Friday, December 27, 2013

We Are Winning

Tonight A&E announced that they would not be suspending Phil Robertson, the (now) infamous patriarch of Duck Dynasty who last week derided gay men and inferred that black people were a-ok in the Jim Crow South. Understandably the LGBT community was horrified, with many LGBT people taking to social media and denouncing A&E’s decision.  

From the Christian Right’s announcement that they would be holding a “Chick-Phil-A” Day to support Phil Robertson’s “right to free speech” (because clearly, that was violated here), to GOP members from all over the country coming to the defense of Phil Robertson (including Sarah Palin, who actually admitted that she didn’t even read the interview with GQ that cause all the ruckus), the voices of bigotry seem to have won. It is still socially acceptable to call gay people sinners and that we are “full of murder” and must change our sexual orientation.

But have they won?

This week we saw two more states added to the list of states which will recognize the legitimacy of our marriages. I have seen people I know, people who I never thought would be on our side, being vocal allies against the oppression that we face as a community both legally and socially. Religious groups are starting to recognize that the love that we have for our spouses, partners, significant others, is just as a valuable as the love that a heterosexual person manifests. The culture is coming to our side.

Is it coming as fast as many of us want? No. I personally find it shameful that A&E would rather make money than to do the right thing. I find it shameful that in the majority of States we STILL can be fired for who we are, that we STILL are restricted from marrying the person we love, and that in all but two States, LGBT children can be forced into professional therapy which tries to change their sexual orientation. But where we are now, in comparison to where we were ten years ago, is stunning.

We are winning the hearts and minds of Americans. The bigots may scream. They may yell at the top of their voices that we are persecutors. They may demand tolerance for their hate. But they are losing, and because they are losing, we are seeing the dying breath of the anti-equality movement.

And that should make us all proud. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Thank You Obamacare!!!

On December 24th, I was finally able to afford health insurance. After haggling with the exchange for months, I figured out what I was doing wrong (I had a glitch in my original application, so once I started over, it went smoothly), and was able to sign Nathan and I up for a health insurance AND dental insurance plan through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. We have a $300 deductible and $1000 out-of-pocket maximum for our health insurance and a pretty decent dental plan. Yes, we only have in-network privileges here in Michigan, but that is ok, as we generally don't travel outside of Michigan, and we have coverage for emergency room visits out of network. All in all, we are paying less than $30 per month for insurance that we would only have been able to dream about a year ago. We were also allowed to register for health insurance as a married couple, in a State which doesn't recognize our marriage as valid. 

Why is this important to me? Mainly because I have been without health insurance for a number of years. Some of that time, I was lucky to have access to the Canadian system (when I was living in that country), the rest of the time, when I lived in Tennessee and here in Michigan, I had to fend for myself.  I often made the decision NOT to go to the doctor, when I likely should have, because on my limited income, it was not economically feasible for me to pay up front or go into debt. Obamacare changed all that. On January 1, I can pick up the phone, go to the doctor, and pay a low out of pocket fee. I can be assured that if the doctor finds anything that needs to be taken care of, that I will not go into exorbitant debt that will take me years to pay.

Is Obamacare perfect? No, it isn’t, and if anyone says that it is, they are full of bull. But is Obamacare, in allowing those who cannot afford health insurance to access our healthcare system, in allowing those with pre-existing conditions (like myself) to not be priced out of the market, in ensuring that people do not go into bankruptcy because of lifetime coverage caps, worth it? I think so.  

This post isn't meant to be scientific and it isn't meant to be a "gotcha" post that says the Affordable Care Act is working. Anecdotes don't give us a broad picture of reality. But in my world, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has worked, and I am thankful for it. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Chick-Phil-A Day - Because Supporting Bigoted Chicken and Supporting Bigoted Beliefs Is What Jesus Would Want

We have had an amazing weekend in the LGBT community; from marriage equality coming to Utah on Friday, to that decision not being stayed by the District Judge today, to an Ohio judge invalidating Ohio's marriage ban for purposes of death certificates. That being said, it is hard for the LGBT community to forget what happened last week with the Phil Roberton/Duck Dynasty fiasco. And it is important that we don't, because social conservatives, still smarting at the cultural reaction, have not forgotten. Because these individuals cannot fathom that their their bigotry cannot be voiced without criticism, they have created  "Chick-Phil-A National Support Day", which already has over 13 thousand Facebook likes.

With the line of "Stand for Free Speech. Sit for Good Food", on January 21, 2014 the "persecuted" will eat at the "great" food chain Chick-Fil-A and wear Duck Dynasty/Duck Commander paraphernalia. Though I do not want to give this "protest" attempt any more clout than the 13K likes that it currently has, I am sure that organizations like the National Organization for Marriage will soon issue a press-release urging its supporters to join in the "protest". In fact, the group is encouraging its members to contact people like Mike Huckabee to let them know this is happening.

Because you know, nothing pleases Jesus more than eating at a greasy fast food restaurant and supporting a man who compares gay people to murderers, says that they can "pray away the gay" (if you want to see how that worked out for me look here) and infers that blacks were better under Jim Crow. Yes, Jesus would be super pleased.

Update: Yes, it looks like this will be a thing. Over 28 thousand people have indicated that they will be frequenting Chick-Fil-A on January 21. Hopefully Chick-Fil-A repudiates this event but I'm not holding my breath.

h/t to @randyrpotts

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Does Being Anti-Gay Marriage Make You Anti-Gay: A Response to Brandon Ambrosino

In The Atlantic yesterday, Brandon Ambrosino, an author and an individual who I respect, deeply disappointed me with his article “Beingagainst gay marriage doesn't make you a homophobe: some people just aren't’t sureabout marriage equality – but their reasoning isn’t necessarily a reflection oftheir character”. The article has been retweeted by the likes of Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson as well as many others within the conservative wing of Christianity, and for good reason, as it is a reformulation, by a gay man, of the typical religious cliché “love the sinner hate the sin”.

     Fair warning, I come at the issue of LGBT equality from a legal perspective, I am after all, a law student. But at the same time, I recognize the larger social and religious fight for full equality for LGBT people, and I have often fought for LGBT equality within the religious/cultural realm. Even with full legal equality, the socio-cultural norms within a community impact the way that gay and lesbian couples feel about their relationship. For example, marriage for same-sex couples has been legal in Canada since 2005, yet my husband and I still encountered social bigotry and disgust when we lived in the Niagara region of Ontario. Just because marriage is legal for same-sex couples doesn't mean that a same-sex couples marriage magically becomes equal to a heterosexual marriage. Legally? Yes. But because marriage is a cultural institution, to be truly equal, LGBT advocates must fight the religious and cultural beliefs that stigmatize same-sex marriages.

     Now back to Brandon’s article. And before I start on the main thrust of the piece (that you can be anti-marriage equality and not anti-gay), I want to address an argument that he makes. First, he says that if “homophobic” is used to argue against those who do not believe in marriage equality, then “what should we call someone who beats up gay people, or prefers not to hire them? Disagreement is not the same thing as discrimination. Our language ought to reflect that distinction”. Brandon argues as if these things are mutually exclusive, but I would beg to differ. The latter is the same as the former; the only difference is that the latter is an outward manifestation through action of an animus towards gay people. For example, someone may be a racist and believe that black people are inferior, yet not beat up black people or discriminate against them in employment. But they are still are a racist. Just because they do not manifest their racism through action does not mean that they are not racist. Just because you will hire women, yet believe that women are inferior to men, does not make you less misogynistic. The same thing with homophobia and anti-gay bigotry.

     So why do I take issue with the main thrust of Brandon’s article? Because, as I said, he has walked into the idea of “love the sinner, hate the sin”. In this context, one’s sexual orientation is not what is bad. A Christian can still “love” a gay person. But the conduct associated with that gay person – their marriage - is “less than” and is the action that is “hated”. Conservative Christians do not believe that marriage can be between two people of the same-sex, because they religiously believe that God made marriage for people of the opposite-sex. This isn’t anti-gay, Brandon exclaims, because these people are not opposing gay people, they are opposing calling the relationship “marriage”. Even in the secular context, he claims, those individuals are not opposing gay people – they are opposing a relationship in which natural procreation is not feasible.  

     I feel that Brandon’s analysis here is lacking, mainly because he doesn’t seem to analyze the place that marriage has in our culture. Marriage is not just a religious sacrament or a legal status in which “procreation” or “what God intended” can be the determining factors; instead it is a cultural norm that has become the pinnacle of what it means to be in a relationship. All other relationship regimes are below marriage. Is that a good thing? Maybe, maybe not. But it cannot be denied that marriage is THE status within our broader culture that signifies commitment, love, partnership, family, and for many, religious obedience. We don’t see people in movies getting “civil unioned” or “domestic partnershiped”, we see them getting married, and we understand WHAT that means. Love songs are not written in hope of cohabitation, they are an expression of deep love to lead to marriage. To take someone’s justifications for marriage outside of the broader culture in which that person exists doesn’t allow us to truly analyze that person’s position. We are not isolated entities whose views are solely shaped within ourselves; our perspectives are shaped by our interactions with others.

     But how does this comport with harboring animus towards gay people? I think Brandon would agree that a relationship status for same-sex couples such as “civil unions” demeans those relationships within our broader culture. That has been, in fact, the entire thrust of the legal push against civil unions. But that wasn’t his argument. His argument was that if you are anti-marriage for same-sex couples, you are not therefore anti-gay, you are only anti-gay marriage. But this argument fails to acknowledge how an individual often manifests the ideas of commitment, love, and religious value to the outside world. They get married. Thus, if an individual believes that same-sex people are not deserving of marriage rights, they are attacking the individual themselves because they are saying that that person cannot reach the level of commitment, love, and religious value in their relationship that a heterosexual person can in their relationship. Remember, a marriage is not an isolated entity, it is a cultural entity made up of individuals; individuals who have sexual orientations. To the people who are anti-gay marriage, there is something “different” something “better” in a heterosexual relationship than in a homosexual relationship, based upon the identity of the persons IN that marriage.

     Finally, Brandon assumes that if you are a bigot, then you are, by necessity, a bad person. Yet is this an accurate assumption? Can a racist, homophobe, misogynist, etc. be a good person outside of these areas? Yes. Does harboring such beliefs and values impugn a person’s character? Yes. But that fact doesn’t necessarily make them overall a bad person. This is one area where I do believe that our community needs work. We rush to call out those who are anti-marriage equality as bad people. But, as Brandon said, that is more nuanced, and not always true. Homophobic? Anti-gay? Bigots? Yes. Bad people? Not necessarily.

     Overall, I enjoyed Brandon’s article as it gave me something to think about, but at the same time, I found that it gave another quiver in the arrow of people like my parents who can say “we love our gay son and his “partner”, but they are not married”. Because he didn’t address the deeper cultural ramifications of what marriage means, Brandon was able to make the distinction between being anti-marriage and anti-gay. A conclusion that was, in my opinion, just another formulation of love the sinner, hate the sin.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The "supposed" betrayal of the Southern Gays

Why should gays stay in the South? This is a topic that I have extensively thought about, read articles about, and yes, even blogged here about. The issue once again came to the forefront yesterday when a friend shared a link to the Mother Jones story regarding the Tea Party House candidate in AL-1 who said that all the gays should just “go back” to States like California or Vermont. In introducing the article, he expressed his frustration with “Northern gays” (a phrase I will use to describe members of the LGBT community who live in States that provide full rights) and their attacks on LGBT people who choose to live in the South. To his credit, the individual who shared the article affirmed the Northern gays’ right to live in welcoming States or move to welcoming States. Thus, the blog post is not necessary directed at him; instead, I will be addressing a deeper underlying issue that seems to run through the LGBT community in the South – that is, a deep sense of betrayal against those Northern gays who leave the South.

For a bit of background, I would encourage my readers to read the article (linked above) that I posted a few years ago about this issue. I still hold to that position, yet with some very important caveats and with some words of warning to my Southern gay colleagues. And, for full disclosure, my husband Nathan and I made the deliberate choice – after much soul searching – to move to Minnesota as opposed to going back to Tennessee, because of the legal recognition that we are afforded there.
First, it is 100% inappropriate for Northern gays to assert that there must be something wrong with Southern gays for staying in the South.  That argument, which yes, I often hear from people in NYC, California, New England, etc. is offensive and brings nothing to the table. As my friend said, there are reasons why LGBT individuals stay in the South. Each couple, individual, etc. has different things they value – many Northern gays, for example, value *right now* having the protections afforded to them through marriage, workplace protections, adoption rights, etc. Not saying that Southern gays do not value those things – they truly do – but many will not move from the South because they are willing to forego such legal protections for the time being, and feel that it is their duty to fight the good fight.

Yet, this attitude by the Southern gays can morph into a problem – and it is a problem that both my husband and I have been subjected too with our involvement in the LGBT community in Tennessee. As many Southern gays are immersed in the idea that they are “fighting the good fight”, they view individuals and couples that leave the South for greener pastures as traitors to the cause of equality. I know this, because I used to have a similar feeling. That was, until I was on the receiving end. I remember sitting in a room with a number of LGBT activists, listening to Harvey Milk’s speech about the necessity for equality everywhere and receiving glares because I had left Memphis to pursue a law degree at the University of Michigan. Some LGBT activists that I know in the South will no longer talk to me (or other people who have made similar decisions) because we are viewed as cowards. This, in my opinion, is as bad as the Northern gay position of “who would live in the South”.  It is not the desire of every individual to be a fighter; instead some just want the opportunity to raise a family in a community which supports them and in which they have legal protection. That is not something that should be criticized, instead, as my friend who posted the article said, that decision should be something which is affirmed.

In the end, no matter where individuals decide to relocate, whether they go to the North or stay in the South, their decisions should be affirmed by our community. They should not be judged by the Northern gays for staying the South, nor should they be ostracized and made to feel like cowards by the gays of the South. Instead, let us band together around our compatriots, no matter where they are, and remember that or individual decisions on where to live should be respected. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Is Gun Control Unconstitutional?

Ever since the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut six months ago there has been a conversation in this country about gun control. Many on the Left assert that gun control is needed to ensure that situations like that which happened in Newtown do not happen again, while many on the Right assert that gun control measures would not have stopped that tragedy, and instead of restricting access to firearms, we must encourage their widespread availability.

The discussion over the efficacy of gun control measures will go on for years and years to come, but that is not what I am going to be discussing today. Instead, my goal is to clear up some of the common misconceptions that exist in relation to the constitutionality of gun control measures. I will not be addressing all gun control measures, or even attempting to go into the constitutionality of specific gun control measures – those instead will be for future posts on this matter. Instead, my goal is to clear up some of the rhetoric which exists that claims that ANY gun control measure violates the 2nd Amendment.

Many on the Right, led astray by the rhetoric of the National Rifle Association, believe that ANY gun control measure (whether that be background checks, magazine limits, assault weapons ban, or national firearm registration) violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I call these people “2Aer’s”, because of their extreme fealty to the literal words of the Second Amendment. 2Aers assert that the Second Amendment states that the right to bear arms “shall not be infringed”, and then continue to repeat that refrain as if that ends the conversation. Such a simplistic understanding of the Second Amendment, though making for a good sound bite, clouds what should be a rational discussion on gun control, and perpetuates the idea that exists on the Right that “liberals hate the Constitution”.  

The two most influential cases on the Second Amendment in the past decade would be the Supreme Court’s decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010). Heller dealt with D.C.’s complete prohibition on handguns in the home, striking down such a complete prohibition as violating the 2nd Amendment. McDonald, on the other hand, dealt more with whether the 2nd Amendment was applicable to the States (relying on SCOTUS’s incorporation doctrine manifesting out of the 14th Amendment).  These two cases laid out a framework in which other Courts in the United States could address firearm regulations and whether or not said regulations violated the 2nd Amendment. Unlike what 2Aers claim, though these cases established an individual right to possess a firearm, they did not forestall all governmental regulation of said right. In fact, Scalia, in writing for the majority in Heller, specifically states that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms”. (pg. 626-627 of the decision).  Furthermore, the majority in Heller, though not specifically stating as such, implies that regulations on the carrying of concealed weapons, as well as the restricting of certain types of weapons by the government (eg. assault weapons) would pass Constitutional scrutiny.

Because Heller and McDonald were not clear about how far government can go in regulating firearms, the Courts of Appeal throughout the United States have crafted a two-part test to address these situations. First, the Court will look at whether a particular provision impinges upon a 2nd Amendment right, and if it does, the Court will look at whether said provision passes constitutional muster under the appropriate level of scrutiny. An excellent example of how the Court addresses a regulation in relation to these two tests is found in the follow up case to Heller that was heard by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2011. In that case, the Court looked at whether a basic registration scheme for both handguns and long guns was consistent with the 2nd Amendment. In finding such a registration scheme  passed the first test in relation to handguns, the D.C. Circuit Court stated that not only were basic handgun registration requirements a longstanding feature of American firearms law, but that any burden on the 2nd Amendment right was de minimis, as many other features of American life required registration . The registration requirements for long guns on the other hand, because there was not a longstanding practice in America of such a requirement, did not pass the first test, and instead had to be analyzed by the Court.

In Heller (2008), the Court found that rational basis review (that is, that the Government can basically have whatever policy it wants to as long as it has a rational basis for doing so) was not an appropriate standard of review for firearm regulations. Instead, the Court left open what standard of review was appropriate. If a firearm regulation burdens a right at the “core” of the 2nd Amendment (self-defense in one’s home), Heller suggests that strict scrutiny is an appropriate standard of review. Strict scrutiny is when a regulation has to have a compelling government interest, be narrowly tailored to that interest, and must be the least restrictive means to accomplish the government’s goal. Outside of the firearm regulations that burdened the “core” of the 2nd Amendment right, Heller left open the ability of lower Courts to use a less restrictive level of Court scrutiny (intermediate scrutiny) to analyze firearm regulations.  If a firearm regulation furthers an important governmental interest in a way that is substantially related to that interest the Court will find such a regulation Constitutional. Though in the follow up case to Heller, the D.C. Circuit could not rule on whether long gun firearm registration was constitutional (it did not have enough information), it deemed that such a regulation was deserving of intermediate scrutiny, as the regulations did not prevent an individual from possessing a firearm in the home.

In review, per current Supreme Court case law, the 2nd Amendment does not establish a complete ban on any regulation of firearms by the Government. Instead, the Court has left the Government a large amount of wiggle room in how it chooses to craft its firearm policies. As long as a firearm regulation does not burden the core of the 2nd Amendment right – that is, self-defense in the home – it likely will not be subject to strict scrutiny, and instead will be subjected to the less onerous intermediate scrutiny. Though the sound bite of “shall not be infringed” may play well to a rabidly pro-gun base, it does not tell the whole story behind the 2nd Amendment, and instead leads to an uneducated and ignorant populous.

As this is a very fluid and misunderstood area of the law, I will continue over the next few weeks to analyze specific gun control policies from a constitutional perspective. As always, I welcome any questions and comments that my readers may have. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

On Portman, The LGBT Community Disappoints Me

Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman came out in favor of marriage equality late Thursday night, to the shock of pretty much the entire political world. Basing his decision to change his position on marriage equality because of his son Will, Portman wrote a powerful article in the Columbus Dispatch that was published early Friday morning. When I first heard the news, I was proud of Senator Portman for making this bold announcement, and though I did not agree with everything in his column, I took Senator Portman’s announcement as a sign of movement within conservative politics on LGBT issues. Yet not everyone was as happy as I was with Portman’s announcement. From the Right, we saw claims that Will Portman would get AIDS, that the Senator turned his own son gay by sending him to Yale, and that though his son was gay the Senator should be thinking about the public policy issues, rather than the emotional connection that he had with his son.  On the Left, we saw criticism that Portman was being “narcissistic” as he seemingly only cares about things when they directly affect him, that he didn’t go far enough in his support, and that he only did this for politically expedient reasons.

Though I cannot control what either side feels about Senator Portman’s announcement, it is important to note a few things. First, Senator Portman’s announcement was not about liberals or the LGBT community. It was about his son, and the personal journey that he has gone through with Will on this issue. He owes our community nothing and it is inappropriate for us to make this moment about our needs and our community.  Yes, he may be a politician, and yes, his votes have impacted our community, but he came out in support of equality for his son, not because he wanted to win props with us.

Second, though Senator Portman has changed his position on this issue because he has a son who is gay, if does not follow that he has engaged in “narcissistic politics” in only supporting something when he is directly impacted by it. Though it may make members of our community feel better to claim such, they need to look in the mirror and take stock of their own life experiences before passing judgment.  We ALL have different journeys in life on how we either come to terms with our sexuality or accept those in our life who are LGBT. Are our parents narcissistic when they take three years to change their views on homosexuality when their child’s sexual orientation is made known to them, or are they going through the exact same process that we did? Was I being narcissistic because I didn’t fully accept myself in high school, and instead did not deal with accepting my sexual orientation till I was in college? Are my grandparents narcissistic because before I came out they were against rights for LGBT people, yet have since found the ability to support – even with their strong conservative religious views – ENDA and civil unions? Was President Obama being narcissistic as he “evolved” on this issue, based upon his experience with LGBT people? People who claim that Senator Portman is narcissistic for changing his position based upon his personal experience not only demean those people who HAVE changed their position because of our coming out – people that we consider allies for our community – but they also demean each and every LGBT person who has worked through the coming out process.

Our experiences shape our perceptions and views on life and reality. That is not narcissism; that is one of the bedrocks of human existence. So instead of criticizing Senator Portman for being narcissistic or having a lack of empathy, the LGBT community should welcome him into the fold and show others who are on the fence that we are truly accepting of all. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

In Tennessee, Racist Students Can Refuse to Counsel Blacks

In a move of bi-partisan stupidity, the Tennessee Legislature is once again making itself out to be a mockery among people outside the fringe. What have they done now? Oh, just following the Michigan House's lead in attempting to pass a bill that would have far reaching consequences for graduate programs at every one of Tennessee's Public Universities. In a vote of 7-2, the Senate Education Committee passed a bill that goes before the full Senate on Monday, purporting to protect "religious freedom".

Senator Joey Hensley R-Hohenwald (of "Don't Say Gay fame when he was in the House last year) has partnered with Representative John DeBerry D-Memphis, to propose SB514
A public institution of higher education operating under chapter 8 or 9 of this title shall not discipline or discriminate against a student in a counseling, social work, or psychology program because the student refuses to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the student, if the student refers the client to a counselor who will provide the counseling or services. 
To no ones surprise, this piece of legislation's intent is to protect the "first amendment rights" of social work, psychology, and counseling students to not have to provide counseling services to LGBT people. In fact, that is what the questions by Republican Senators on the Senate Education Committee focused on (change therapy etc.). Yet the bill has the potential to go much farther in its impact. For example, what about the Christian individual who comes to a Jewish graduate student seeking assistance? Under this bill, because the Jewish student might have an issue with how the Christian individual depends upon Jesus to help him through a difficult issue, said student is within his legal right to refuse service. Or what about the Christian student who has a religious belief (based out of the curse of Ham) that African Americans are beneath him and not deserving of help? Under this bill, that student would not be allowed to be disciplined for the lack of service.

Welcome to Tennessee, where our State Legislature wants to ensure that not only do anti-gay students not have to counsel LGBT clients but that racist students can stay in their program and only deal with white people. Though the bill may have only meant to attack the LGBT community, it has a far greater, and negative, effect than Hensley or DeBerry could have imagined.

Monday, February 11, 2013

LGBT Equality In Inconvenient Geographies

The following document is a report written by Adrian Shanker, the President of Equality Pennsylvania, which has been reprinted here with his permission. It is an important contribution to the discussion on how LGBT groups can work towards full equality in States like Tennessee, Michigan, and Pennsylvania or any other state which is not deep blue, but either deep red or purple. Take some time to read the report and let me know your thoughts:

LGBT Equality In Inconvenient Geographies:

The path toward victory for full, national, LGBT equality could not be clearer. National leaders know that in order to win nationwide, they need to start winning where it’s less popular. And that means changing how we fight for equality so we can win in less convenient geographies. It’s easier to fight for equality while swimming through deep blue waters. But for those of us who’ve chosen to fight for equality in the purple or red states, we have a bigger challenge ahead of us, but also a bigger reward. Because when we win in our inconvenient geographies, we know that the equality movement is winning the struggle nationwide. We know that the path toward full, national LGBT equality runs right through where we stand, and that we are the ones who need to lead the fight.
For allies in the progressive movement who desperately want to expand civil rights to their LGBT constituents, the challenges are the same. Without the coalitions in place to support equality, and without public support in geographies they represent, it is a challenge and a political risk, for an elected official to lead on equality if the campaign is not winnable. As progressives in moderate or conservative states, we need to focus where we can win, because we know we can’t win everything – at the same time, civil rights for the LGBT community cannot wait indefinitely. There is a balance that needs to be reached. If the LGBT community can work with the progressive community to build alliances while simultaneously educating the community at-large about our issues, then we can build public support as well as political clout with our allies.
This means that LGBT activists need to multi-task. On one hand, continue building public support and broader coalitions for equality issues and on the other, find an LGBT angle on the issues that are coming to a head more quickly, and those which are allies in the Democratic Party, organized labor, or other progressive organizations have been successful in bringing to the forefront. We need to continue building support for non-discrimination and relationship recognition – but with the realism that our issues may not be ready for a vote, and at the same time, assisting our allies in their efforts to pass progressive legislation they have fought hard for.

Doing this doesn’t mean taking a back seat, it actually means taking the passenger seat. It means that the LGBT community will be fighting side-by-side our progressive allies to win progressive reforms in moderate and conservative states. To be sure, not every issue is one in which it is appropriate for the LGBT community to engage itself. But for those of us who believe in intersectionality, that our struggles between communities are intrinsically linked, we know that by working together with our progressive allies, we are making our states more equal for all of us. And we can be sure that our allies will work just as hard when we have the ability to bring our issues to the forefront.
It’s hard for me to understand why we need to wait for LGBT issues to be ready for consideration. I grew up in Westchester County, NY, in a town 45-minutes north of New York City. Years before New York won marriage equality, the Westchester County Executive, Andrew Spano, had appointed a full time liaison to the LGBT community, was sponsoring an annual LGBT youth conference, and he signed an Executive Order granting county recognition to legally-performed same-sex marriages. Surely, there were fights to be had for full equality in New York, and there still are. But my experience as a New Yorker tells me that they continue to be on the fast track to equality, just as all of our deep blue states are. With that context in mind, it’s hard to understand why we in other states need to wait, even to bring up the most
basic of civil rights issues: non discrimination, hate crimes, and bullying in our schools.
The cultural context in which I was raised makes it difficult for me to understand people who don’t believe that every person is due equal access to opportunity. But the cultural context in Pennsylvania, where I now live, reminds me that in some instances I am the only LGBT person an elected official knows, and that we have so much work to do. Activists in deep blue states didn’t just wake up and win equality – they worked for years supporting progressive legislation tangentially related to LGBT equality, but more directly to the progressive movement. They worked for years electing candidates who supported equality, and they worked for years to educate the community in which they live about the need for equality, and the same strategy is needed in purple and red states today.

Pennsylvania, much like some states in the south and the west, has an identity crises. On one hand, we have socially-progressive Republicans in Philadelphia and it’s suburbs, and on the other hand, we have socially-conservative Democrats across central and western PA. We have Philadelphia Democrats who want to run for office on a marriage equality platform and we have Republicans from Erie who are sometimes better on our issues than Democrats from the same region. Pennsylvania is a big state – seven hours drive from Philadelphia to Erie – and there’s lots of room for diversity of opinions in every corner of Pennsylvania.
I chose to live in and fight for equality in Pennsylvania because winning here is harder than in a sea of deep blue. But winning here also means changing how we communicate our issues. It requires using different messages, different tactics, and in some cases, even different spokespersons. The reality is that the path from now to marriage equality is long, and just because our neighbors in New York and Maryland have done it, doesn’t mean that our legislature will move any faster. In Pennsylvania, much like a majority of southern and western states, we lack all forms of LGBT equality. We lack a nondiscrimination law to protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation; we lack a state hate crimes law to give local law enforcement the training and power to prosecute bias crimes against the LGBT community; we lack an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying law to protect LGBT youth in our public schools, and we have no form of LGBT relationship recognition. And yet, I feel that we are winning. It’s true that a statewide victory has not been within reach, but we have worked diligently to advance equality in an effective way despite the lack of state-level legislative success.
Our success in advancing equality has meant three things: 1) shifting our LGBT activist focus from statewide to local, 2) Becoming increasing involved in the electoral process, and 3) building political clout within the larger context of the progressive community.
In 2010, after Democrats lost the Governor’s race and a significant number of state legislative seats, we realized that we had no possibility of winning a statewide legislative battle. Rather than waiting it out, we shifted our focus to the local level, but outside of our progressive strongholds of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to our less convenient geographies across the state. We localized the state-level issues we were fighting for (namely non-discrimination and relationship recognition) and were successful passing over a dozen local ordinances regarding these issues. Doing so meant building new and less likely coalitions and making our case in a more compelling way than ever before. And in some cases, it has meant that we can’t be our own messengers, that the message is more compelling, in some instances, when delivered by an unlikely ally – a labor leader, a faith leader, a Republican, a corporate CEO. All of this is transferable to other states with inconvenient geographies.

By focusing where the LGBT movement is less likely to have the political clout it does in, say,
Philadelphia, we’re able to make more targeted wins into statewide victories. We’ve all heard about Vicco, Kentucky, a city in Perry County, Kentucky with all of 316 residents. When Vicco passed a nondiscrimination ordinance inclusive of the LGBT community, the world knew about it. Not because Vicco was the target of a lengthy campaign, but because it was an unexpected win along the theme of a statewide and a national issue: Non-discrimination. By taking a larger issue and localizing it, a tactic we have used in Pennsylvania as well, we are able to grow public opinion on these issues by demonstrating strong local support for commonsense reforms. And in Pennsylvania, we’ve seen the dominoes fall – once a few municipalities take action, residents in nearby towns and boroughs start asking their local elected officials to do the same. Currently, 30 municipalities in Pennsylvania have passed laws to ban discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation based on sexual orientation and gender identity, almost half of these laws passed in the last two years. Similarly, our legislature works at tortoise speed, and it would be a surprise if marriage equality were to be passed at the state level in the short term. However, the momentum from the LGBT community on this issue is strong, and the desire to see action is even stronger. The key to statewide success is growth in public opinion, so again the focus has been local, with municipalities enacting laws to grant same-sex domestic partner benefits and Mayors across the state endorsing marriage equality. These actions over the course of two years have generated positive media, including newspaper endorsements, for marriage equality and in turn, recent polling has suggested that public opinion for marriage equality has increased. The latest poll, by F&M, shows 52% support for marriage equality, and a recent poll by PPP shows 53% support among registered Republican voters for some form of LGBT relationship recognition (civil unions or marriage equality.) Previous polls had both of these numbers very low – and the public opinion surge is the result of the local media we’ve garnered across the state as well as the national trends on the issue.

In Pennsylvania, we knew we weren’t going to get a statewide non-discrimination law pushed through the legislature, so we hunkered down and passed more than a dozen municipal ordinances. We knew we weren’t going to get a marriage equality law through the legislature, so we approached Mayors of cities large and small and asked them to endorse marriage equality. Both of these tactics worked in our favor because both dramatically increased public opinion for our issues and created a farm team of local elected officials with a record on our issues, so that when they seek higher office, we have an assurance of where they stand.
Political power primarily comes from votes – so we formed an endorsement process and begun getting involved in electoral change. As a non-partisan organization, we endorse LGBT-affirming candidates from both parties, but significantly more Democrats seek our endorsement than Republicans. The same is true for Labor and environmental organizations that endorse candidates. We never endorse Democrats who are opposed to equality, but we have found that numerous Democrats who were previously noncommittal on LGBT equality, are willing to now say they support equality because they have seen our power at the voting booth. Likewise, we have helped to elect a few top-targeted Democratic challengers in the state, and the Democratic Party appreciates our efforts with their targeted candidates. Each candidate seeking our endorsement needs to be supportive of equality – but we also want them to win – so we set realistic expectations for each race we seek to endorse in regarding what our criteria will be, recognizing that winning statewide means that we need to have elected officials across the state who are warm to working with us --- not just in the urban centers. It’s also about building a farm team. In the past election cycle, we supported Democratic candidates for each of our three row offices, all of whom won. All are supporters of LGBT equality, but with varying degrees of an ability to make the changes we need. We are working with them to enact changes they are able to make, but we also are well aware that if any of them were to run for Governor in the future, we have a candidate who we know is fully supportive of LGBT equality. Just as we built clout with the labor movement, we have done so with the Democratic Party structure as well. And rather than working against the party, we worked with the Party. A number of openly gay Democratic State Committee members proposed a resolution for the party to endorse marriage equality. After it passed, we helped educate our community about the support the Democratic Party has shown. I am confident that it helped the Democrats on Election Day.
Part of the path to victory in inconvenient geographies, means that we can’t lead our supporters and our allies in the progressive movement down an unwinnable path. It’s not about compromising our core values, but it is about strategically considering what we can achievably win. If we can’t win on our choice of issue, then shouldn’t we join with our progressive allies on legislation that they can win on? If we don’t have the support to win the votes we need then a further pursuit of an unwinnable campaign will only empower opponents to believe that they’ve beaten back an attempt toward equality. On the other hand, if we partner with progressive allies on relevant state policy issues that indirectly relate to our community – but that are the issue of the day for the progressive movement, we win political clout and progressive policy change. For example, we joined a coalition pushing against a Republican plan to privatize
Pennsylvania’s liquor stores. The issue was sharply opposed by organized labor, and we joined with them arguing that privatization, in a state that doesn’t provide non-discrimination to LGBT employees, puts LGBT employees at risk for employment discrimination. We asked our membership to contact their legislators to oppose the privatization plan and certainly built some political clout with the statewide labor movement. Similarly, we joined a coalition to fight against the now-enacted “Voter ID” law. The law was passed by a Republican legislature, the house Majority Leader even stated that the bill was being passed to help elect Mitt Romney. The Democratic Party was most at risk with this bill, but so were numerous minority communities. We saw our allies at the NAACP and the AARP join the fights against the bill and we recognized that identification discrimination is very common for transgender voters, and that this  legislation created a natural alliance with the Democratic Party to fight against the bill. By assisting the progressive movement with these legislative struggles, we build stronger alliances and we know that we can count on their support for our legislation when we have the votes to bring the issue to a head.
Winning equality means changing hearts and minds. It also means changing laws, but we can’t do that in a vacuum. Laws will change when we have done the work we need to do to educate elected officials about the lack of equality, when we have built the coalitions we need to advance legislation, when we have broadened public support on issues of importance (and have commissioned poling that demonstrates our success), and when we have built political clout to be able to call on our elected officials to prioritize our legislation. We can’t always hit the ground running, sometimes we need to strategize first. Sometimes we need to build stronger alliances with the progressive community, build more political power through the electoral process, build clout by having successfully supported other progressive legislation. LGBT issues do not exist in a vacuum, and LGBT-specific legislation isn’t the only way to define success – supporting labor, supporting voting rights, supporting family-sustaining wages, supporting education – these are all progressive issues that make us more equal.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Why Roy Herron is good for the TNDP

There has been a lot of consternation by Tennessee liberals today with the successful bid of former State Senator Roy Herron (myself and the former Senator are in the photo on the left) to lead the Tennessee Democratic Party. I get their concern, I really do, and I understand the frustration of the Left in Tennessee (yes, they are there) at the election as chairman of the TNDP a leader who is much more Republican in his political positions than Democratic. As a liberal myself, I would also rather see someone who shared my values be at the helm of the Democratic Party in Tennessee, yet at the same time, I recognize the reality of politics in the Volunteer State and hence applaud Herron's election. 

Progressives in Tennessee, though an important part of the Democratic coalition in the State, need to realize that they are not living in New York City, California, of even Tennessee’s eastern neighbor Virginia. As a whole, the Tennessee electorate is pro-life, anti-gay, and pro-gun. They are social conservatives who believe that they cannot vote for the Democratic Party in Tennessee because in doing so, they would be voting against God and their religious values. This is not a unique position that only plagues Tennessee, we see it all over the United States – individuals who vote Republican solely based upon social conservative values knowing full well that those same Republicans screw them over economically.   Thus, in order to compete in a socially conservative state like Tennessee, Democrats need to broaden their tent; they need to accept social conservatives into the Democratic coalition and give them a seat at the table.

The election of Roy Herron as Chairman of the TNDP will accomplish this. He is more likely to attract and back candidates in rural districts that share socially conservative values, yet are economically Democratic; something that a liberal party chairman would be less likely to do. This allows Tennessee voters to be ok with voting for Democrats at the State level, while voting Republican at the national level. Some will say that this strategy has already been tried (Rachel Walden over at Women’s Health News asserts this), yet in doing so they miss what has actually happened. Voters in rural districts do not vote Republican because they would rather just vote for the real thing as opposed to the “republican-lite” Democrat. Instead, voters in rural districts NEED to know that their perception of the TNDP as a bastion of “baby killing, pro-gay, anti-gun evil liberals” is not correct. They need to know that they CAN vote in good conscious for an individual who lines up with their beliefs on social issues, as well as protects their economic issues.  With the election of Roy Herron as party chairman, this much needed perception shift can be accomplished.

This is what matters to me in Tennessee politics, and one can call me practical, a realist, fighting against my values, whatever. But in the end, I would rather have a Democratic majority in the State Legislature made up of both social/economic conservatives and liberals who I know would most likely not touch social issues, than a Republican majority that ONLY worries about social issues, and lets the people of Tennessee sink deeper into economic disparity. 

Buffalo Wild Wings Is Clearly Violating the Second Amendment

So the famous American wing chain Buffalo Wild Wings, has decided to put signage (left) on the front doors of many of their restaurants. Naturally, this has caused quite a frenzy on the Right, as individuals are claiming that their "second amendment rights" are being violated by the new policy and that BWW is "unpatriotic" because of their decision.

It is not surprising that many individuals who claim fealty to the Second Amendment don't actually understand what the Second Amendment means, or even what the Constitution as a whole means. Does the Constitution regulate private action? Can it dictate that private companies like facebook and twitter respect "freedom of speech"? No. In no way has the Constitution ever applied to private businesses. Buffalo Wild Wings, as a private company, can decide to implement a policy that restricts individuals from carrying guns on their property in the same way that I could tell someone that they cannot carry a gun into my house.

Pro "we want to carry guns everywhere" individuals (I won't call them pro-second amendment, as I believe that one can respect the second amendment AND believe in gun control), are free to not eat at BWW, and that is their choice. They can engage in a boycott much like the LGBT community has decided to do when it comes to Chick-fil-A, and based upon the effectiveness of their boycott, they may be able to change BWW's policy. Yet what these individuals cannot do, is claim that their rights are being violated, because it was never their "constitutional right" to carry a weapon into a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in the first place.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Response to Brandon Vogt: Part Two - Equality and Marriage

A few days ago, I started a series in which I analyze Brandon Vogt’s critique of the top ten reasons that marriage equality supporters give for the Government to recognize marriage (my first analysis is here). Today, we will be looking at the second argument in favor of marriage equality, and Mr. Vogt’s critique of it. He claims,
2. Same-sex marriage is primarily about equality.
This argument is emotionally powerful since we all have deep, innate longings for fairness and equality. Moreover, history has given us many failures in this area, including women banned from voting and African-Americans denied equal civil rights. The question, of course, is whether same-sex couples are denied equality by not being allowed to marry each other. 
To answer that, we first must understand equality. Equality is not equivalency. It does not mean treating every person or every group in exactly the same way. To use an analogy, men and women have equal rights, but because they significantly differ they require separate restrooms. Equality means treating similar things similarly, but not things that are fundamentally different. 
Second, there are really two issues here: the equality of different people and the equality of different relationships. The current marriage laws already treat all people equally. Any unmarried man and unmarried woman can marry each other, regardless of their sexual orientation; the law is neutral with respect to orientation just as it ignores race and religion. 
The real question is whether same-sex relationships differ significantly from opposite-sex relationships, and the answer is yes. The largest difference is that same-sex couples cannot produce children, nor ensure a child’s basic right to be raised by his mother and father. These facts alone mean we’re talking about two very different types of relationships. It’s wrong, therefore, to assume the state should necessarily treat them as if they were the same. 
Same-sex marriage advocates may argue that it’s discriminatory to favor heterosexual spouses over homosexual couples. With all of the benefits flowing from marriage, this unfairly endorses one set of relationships over another. But if the state endorsed same-sex marriage, it would then be favoring gay “spouses” over unmarried heterosexual couples. The argument runs both ways and is ultimately self-defeating.

First, Mr. Vogt claims that equality does not equal equivalency. That is correct; our society does treat things differently even though there is may be equality between them (men and women’s restrooms being an example).  He then goes on to say that when discussing marriage laws in the United States, we need to understand that there is a difference between how the law treats an individual, and how the law treats a relationship. He asserts that our current marriage law is neutral on its face, and that any unmarried person, regardless of their sexual orientation, can marry anyone of the opposite sex. Though it may seem persuasive, this is a common, yet easy to rebut argument, that those who are opposed to marriage equality bring to the table.

With this assertion, Mr. Vogt glides over the real meaning of equality. Equality is not that each person is treated the same (as we have already agreed too above), but is instead that each person has the ability to access the right in question in the same way. Our current marriage laws fail that test, and therefore they are not truly equal. A gay man or a lesbian woman cannot experience the marriage right in the same way by marrying someone of the opposite sex as they can by marrying someone of the same sex. For homosexuals, marriage, and the emotional experience that it provides us, can only be fully shared with those who are of the same sexual orientation. Therefore, keeping marriage limited to an expression between two people of opposite genders, does not allow LGBT individuals access to fully enjoy the marriage right.

Mr. Vogt then discusses the differences between the relationships and whether same-sex relationships are the same as heterosexual relationships. Again, he asserts that the state needs not recognize homosexual couples as equal to heterosexual couples because same-sex couples cannot produce children or “ensure the child’s basic right to be raised by his mother and father”.  First of all, a child being raised by his mother and father is not a “right”; it may be what Mr. Vogt views is ideal, but it is not a right in the legal sense (but that is an argument for another day). Mainly though, Mr. Vogt’s assessment is based upon the fact that he views the states purpose in recognizing marriage is to ensure procreation.  First, as I said here, though procreation may be one purpose that government encourages marriage, it has not been – and isn’t currently – the only reason why marriage exists as a government institution.  For example, Government recognizes that it is GOOD for society to have stable economic and emotionally integrated relationships. For Government purposes, marriage is also an efficient way of determining inheritance rights, who makes medical decisions, and privileges when it comes to legal proceedings.  Second, just because there is a slight difference between two groups, does not mean that Government should treat those groups differently. If there was, then we would be going back into a “separate but equal” mentality – one which I highly doubt that Mr. Vogt agrees with.

Lastly, Mr. Vogt asserts that if we grant same-sex partners the rights and benefits of marriage, then we are discriminating against unmarried heterosexual partners. This argument is a non-sequitur. A heterosexual couple who is unmarried still has the ability to enter into the government recognized marriage relationship. Currently, same-sex couples do not have that ability. By opening up marriage rights to same-sex couples, the State will be ensuring that both heterosexual and homosexual couples, if they so choose, can enter into state-sanctioned marriage. 

No, Colorado and Washington Have NOT Nullified Federal Law

I have recently become embroiled in discussions on twitter regarding an Indiana bill which would "nullify" the Affordable Care Act in the state, and make it a felony for anyone in Indiana to enforce the provisions of the ACA. Though the bill directly contravenes the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution (a fact which I will not deal with at this moment), much of the intellectual support for the bill comes out of the early 19th century doctrine of Nullification. In essence, nullification is when a State deems federal law to be unconstitutional, and therefore unenforceable, in their jurisdiction.

In support of nullification, many of the individuals whom I have talked with have pointed to states legalizing medical marijuana and/or legalizing marijuana for recreational use (Washington and Colorado). Though pointing to these states as an example of nullification may appear correct at first glance, as those states have legalized a substance that the federal government deems illegal, the argument does not support the nullification doctrine at all.

In all of the states which have legalized some form of marijuana possession, they have done so in regards to state, not federal, actors. For example, here in Michigan, a state trooper or police officer will not be able to arrest you if they catch you in possession of marijuana and you have a valid medical marijuana license. Yet, in Michigan, if a federal Drug Enforcement Agency officer pulled you over and caught you with marijuana, they WOULD be allowed to arrest you, as you have contravened federal law.

If Michigan (with its medical marijuana program) or Washington and Colorado (with their recreational use laws) had refused to allow the DEA to enforce drug laws in their states, then yes, those States would have nullified federal law. But that is not what has been done. Federal officers can, and do, go into States which allow possession of marijuana, and arrest individuals for their possession. Federal Law is still in effect, and thus, using marijuana legalization as an example of nullification taking place is, at best, a dubious method of justifying the doctrine.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Cook County IL Starts Offering "Pocket Sized" Civil Union License. Yet Is This A Good Thing?

Interesting, news out of Illinois this evening. Cook County, Illinois (Chicago) Clerk David Orr has just made available "wallet sized marriage and civil union" certificates "tailor-made" for same-sex and opposite-sex couples with different last names, that they can carry in your pocket if there is ever a need for a couple to show legal proof of their relationship. 

Although Orr states that,“Couples are routinely asked to prove they are married or in a civil union, whether it’s at the bank, the gym, the hospital, or the car rental counter,” the Cook County Clerk's new policy again shows the uphill battle that same-sex couples have to fight - even in a more progressive city/state like Illinois. Though the county is offering both pocket sized marriage certificates and civil union certificates, it is often assumed that if a heterosexual individual claims that they are the husband or wife of someone, then they are. For example, if a woman is rushed to the hospital because of a medical emergency, the nurse does not stand in front of the husband and say "prove to me that you are married". Yet same sex couples often come across situations where their relationship is immediately questioned - where, for example, a nurse might not allow a same-sex spouse/partner visitation rights because she does not consider them family. 

Though David Orr means well (and these documents are probably an important thing for same-sex couples in Illinois to have), issuing pocket sized civil union licenses once again brings to the surface the reality that same-sex couples are treated differently in society based upon their sexual orientation. Hopefully in a few decades, we will not need such "pocket sized" certification, and instead it will not be questioned when one man says about another man, "He is my husband".  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Restaurant Owner Tells Lesbian Couple They Are Unnatural

A restaurant in New Bern, North Carolina is coming under fire because of a letter that the owner of the restaurant wrote to a lesbian couple who dined there. According to New Bern's NewsChannel12, Ed McGovern, the owner of "The Stingray Cafe", gave a lesbian couple a letter which said the following
"God said in the last days that man and wom[a]n would be lover of self, more [than] the lover of God.
That man and woman would have unnatural [affection] for one another. Then, the coming of the Son of Man, who is Jesus. So please, look at your life. See how it hurt everyone around you. And ask the Lord to open your eye[s] before it [is[ top late.
The Love of Christ
P.S. my daughter also was gay. It destroy[ed] her life and my grandson."
After receiving a large amount of backlash against his treatment of the couple, Mr. McGovern has taken to the restaurants Facebook page in an attempt to "explain himself". Yet it only serves to do more damage. 
 First off I would like to apologize for offending anybody, that was never my intention. And yes I do realize there is a thriving gay and lesbian community here in New Bern, many of whom have been patrons at my business.
However, with that being said I do try to run my business with Christian principles and values. That is a very large part of my belief system and is even blatantly evident by the brass bell inside our door. There is a sign over that bell that says ring if you love Jesus. I have many customers who ring that bell on their way out. Now with that being evident, I did find it offensive and disrespectful when this young lesbian couple proceeded to kiss each other in a deeply affectionate manner directly in front of my business. I then stated my beliefs, which is just as much my right as is theirs to show their affection and then handed them the letter. I wasn't trying to hurt anyone's feelings, but merely let them know what the bible has to say on their way of life. I do not condemn anybody for how they may live their life, but when it's so publicly displayed and in such a disrespectful manner, i felt something needed to be said. Again, I do apologize for offending anyone that may have taken this the wrong way, that was never my intention, merely to stand up for what I thought was right and protecting my customers who may have been offended by their actions as well as staying true to my Christian beliefs.
I am deeply sorry for any offense people may have taken because of those but it had been blown completely our of proportion.
Ed McGovern
No Mr. McGovern, your intention WAS to offend. By giving the couple that letter, your unequivocally had the intention of shaming the couple, letting them know that you think less of them and that there is something intrinsically wrong with their relationship. Thankfully, the good people of New Bern, North Carolina seem to be overwhelmingly disagreeing with your approach. 

Though Mr. McGovern may have the "freedom" to operate his business in the manner that he sees fit (since it is currently legal for restaurant owners to discriminate against LGBT people in North Carolina), the people of New Bern can choose to take their money to a restaurant which is open to everyone, without fear of judgement. 

A Response to Brandon Vogt: Part One - Marriage As A Changing Institution

Recently, the National Organization for Marriage posted an article from a young Catholic thinker named Brandon Vogt which supposed to analyze the ten reasons that same-sex marriage advocates give to bring LGBT people into the fold of civil marriage. As a marriage equality advocate (heck, as one who is in a marriage with another man), I found myself vehemently disagreeing with most, but not all, of what Mr. Vogt stated. Yet because I found the article – and the arguments that Mr. Vogt made – compelling, I have decided to analyze each point that he made, and instead show why we must extend marriage rights to same sex couples. Realize that Mr. Vogt has set up his inquiry as making a statement that many marriage equality advocates make, then supposedly refuting the statement.

Mr. Vogt first point in in reference to marriage equality advocates stating; “Marriage has evolved throughout history, so it can change again.”

Different cultures have treated marriage differently. Some promoted arranged marriages. Others tied marriage to dowries. Still others saw marriage as a political relationship through which they could forge family alliances. 

But all these variations still embraced the fundamental, unchanging essence of marriage. They still saw it, in general, as a public, lifelong partnership between one man and one woman for the sake of generating and raising children. 

This understanding predates any government or religion. It’s a pre-political, pre-religious institution evident even in cultures that had no law or faith to promote it. 

Yet, even supposing the essence of marriage could change, would that mean it should? We know from other areas of life such as medical research and nuclear physics that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you ought. After all, such action may not be ethical or serve the common good. Even if this argument had historical basis, it would not necessarily be a good reason to change the meaning of marriage.

There are two important things to recognize in Mr. Vogt’s response, things that will be important to remember as we analyze other arguments that Mr. Vogt makes. First, in this paragraph, he is acknowledging that marriage has had differing purposes in different historical contexts. For this I applaud him, for it would be intellectually specious to argue that marriage has always had one purpose, when history clearly teaches otherwise. Marriage was clearly used as a method of establishing political control or alliance as well as was an easy method of  transferring property or inheritance rights. Outside of a religious context, marriage can be seen as an economic or political union for the benefit of (historically) males. Additionally, Mr. Vogt is semi-correct in asserting that “in general” marriage was viewed as a method of “generating and raising children”. Yes, propagating your lineage has been an important aspect of marriage throughout the centuries (for property right transfers), but it has not been the only or even sole reason for marriage as a legally blessed covenant. To go on and assert, after listing the other reasons marriage has been legally bless, that one historical reason (procreation of children) is THE reason why society has recognized marriage overlooks the other fundamental reasons that has marriage existed in society. Based upon that logic, I could just as easily claim that the male ruling class viewed marriage solely as a way for them to dominate women, and thus they ensured that it was legally recognized. Though Mr. Vogt can argue that procreation was an important part of why society has historically recognized marriage, it is clearly not the only reason why we have recognized the institution.

Second, Mr. Vogt has acknowledged the societal aspect of marriage (as opposed to government) when he says that, “This understanding [procreation purposes of marriage] predates any government or religion. It’s a pre-political, pre-religious institution evident even in cultures that had no law or faith to promote it.” This admission by Mr. Vogt is important, especially as we get to the points that he makes in his article. Though Mr. Vogt may not have realized the argument that he was making, in essence, he has asserted that society has a conceptualization of marriage and its purposes, and the law reflects that understanding. This is a very democratic perspective on culture and cultural values, and one which I have argued for in the past. This argument of societal understanding of an institution, and how the law reflects that understanding, will be important in the near future.

Yet, the main purpose of Mr. Vogt’s argument is to assert that marriage has mostly existed between one man and one woman. A simple look at history, even his own scriptures, can dispel this notion. Throughout history, polygamy and polyandry have been widely practiced, and those relationships legally recognized. In the comments section of his article, Mr. Vogt acknowledges this, yet tries to distinguish it by asserting that such marriages could be still viewed as “one man, one woman”. Yet this makes no sense. In a polygamous marriage for example, though you may be able to have this perspective from the woman (she is, in fact, only married to one man), this 1-1 ratio does not exist from the perspective of the man. He is in fact, legally married to multiple women; it is not one man, one woman. It is one man, multiple women. Though those women are not legally married to each other, the man is still married to all of them. So historically, even if we acknowledge the supremacy of procreation as a reason for marriage, marriage has not been a static institution and has in fact changed drastically over the centuries.

Finally, Mr. Vogt says that even if marriage does not have historical meaning, and has changed throughout history, that does not mean that we should change it now. Agreed. Yet the flip-side can also be true, that just because marriage has not been historically extended to same-sex couples, that does not mean that it shouldn't be. Arguing for or against tradition, though helpful, is not an adequate or intellectually stimulating exercise. Instead, we must argue WHY tradition is good or bad to support, based upon the knowledge that we now have about history and the institution that we are discussing. 

I look forward to delving into the other nine marriage equality arguments, and Mr. Vogt's critique of them. I also look forward to your comments. Part two can be found here

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

NOM Arguing Against Religious Freedom???

Now this is awkward. The National Organization for Marriage – an organization who claims to be all about “freedom of religion” – has decided to advocate against said freedom. In a post on the National Organizations for Marriage’s website, blogger Thomas Peters decided to throw a conniption fit about the decision by the Washington National Cathedral to host same-sex weddings, stating,

"Examples like this remind us that when you redefine "civil" marriage you create the new possibility of same-sex ceremonies in churches. Gay marriage advocates love to artificially split these two recognitions of marriage when they think it suits their purposes but the categories always re-collapse as soon as a liberal church like this one decides it wants to conduct ceremonies with same-sex partners. The simplest way to prevent same-sex ceremonies in churches is to fight for the recognition of marriage in civil law."

Peters claims that by changing civil law, society will be “creating the new possibility of same-sex ceremonies in churches”, yet this is a hilarious, yet at the same time sad, assertion. Many religious organizations (Episcopal, Reformed Judaism, Unitarian etc.) have been performing same-sex commitment and/or marriage ceremonies for years, with or without the blessing of the State. So even if religious conservatives and those opposed to marriage equality fight against civil recognition for gay couples, civil prohibition of marriage equality does not automatically “prevent same-sex ceremonies” in churches.

Yet there are two interesting things to note about what NOM has done in this post. First, we can see them engaging in an argument which seeks to assert that because the Washington National Cathedral is allowing same-sex weddings to be performed under its roof, ALL churches and religious groups will be required to do so. Such an argument overlooks the basic protections for religious organizations contained in the First Amendment. No matter what NOM wants to claim, a Southern Baptist church will never be forced to perform a marriage ceremony against their will. In the end, such rhetoric is a useless scare tactic that Peters is using to whip social conservatives into a frenzy against the overbearing and anti-religious gays.

Second, it is interesting that Peters ties marriage equality for same-sex couples to the Washington National Cathedral’s decision to host same-sex weddings. By tying civil marriage equality to performance of same-sex marriages in churches, it seems that NOM is arguing against religious freedom. In this case, NOM is advocating against allowing the Episcopal Church – the National Cathedral is Episcopal – to decide whether they want to perform same-sex marriages. In NOM’s world, “good Christians” must not be allowed to bless same-sex unions, and in ensuring that civil marriage remains discriminatory, they force open and affirming religious groups to not bless same-sex unions. Though this doesn't make sense (as pointed out above, religious groups have been performing same-sex ceremonies for years), it is an interesting look into the NOM mind. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Learning About Gays - Tis Very Icky

A recent article on Focus On the Families CitizenLink blog told the story of a parent in California who is aghast that his children are now going to be taught about the positive impacts that LGBT individuals have made on American society. Considering that the article is titled, “Parent Questions California Law Promoting Gay Agenda”, you would think that Focus was shining a spotlight on some nefarious curriculum that was forcing heterosexual children to do scary “homosexual” things.  But no, instead the father – Stan Wasbin  – is complaining that schools are now being politicized because the FAIR Act mandates that the positive impacts on history by LGBT people are taught.

In his three page letter to his local school board, Wasbin tries to play down his individual homophobia, asserting that “If someone has made an important contribution — and that person happens to be classified as LGBT — then by all means let’s teach our children about that person, but not because of that person’s sexual-identity group.”. Yet other parts of Wasbin’s letter show his true intentions, as he asserts that the school should not, “further burden our teachers by forcing them to teach LGBT material, a subject that so readily lends itself to propaganda and which can engender sexual confusion.

The first argument that Wasbin gives is one which can be readily debated. This viewpoint may make sense, as many good people believe that, given the short amount of time dedicated to social science in K-12, the deeds of the individual should be why we study that person in history, rather than their race/sexual orientation/gender. Others, arguing in opposition to such a belief, will argue that not only should our educational system embrace diversity – and teach about the different communities that make up our American fabric – but that teaching about the accomplishments of LGBT individuals is important for LGBT students in those schools, as it gives them much needed role models.

Yet the other arguments that Wasbin gives us, shows that his “concern” about the time necessary to teach this subject is just a smokescreen for his homophobia. He believes that, by teaching about the contributions of LGBT people in society, we will be sliding down the slippery slope to “propaganda” and that such teaching will cause students to be “sexually confused”. He also believes that if we “politicize” education today, tomorrow students could be learning about “gun owners, death penalty proponents, and anti-abortion activists”. Wasbin is engaging in an argumentation style that many of us within the LGBT community are used too. In his arguments about sexual confusion and comparison to gun owners, Wasbin is underhandedly asserting that LGBT people are defined by their actions, rather than their orientation. In claiming that teaching about great historical figures who are LGBT could cause sexual confusion, Wasbin is falling into the fallacy that if someone is pressured enough, they can be “turned"  gay. In claiming that we are like gun owners or anti-abortion activists, he is whittling us down to our actions, rather than recognizing that we are real people who have a different sexual orientation than he does.

It is not surprising that Wasbin believes that we are LGBT because of our actions, for that is what people like him have been taught for years. Focus on the Family even, in their “analysis” of this situation, claims that “California has allowed classes to be politicized by adult identity politics like this”. The opponents of equality – like Focus on the Family – HAVE to define us by our actions to continue to engage in their pattern of stigma and hate. If they acknowledge that sexual orientation (whether homosexual or heterosexual) is immutable and inborn, they will have lost the culture war, because Americans are loath to use the law to discriminate against something which one has no control over. That is why bills like California’s FAIR Act are so important and we we need to advocate for similar laws across the country; because instead of treating us as a collection of our actions, such an educational strategy recognizes that we are instead defined by who we are inside. And it is through such education, that we will win our rights. 

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