Marriage Equality: 33 States to Go …

I’m thrilled that my home state of New Mexico is the latest to recognize the right of marriage equality for same-sex couples¡Arriba!

(The snippet above started as a simple Facebook post, but FB insisted on running the graphic full size and then cropped out the New Mexification of the logo.  Posting on my blog and linking to the post from FB is a kludgy way of displaying the graphic as a thumbnail  in Facebook.  If you’re here from Facebook and were expecting a more substantive post, there are 25 previous posts to choose from, ranging in tone from defensive to angry to jubilant.)

After 37 years as a committed couple, Ulysses Dietz and Gary Berger were married this afternoon by Mayor Victor De Luca at Maplewood Town Hall, as New Jersey becomes the 14th state to permit gay people to marry. The Web Goddess and I were thrilled to be in attendance, along with other friends of the happy couple who were able to get time away from work on short notice.

Also today, Gov. Chris Christie conceded defeat in his opposition to marriage equality, after a unanimous state Supreme Court decision lifting a lower-court stay, which touched off wedding bells around the state.

One of the cool things about blogging is the occasional opportunity to say “I told you so,” and back it up with a link. In a February 2012 post headlined “The Sooner Christie Loses on Same-Sex Marriage, the Better Off He’ll Be,” I wrote:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.  As of this week seven states permit same-sex marriage.  New Jersey will not become the eighth, but I fully expect it to be in the front half of the parade, despite Christie’s efforts.

When I predicted Christie would be better off by losing, I was looking ahead 18 months to when he would stand for re-election.  Election Day now is little more than two weeks away, and his re-election is not in doubt.  A liberal friend predicted before the wedding this afternoon that if Christie runs for president in 2016, the Right will savage him for dropping his appeal before the court could eventually rule on the appeal itself.

I don’t see it that way — the Right has bigger quarrels with Christie than marriage equality.  By dropping a clearly hopeless cause, Christie demonstrates he is more pragmatic than Ted Cruz.  That’s admittedly a low hurdle, but it does represent an “evolution” in Christie’s approach to the issue.  Four years ago I voted for Jon Corzine, the badly-tarnished Democratic incumbent, solely on the basis of Christie’s announced support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Thirty-six states to go.  They’ll go one by one for a while, but eventually I expect the U.S. Supreme Court to be asked to rule on some state’s refusal to honor a same-sex marriage performed in another state — by which time the lack of damage to the institution of marriage will be well established.

If it happens that way, I’ll have another I-told-you-so post to write.  In the meantime, congratulations to Gary and Ulysses, and to all our other friends who are marrying or planning weddings on this happy day.

(Photo by the Web Goddess, of course)

The Web Goddess and I joined a small but joyous impromptu gathering yesterday evening on the steps of Maplewood Town Hall, celebrating the Supreme Court decisions in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples.

I’ve blogged and demonstrated in favor of marriage equality for years, so I’ll not rehearse those arguments today.  Instead, I’m moved to take keyboard in hand by a comment I heard expressed twice on the Town Hall steps yesterday, to the effect that the Supreme Court “got one right the day after they got one wrong.”

A day earlier, the high court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, ruling that conditions have changed in the South since 1965. In the minds of many at yesterday’s rally, this was a setback for black rights that partly offset the victory for gay rights the following day.

But I see both rulings as a victory for federalism, or for states’ rights if you will — and anyone tempted to dismiss “states’ rights” as code for bigotry should pause to reflect on the pioneering role of the states in the marriage equality struggle.

The VRA ruling has the limited effect of restoring to nine states of the old Confederacy (and various smaller jurisdictions) the same level of control over the election process exercised by other states.  The federal government and the courts retain the power to invalidate any specific election practice that is discriminatory.  The VRA ruling simply shifts the burden of proof from the states to the parties seeking to demonstrate discrimination.

The pre-clearance provision of VRA was an extraordinary response to an extraordinary level of institutionalized racism, and I have no quarrel with the need for such a measure in 1965. But NBC News cited statistics compiled by the court that show how dramatically the situation has changed:

In Alabama, for example, the white registration rate was 69 percent and the black rate 19 percent in 1965. By 2004, that gap had all but disappeared — 74 percent for whites and 73 percent for blacks.

As George Will noted, “Mississippi has more black elected officials — not more per capita; more — than any other state.”

The South no longer deserves a presumption of guilt on racial matters.

(Photo by Bernie Poppe)

Years of sitting in a drawer have taken their toll on the medal, but I’m still proud to have it

Boy Scout Troop 166 met on Tuesday evenings at Monroe Junior High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and played a formative role in my childhood.  It was a very active troop, with monthly campouts and week-long, 50-mile hikes in the summers.  I was in the Raccoon Patrol, and I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back out with the Scouts, twice.  I learned how to cook over a fire, how to tie knots, how to provide CPR, how to read a map and use a compass.  I learned about teamwork, and responsibility, and citizenship, and service.  I would not be the man I am today without Scouting, and I will treasure the experience as long as I live.

The man I am today also passionately believes that gay people should not be discriminated against in any way, and I’ve blogged about this many times.  I’ve written that same-sex marriage is a fundamental human rights issue, and the only acceptable outcome is full marriage equality.

I’m happy and relieved that the Boy Scouts voted today to allow openly gay boys to participate.  My joy is tempered by the fact that openly gay adults still are banned from Scout leadership.  It will take a few years — maybe even quite a few — but one day that barrier also will fall.  Today’s vote is the equivalent of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the military — not good enough, but a step in the right direction, and the best that could be accomplished at the time.

The Boy Scout Oath ends with a promise “to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” I have no patience with the people who brandish “morally straight” as a reason to exclude gays — but there is some logic, of course, behind the ban on gay adults.  Very few adult men of any orientation would ever prey on underage children — but the number is not zero, and predators gravitate toward situations where potential victims are plentiful.  That’s why the Girl Scouts don’t send men to their campouts, and I have no quarrel with that.

The boys could learn something from the girls.  I was chatting the other day with a woman who is active in the New York City leadership of the Girl Scouts.  She told me that they have no prohibition against lesbian Scout leaders — just a common-sense understanding that any such leader should be paired with another adult woman during events or activities.  Surely any openly gay Scout leader of either gender would want such a chaperone for their own protection against false accusations.

 

St. Georgians, from left: Ron Garner, Aleeda Crawley, your humble scribe, the Web Goddess, the Rev. Chris Carroll, David Gorman, Bill Jaglowski, Bruce Lyons, Kevin Clark, Tony Bousanti. Chris West took the picture.

The Web Goddess and I were part of a contingent from St. George’s Episcopal Church in the Gay Pride March in Manhattan Sunday.  It was our second march — some of the same people participated in 2007.

I was struck, in a very positive way, by the pervasiveness of corporate sponsorship.  Coca-Cola was the “Presenting Sponsor,” and all of the T-shirts for the parade marshals and other volunteers said “Diet Coke” on the front.  (Mischievous thought: is Diet Coke more gay than “regular Coke”?) Other sponsors included Macy’s, Delta Airlines, AT&T, Citigroup, Target and New York Life.  There were less staid sponsors and participants as well, of course, but the buy-in from the titans of commerce testifies to the inevitability of equal rights.

Lots of NYC police marching in uniform — not just the Gay Officers Action League, but a dozens-strong police marching band as well.  The cop on duty at our intersection was bantering with the crowd.

The March has gotten huge, creating a prosperity problem for participants in the staging areas. We had been told to expect to step off around 12:15, but it was about 3:30 when we finally left 38th Street and set foot on Fifth Avenue.  We could have had brunch.

Several of the St. Georgians wore the T-shirt the Web Goddess designed five years ago — a Rainbow Jesus Fish with the legend “I’m a Christian, and I support Equality”.  As we waited to march, three passers-by asked permission to take a picture of me and the shirt.

There were just 11 of us from St. George’s, but we packed a lot of diversity into a small group: gay and straight, black and white, male and female, clergy and laity, Democrats and Republican.

The huge LGBT for Obama contingent was passing out signs and big round stickers, which I tore off as quickly as my gleeful friends could slap them on me. (The comeback that didn’t occur to me in time: “No thanks, I go the other way.”)  The Log Cabin Republicans were represented by about four guys with brave smiles.

It pains me that my party is on the wrong side of this issue, but the resistance is only going to weaken over time.  This is the civil rights struggle of our era, and the road leads in only one direction.

Welcome, Patch readers!

Louie Crew preaches at St. George's Episcopal Church, Maplewood. Photo by Nina Nicholson

Louie Crew, the founder nearly four decades ago of a national gay-acceptance organization within the Episcopal Church, preached at my home congregation in Maplewood Sunday as part of the church’s celebration of Gay Pride Month.

Same-sex marriage has become a prominent issue in recent years, but the idea is not entirely new.  Crew, an emeritus professor of English at Rutgers University in Newark, told the St. George’s congregation he had solemnized his relationship with Ernest Clay in 1974, in a private ceremony based on the wedding service in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

“After we married, I wrote my parents,” Crew said from the pulpit.  “They replied with the hardest letter I ever received.  They knew I was gay, that was not the problem.  Ernest being black was the problem.  They wished us all happiness, but asked me not to bring him home.  They hoped that I would continue to visit, but they did not want to ‘put their friends to the test,’ they said.”

Crew continued, “I showed Ernest the letter.  He responded with his enigmatic smile. … [Ernest said] ‘they have every right to be who they are. You could not love me had they not taught you how.’”

Over the years, Crew’s parents gradually became more comfortable with having a gay black son-in-law.  One day Crew’s father called and asked to speak to Ernest.

“Ernest, we’re Christians,” Crew’s father said. “But we’ve not behaved like Christians to you, and we desperately need your forgiveness.”

“That’s easy,” Ernest said.  “You have it.”

Crew told the congregation Sunday, “I not only believe in the Holy Spirit, I have seen the Holy Spirit happen.”

Crew noted that many gay people have much less redemptive stories about their families.  “We know full well that we did not choose our biological families, but we can, and must, choose as family those whom we respect and those who treat us with respect. That’s why St. George’s has been such a special place for at least four decades.”

Crew’s sermon continued St. George’s month-long observance of Gay Pride Month.  The prior Sunday, St. George’s presented a forum with the former leader of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination, and the church sponsored a table at Saturday’s South Orange-Maplewood LGBT Pride Festival.  On June 24, a contingent from the church will march behind a St. George’s banner in the Gay Pride March in New York.

Welcome, Patch readers!

Joan Garry at St. George's

Many people were outraged when Dharun Ravi, who was convicted of bias intimidation for spying on a roommate who later committed suicide, was sentenced to only 30 days in jail.  Some went so far as accusing Ravi of “murdering” Tyler Clementi, who was gay.  But a gay rights activist speaking at my church in Maplewood Sunday had a different take.

“Ravi’s not a murderer, he’s a bully – one of many bullies that Tyler Clementi faced in his life,” said Joan Garry, former executive director of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination).  “Those bullies were not just the ones standing by his locker – many of them were standing in pulpits.”

Gay Pride 2007 - that's me on the left

The reference to pulpits reinforced the title of her speech, “LGBT People, Bullying, and the Deeply Held Religious Belief Card.” Garry spoke to a noontime audience at St. George’s Episcopal Church, kicking off our celebration of Gay Pride Month.  Next Sunday the sermon will be preached by Louie Crew, former Rutgers professor and founder of the Episcopal gay rights group IntegrityUSA.  On Sunday, June 24, the Web Goddess and I will join other members and friends walking behind a St. George’s banner at the annual Gay Pride March in New York City.

“Here’s another important thing I learned about bullying,” Garry continued.  “Standing behind every harassed child is a whole lot of clueless adults…. There are certain people who don’t want to be anything other than clueless.  Those are the people we will never get.  But converting the clueless is the path to victory.  And how do we do that?”

Designed by the Web Goddess; click image to order without markup at Cafe Press

Not through the time-honored defense mechanism of blending into the background.  “Gay and lesbian people walk this really fine line, right?  We want folks to know the realities, we want to tell stories, but we want to fit in. We want to be treated like anyone else…. but in order to get the rights we deserve, we have to talk, we need to tell our stories, and we need to stick out.”

Garry said when she asked New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand how to get through to people who are not interested in the issue, Gillibrand responded, “It’s so easy… because people don’t want government interfering in their lives.  And for Republicans? They want government to be smaller, not bigger.”

Some gay people might wish they were straight, but “not me,” Garry said.  “It is because of my difference that I have found my voice, that I moved from corporate America to make a difference in a non-profit space, [and that I have] a commitment to social justice that seems super-urgent.”

“Even when we lose, we win,” she said. “An opportunity to publicly argue about what is right, what is just, what is fair — even if we lose in the short term,  it’s an opportunity to be visible, to open up many eyes, and equally as many hearts.”

She closed by saying “the movement for LGBT equality is the civil rights issue of our time.  It presents us with an opportunity to speak out and stand up and do something. I’m pretty sure that’s why they call it a movement.”

(Welcome, TigerHawk and Patch readers!  You can find more New Jersey posts here, more marriage equality posts here.)
The Web Goddess, who reads the left-leaning Salon so that I don’t have to, today flagged a very astute and even-handed article on the political dilemma that same-sex marriage poses for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

I argued earlier this week that although Christie will veto the marriage equality bill if it reaches his desk, the governor is fighting a losing battle.  The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.  As of this week seven states permit same-sex marriage.  New Jersey will not become the eighth, but I fully expect it to be in the front half of the parade, despite Christie’s efforts.

In Salon, author Steven Kornacki captures the dilemma well:

There are two elections on the horizon that Chris Christie has a particular interest in. The first is in New Jersey next year, when he’ll seek a second term as governor. The second is in 2016, when he’ll make a logical presidential candidate — if he wins reelection in ’13 and if the Republican nomination is open. (For now, at least, let’s leave aside the idea that Christie might serve as his party’s vice presidential candidate this year.)

This makes the debate over gay marriage in the Garden State, where the Democratic-controlled Senate approved marriage equality legislation yesterday, a problem for him.

On the one hand, support for gay marriage among New Jersey voters is solid…  Christie has to be very careful as he approaches his reelection race. He doesn’t have much margin for error when it comes to alienating swing voters — one of the reasons he was so colorful and adamant in denying interest in the presidential race last year — and swing voters in New Jersey are generally fine with gay marriage.

But Republican voters nationally are not, and it will be a long time before they are (if they ever are). So if he wants to preserve his viability for ’16, Christie cannot be known as the New Jersey governor who enacted same-sex marriage. But he also can’t position himself as a hard-line, stop-at-nothing-to-derail-it opponent of it; to do so would reek of the cultural conservatism that has made most national Republicans unmarketable in New Jersey and endanger Christie’s reelection prospects. And if he gets the boot in ’13, it could sink whatever ’16 ambitions he has.

In the 2009 gubernatorial election, Christie did campaign “as a hard-line, stop-at-nothing-to-derail-it opponent” of marriage equality.  He went beyond merely promising to veto it — he promised to support a state constitutional amendment banning it.  You won’t hear The Great Man repeating that promise.  The legislature may or may not be able to overcome a veto in the current session (which lasts until January 2014), but there is zero chance that a constitutional amendment would pass in New Jersey.

I want to be careful here — I am not criticizing Christie for having moderated his stance on same-sex marriage.  I think it’s a move in the right direction.  I have no doubt that Christie honestly believes that marriage should be reserved for the union of one man and one woman. I disagree with his position, but holding that position does not make him evil.  Don’t forget, that’s precisely the position Barack Obama articulated just days before the 2008 election.  The most important difference between Obama’s pre-election stance and Christie’s is that Obama opposed tinkering with state constitutions.

Christie has every right to modulate his level of aggressiveness in supporting one-man-one-woman.  He’s promised to veto the current bill, and he has to go through with that.  But as Kornacki writes, the best thing that could happen to Christie in terms of his future political ambitions would be for marriage equality to become the law of the land in New Jersey without his fingerprints on it.  If it begins to look possible that the legislature could override a veto, look for only token arm-twisting by Christie.

Senate President Sweeney

(Welcome, NewJerseyNewsroom.com readers! You can find more posts on gay issues here, and more on New Jersey here.)

Timing is everything in politics.  In a race against the clock two years ago, with a lame-duck governor who happily would have signed the bill, the New Jersey Senate fell well short of approving same-sex marriage.  Today, with a governor who will veto the bill, a similar bill passed the Senate easily, and approval also is expected in the Assembly.

Chris Christie, who in most ways I consider an outstanding governor, lost my vote in the 2009 election solely on the basis of his promise to support a constitutional amendment to prohibit marriage equality.  Neither house of the state legislator has the votes now to override the expected veto — but that could change, and the legislature has nearly two years to override.  In the two years between Senate votes, the tally shifted from 20-14 against to 24-16 in favor.

Votes are going to shift only in one direction.  Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, abstained in the vote two years ago — effectively voting no, as any bill needs an absolute majority of 21 to pass.  This time he led the fight for the bill.  Whenever a politician changes sides on an issue, he or she has to be prepared to explain the “flip-flop.”  Here’s Sweeney’s explanation, from before today’s vote:

It was a political calculation [the first time] … you know, I didn’t want to be part of a bill that was gonna fail. And it was the wrong position to take. Because this is about civil rights, and you can’t take a pass on civil rights.

… There’s a whole lot that’s taken place since [the last vote]. Which is people like myself recognizing that this isn’t a political issue, it’s a civil rights issue, and when you talk about, well, put it on the ballot — you know, the majority will always deny the minority, in almost every example, of giving what they already have. So no, we’re not doing that. As a legislative body it’s our responsibility to do the right thing.

Here’s a thought experiment: Try to imagine a politician explaining a vote change in the opposite direction. Ain’t gonna happen.

Also today, the governor of Washington signed a bill making that state the seventh to allow same-sex couples to wed.  The Census Bureau says that in 2010 there were more than 130,000 legally married same-sex couples in the U.S., and despite the fantasies of opponents, no legislature is ever going to issue wholesale annulments.  As the number inexorably rises, same-sex marriage will follow the same arc as interracial marriage, moving from scandalous to novel to unremarkable.  There’s no going back.

 

In the category of “even a blind pig finds a truffle now and then,” a repugnant left-wing organization has created a minor Facebook frenzy by publicizing a remarkable and inspiring three-minute speech by a 19-year-old advocate of same-sex marriage.

MoveOn.org is best known for the disgraceful “General Betray Us” ad that slandered the general who was winning the war in Iraq.  I’ll not link to their website, but it isn’t necessary, as the video is available directly on YouTube.  (There’s also a transcript, at Shakesville, “a progressive feminist blog” that is so eloquent I intend to explore it further.)

In the video, 19-year-old Zach Wahls, who was raised by a lesbian couple, makes an impassioned plea to  the Iowa legislature, asking them to vote down a constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage.  (It happened back in February, and the amendment never cleared the legislature.)

It seems like half of my liberal Facebook friends have linked to the video, which truly is remarkable and well worth the three minutes it will take to watch it.  If you can’t spare three minutes, here are the bits that bring tears to my eyes:

My mom Terri was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000; it is a devastating disease that put her in a wheelchair, so we’ve had our share of struggles.

But, you know, we’re Iowans; we don’t expect anyone to solve our problems for us; we’ll fight our own battles; we just hope for equal and fair treatment from our government. …

I’m not really so different from any of your children. My family really isn’t so different from yours. After all, your family doesn’t derive its sense of worth from being told by the state, “You’re married—congratulations!” No, the sense of family comes from the commitment we make to each other, to work through the hard times so we can enjoy the good ones; it comes from the love that binds us. That’s what makes a family….

So will this vote affect my family? Will it affect yours? Over the next two hours, I’m sure we’re going to hear plenty of testimony about how damaging having gay parents is on kids. But in my 19 years, not once have I ever been confronted by an individual who realized independently that I was raised by a gay couple.

And you know why? Because the sexual orientation of my parents has had zero effect on the content of my character.

Bravo, Zach.  The “content of my character,” with its echo of one of the greatest speeches in American history, is a particularly nice touch.   His masterful performance takes me back to the days of the “extemp speaking” tournaments I entered in junior high, although I never crafted or delivered anything as powerful as that.

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