Sunday (2/22) NY Times. Two well-respected think-tankers — one a marriage equality advocate and one an opponent — called for a compromise that would take some of the heat out of the marriage controversy.  I’m all for reconciliation, but “A Reconciliation on Gay Marriage” is fairly brimming with bad ideas.

Just when I was about to give this issue a break.

The authors suggest the creation of a federal civil union, that would recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions to the extent that such unions were recognized by particular states, but only if those same states allowed,  in their words, “robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide[d] that religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own.” Their proposal is both procedurally and substantively nutty.

Before I get there, a preliminary issue needs explaining. It’s odd that the federal government should be creating “federal” marriages or “civil” anything. Until the evil and desperately named “Defense of Marriage Act” (“DOMA”) defining marriage for federal purposes as the union of a man and a woman, Congress pretty much left the states alone to define marriage as they wished. Then federal benefits depended on whether you were married according to your particular state’s law. So, why not just repeal DOMA?

It’s not that simple. DOMA has inadvertently provided cover for states wanting to have their equality cake as long as gay couples don’t get to eat it, too: Since federal benefits are tied to marriage, the “civil union” (or domestic partnership) that several states have created don’t get you any kind of federal benefits, and wouldn’t — even if DOMA were repealed. Civil unions aren’t marriage, DOMA or no DOMA. But the federal goodies constitute most of the economic benefits of marriage.

Thus, the authors of this piece, David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch, are right to suggest that something like a federal civil union would be needed to recognize the couples for purposes of granting benefits to couples in “civil union” states. (Couples in states recognizing full marriage equality don’t need this new “federal civil union”contraption.) But then their proposal goes seriously awry.

Procedurally, their measure is seriously underthought, even though they get paid to do nothing but think. What, exactly, do they mean by “robust protections”for religious organzations, and what would constitute “recognizing them”? And if the states are to be required to enact such provisions in order for their civil unions to “count,” why is a federal overlay needed? (Such a law, to the extent it conflicted with state laws, would supersede them in any event.) When I read this, I thought: I’ll bet neither of these guys, accomplished as they both are, has had any legal training. Turns out, I was right.

Perhaps these procedural issues could be dealt with if the underlying substance of their proposed protection for religious groups was sound. But it is not. As the authors recognize, the issue is not whether a church would have to perform a same-sex union if doing so would violate their tenets; everyone agrees that the First Amendment  shields churches from having to do so. Gay couples, please — pick another church, already.

The tougher questions arise once we move beyond the “sanctuary” of the church and its right to protection for belief there. Let’s discuss the two examples they use, where I strongly disagree with their conclusions. First: “What if a church auxiliary or charity is told it must grant spousal benefits to a secretary who marries her same-sex partner….?” Blankenhorn and Rauch believe that the organization’s decision not to provide such benefits should be protected.

The first issue is whether the work of the “auxiliary or charity” is so closely tied to the church’s core beliefs that it could, for example, exclude all non-church members from employment.  If so, then this issue would  not arise in the first place. But if the church can be forced to hire “non-believers” under pain of liability under state anti-discrimination laws, then why should sexual orientation be singled out for exemption? And, anyway: If the “auxiliary” (whatever that means)  is going to hire this woman in the first place, am I the only one who sees the cruelty in denying “spousal benefits” — which really means “health care benefits” — to her wife? Please tell me which church this is, so I can avoid even driving past it. (There’s another topic here about tying benefits to marriage in the first place, but this isn’t the time….)

The next example: “What if a faith-based nonprofit is told it will lose its tax-exempt status if it refuses to allow a same-sex wedding on its property”? Well, is the “non-profit” charging for the use of the property? If so, it’s squarely in the realm of the “secular” for this purpose and shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate any more than should a landlord whose “morals” counsel against renting to same-sex couples.

The provenance of the problem comes from the authors’ starting “agreement” that “many Americans of faith and many religious organizations have strong objections to same-sex unions.” Well, so do many “Americans (not) of faith.” We don’t protect the latter, and we shouldn’t protect the former if they wander out of the properly protected enclave of religious expression that the constitution clearly privileges.

To realize how crazy this is, substitute “race” for “sexual orientation” and see how the results play out: A church doesn’t believe in interracial marriage. This example isn’t from the year 1650; Bob Jones University didn’t allow interracial dating — never mind marriage — until 2000. And it tried to justify its position even in 1999, as seen in this letter:

“Bob Jones University [has] a rule prohibiting interracial dating among its students. God has separated people for His own purpose. He has made people different from one another and intends for those differences to remain.  Bob Jones University is opposed to intermarriage of the races because it breaks down the barriers God has established. It mixes that which God separated and intends to keep separate.”

So, what if Bob Jones hires a white secretary who then marries a black man. Should the church be able to deny benefits that are otherwise tied to marriage? To fire the secretary for her transgression of church law? I didn’t think so.

In fact, Bob Jones had long since lost its tax-exempt status for just the kind of racial policies that Blankenhorn and Rauch now defend (at least as a matter of right) in the case of sexual orientation.

La plus ca change, or something like that…