Home > 365gay column reprints, Social Justice > Culhane: Of laws and families, politics and waterparks

Culhane: Of laws and families, politics and waterparks

There’s a connection – not an obvious one, though – between two recent stories.

The first, which has generated a good deal of angry comment on this web site, is the news that President Obama supports the Respect for Marriage Act (“RMA”). The writer was vilified for a misleading (and since amended) headline that said that the President favors a federal right to marry.

The headline was misleading, yes, but less so than most thought. By supporting the RMA, Obama has quickly gobbled up most of the remaining gap between his former position and full-on support for marriage equality. And it turns out that he does favor something like federal gay marriage.

The RMA would repeal both parts of DOMA – both the federal definition of marriage as restricted to the union of one man and one woman (section 3) and the unnecessary provision that states need not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states (section 2). (It’s close to redundant because the U.S. Constitution’s full faith and credit clause already gives states the authority to do just that).

So Obama’s support for our equality goes beyond the challenge to section 3 that the Administration has mounted in a number of federal cases – an advance noteworthy in itself. But the RMA does much more. In order to reduce the confusion sure to arise once section 3 is repealed (or declared unconstitutional), the act would make a valid same-sex marriage “stick,” for federal purposes – forever.

What’s a “valid” same-sex marriage? Any state, territory, or country where you can get one, basically. So your Canadian marriage is as good as your New York one (as of this weekend, anyway) – and it doesn’t matter where in the U.S. you live!  Oklahoma or Arizona residents: Flee the state for your Niagara Falls wedding and honeymoon (on either side of the Falls!) and the feds will recognize your union – forever, even if your local laws may, as they say, vary.

As a practical matter, then, if the RMA passes, anyone who wants to get married for federal purposes can do so. And we’d be almost there at that point, with the states having a smaller and smaller role in keeping us roped off from the equality that others don’t often need to think about. This.is.a.very.big.deal.

Obama is quickly running out of ways to evolve. Consider his position: states should decide on marriage equality; the federal government should respect the states; I myself don’t favor marriage but do favor the virtual equivalent. I can’t see any new places to “evolve” except to support of full marriage equality.

If he gets there some time soon after January 20, 2013, I’m OK with that. I don’t want to think about the alternatives, at least among most of the Republican candidates.

The second story comes from the juxtaposition of a couple of kid-related things. This morning, we were looking at the rules for a water park in Western Pennsylvania that we decided was the only thing to do on a day when it seemed we were living on Mercury. One “rule” banned “controversial political messages.”

What, exactly, does that mean? I mused about whether we could be turned away for wearing shirts that said: “Love Makes a Family.” And the lawyer in me wondered: Who are the solons of family-friendliness who are charged with enforcing this cloudy edict?

We own no such shirts. But the fact that there’s even a need for this shirt is the problem here. Indeed, our presence at the park (especially given the clientele) was almost as much of a statement, in and of itself, as the (perhaps) banned shirt would have been.

At some point, of course, kids figure out that not everyone thinks their LGBT-headed families are OK. Depending on the kid, some of this negativity can start to seep into their own sense of self-esteem, insidiously corroding it. For that reason, there are GLBT-family oriented national and local organizations, and now – Camp Highlight.

As a story on this site noted, the new camp is for the children of LGBT parents, and will be in Wernersville, Pa – not a bad drive from our home in Philly. Coincidentally, the news came as David and I had been discussing whether this sort of camp might be something worth sending our kids to when they get a bit older. (We were familiar with a similar effort, Camp Mountain Meadow in New Jersey, which I’ve written about, but which was forced to suspend operations for the current year. I wish them a speedy reboot.)

I’m not crazy about the ghettoizing of our community – by others or by us. Won’t kids do better by figuring out how to get along in a complex world? But my kids might feel differently in a few years. To an extent, their views are shaped by what their President says and thinks about the dignity and equality of their families.

John Culhane is concluding a nice, long vacation! His work, though, can be read at any time.
  1. July 22nd, 2011 at 13:05 | #1

    Thought provoking article, John. (As usual.) Thanks!

  2. wimsy
    July 29th, 2011 at 10:17 | #2

    I do feel compassion for those assigned to root out “controversial” tee shirts — especially those who don’t have an ideological agenda and are just trying to help everybody have a nice time. Obviously, a tee shirt message that provokes reaction (“Christians are Bigots”) is as bad as one that scandalizes (“F*ck Your Mother”). Families of all kinds who are just enjoying a day with their kids don’t start fights.

  1. No trackbacks yet.