On Gay Marriage, NY vs. NJ, and the Maplewood Bubble

Larry and I have exercised our right to be married for many years. (Our wives are named Cathy and Nina.) Our gay and lesbian friends deserve the same right.

My friend Mary Mann at Maplewood Patch has resurrected a photo the Web Goddess took of me and another St. George’s parishioner demonstrating for equality at the Statehouse in late 2009.  She used the photo with a story in advance of this afternoon’s first Maplewood Pride picnic, which suddenly became in part a celebration of New York’s historic decision yesterday to allow same-sex marriages.

The Web Goddess and I put on our marriage equality T-shirts and took our beach chairs to the park to enjoy the beautiful day, the music, and the company of gay and straight friends.

At an early break in the music,  the mayor took  the microphone to recognize the event on behalf of the Township Committee.  One of the organizers led the crowd in a cheer for the New York legislature, and shouted, “New Jersey is next!”

Designed by the Web Goddess. Click on the shirt to order it at no markup from Cafe Press.

A wonderful sentiment, but unfortunately untrue.  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whom I admire and otherwise support on almost every issue, vowed before his election to veto any bill legalizing same-sex marriage.  On that basis alone, I voted for the Democratic incumbent.  Since the New Jersey legislature was unable to pass a marriage equality law in the waning days of the Corzine administration, there is no realistic chance of same-sex marriage in New Jersey as long as Christie is governor.  This will be a gut-check issue for me if Christie runs for re-election.  Some days it’s not easy being a socially liberal Republican.

As Ronald Reagan may once have said,The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor.”  Christie’s brand of fiscal conservatism addresses an urgent need in a state which, when he became governor, was facing an $11 billion deficit on a $30 billion budget.  As Christie put it, “New Jersey is a failed experiment.”

Pew Research Center, March 2011

Martin Luther King said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  Pew Research has found that support for gay marriage is growing inexorably, and there’s no reason to believe anything will reverse the trend.  As a happily married straight man, it’s easy for me to be patient.  Many of my gay friends are understandably less serene.

The fact that I can accurately refer to “many of my gay friends” reflects what one of those friends, a former church warden, once described as “the bubble we live in.”  Compared to the state and to society as a whole, gay people are over-represented in Maplewood (in the judgment-free, statistical sense of that term).  Within Maplewood, gay people are over-represented at St. George’s Episcopal Church, where the Web Goddess and I have both served as elected members of the Vestry.

The large majority of members of the parish are straight, but gay and lesbian couples are always in evidence. Many of the leadership positions of the parish are filled by gay people, including the senior of the two Wardens and four of the nine other Vestry members.  The Rev. Bernie Poppe is gay, although he consistently focuses on being the Rector of a diverse parish, rather than “a gay priest.”

Such an environment makes it easy to be comfortable with the existence of people whose orientation differs from my own. I see gay people kneeling in prayer, raising their children, bringing food to the church picnic.  They obey the laws, they pay taxes, they complain about paying taxes (I’m looking at you, Tom).  Children who grow up in that environment will almost certainly be gay-friendly citizens as long as they live.

Same-sex marriage is a basic civil rights issue, and the only acceptable outcome is full marriage equality.  With every passing year America will bend further in that direction.  Faster, please.

Obama Swats the Gay Ping-Pong Ball

While I was at the Karen Armstrong lecture last night, President Barack “Marriage is between a man and a woman” Obama was walking back his position on one of the few issues where I have found myself politically to his left: Same-sex marriage.

He didn’t use the word “marriage,” but last night at a New York fundraiser said “I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every couple in this country.”  New York is debating a bill that would provide marriage equality for same-sex couples.

I’m glad he’s changed his mind, but it’s fascinating that marriage equality once again becomes a vehicle for pandering to the base.  Obama’s predecessor, who was certainly no homophobe, in 2004 calculated that he had more to gain among evangelicals than he had to lose among the few gay people inclined to support him, and endorsed the (anti-equality) Federal Marriage Amendment.

 

A Brief History of Presidential Betrayal, Through the Prism of Andrew Sulllivan

Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan

If Obama has lost Andrew Sullivan, has he lost the Left, the Right or the Center?

For reasons that will become clear, I’ve been watching off and on to see what might happen when Obama does something that Sullivan perceives as a betrayal. The time may have come with Obama’s shocking decision to intervene in Libya.

Sullivan, who once wrote a book called The Conservative Soul from an insider’s perspective, felt the sting of betrayal from George W. Bush in 2004 and began a well-chronicled move to the Left, slashing and burning his way through conservative friends and supporters as he went.  By the time of Barack “Hope and Change” Obama’s election and presidency, Sullivan’s incessantly repeated exhortations toknow hopecarried echoes of Dan Rather’s “courage” from an earlier era.

I described Obama’s rush to war in Libya as “astonishing” and “bizarre,” and Sullivan apparently has similar feelings.  (One difference is that I’m actually hopeful that it might work out OK, whereas Sullivan appears more pessimistic.)  Sullivan has taken to referring to his onetime idol as King Barack I, and he’s raised the specter of impeachment.  Here’s a sample post from last week, with emphasis added:

I’m still absorbing this news and don’t want to vent immediately, because there is still part of me that simply cannot believe that president Obama has already ordered covert action in Libya on one side in a civil war, and is now actively discussing whether to arm that side in another chaotic Muslim country, committing the United States to yet another war against yet another tyranny simply because we can.

It’s so surreal, so discordant with what the president has told the American people, so fantastically contrary to everything he campaigned on, that I will simply wait for more confirmation than this before commenting further. I simply cannot believe it. I know the president is not against all wars – just dumb ones. But could any war be dumber than this – in a place with no potential for civil society, wrecked by totalitarianism, riven by tribalism, in defense of rebels we do not know and who are clearly insufficient to the task?

By all means keep the no-fly zone to protect unarmed civilians from brute military force. But that must be the total sum of the commitment.

Love him or hate him (and I’ve leaned in both directions), Andrew Sullivan is a towering figure in the development of blogging as a vital form of communication.  His pioneering “Daily Dish,” with its barely readable white and beige text on a dark-blue background, provided thoughtful commentary on a daily basis for years before the potty-mouthed Wonkette came along to become, briefly, the best-known name in blogging.

I started following Sullivan so long ago, his blog is in the “Conservatives” folder of my bookmarks.  This was back when James Taranto — one of many bloggers who now cannot stand the man — used to refer to Sullivan as his “favorite gay, Catholic Tory.”  I got the Web Goddess interested in Sullivan’s writing, and then we sprang for $20 (I think that’s what it was) to get his short-lived weekly email with the inside story behind the Daily Dish.

Sullivan, former editor of the New Republic , backed Bush in the 2000 election and was a strong supporter of the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003.  He started to sour on Bush because of the mismanagement of the war, and in 2004 was openly flirting with the idea of endorsing the  Democratic nominee — even if it were John Kerry, whom he despised — over Bush.  That deal was sealed on February 24, 2004, when Bush, after calculating that he had more to gain among evangelicals than he had to lose among the few gay people inclined to support him, endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment.

The FMA went well beyond declaring that “marriage is between a man and a woman.” (That’s still Obama’s official position, btw.)  The FMA also would have eviscerated civil unions and domestic partnerships, which are a squeamish society’s well-meaning effort to provide legal protection to gay couples.  Here’s the text of the amendment:

Marriage in the United States shall consist solely of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.

(The amendment failed to advance in either the House or the Senate, falling far short of the two-thirds majorities required.)

I remember being struck that day by how anguished Sullivan was over Bush’s announcement.  I remember Jonah Goldberg, who at the time was largely sympathetic to Sullivan, describing Sullivan’s reaction as a “cri de coeur” (which I had to look up).  But I couldn’t remember what Sullivan himself had said that day, so I went back looking for it.  His actual post doesn’t seem as raw and livid as I remembered, but you can see the sense of betrayal.  Excerpts:

WAR IS DECLARED: The president launched a war today against the civil rights of gay citizens and their families. And just as importantly, he launched a war to defile the most sacred document in the land.  … Those of us who supported this president in 2000, who have backed him whole-heartedly during the war, who have endured scorn from our peers as a result, who trusted that this president was indeed a uniter rather than a divider, now know the truth.

NO MORE PROFOUND AN ATTACK: This president wants our families denied civil protection and civil acknowledgment. He wants us stigmatized not just by a law, not just by his inability even to call us by name, not by his minions on the religious right. He wants us stigmatized in the very founding document of America. There can be no more profound attack on a minority in the United States – or on the promise of freedom that America represents. That very tactic is so shocking in its prejudice, so clear in its intent, so extreme in its implications that it leaves people of good will little lee-way. This president has now made the Republican party an emblem of exclusion and division and intolerance.

Sullivan’s blogging home has bounced from his own domain to Time to The Atlantic, and as of today he is settling in to new quarters at Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast.  He’s a gifted writer who gets carried away with his passions. Somehow I don’t think his animus toward Obama will ever quite reach the level it did with Bush.

DADT: Some Days It’s Not Easy Being a Socially Liberal Republican

For national security and economic reasons I generally vote Republican, but I’m quite liberal on social issues.  For example, my support for same-sex marriage equality puts me to the left of Barack “marriage-is-between-a-man-and-a-woman” Obama.

This occasionally leads to cognitive dissonance, when people I otherwise admire take positions I find offensive.  I voted for Jon Corzine against the man I now think of as Governor Awesome, solely on the basis of Christie’s declaration that he would veto any legislation providing for same-sex marriage. Now the man I proudly backed for President has substituted tantrums for argumentation in leading the opposition to repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  The repeal was approved yesterday — the Web Goddess considers it a birthday present — and I take some solace in the fact that enough Republican Senators crossed the aisle to make the vote a landslide, 65-31.

I agree with Nick at GayPatriot that this legislative outcome is hugely preferable to the judicial ruling that no doubt was just a matter of time.

I cannot express how grateful I am that this didn’t happen at the rap of a judge’s gavel. Nothing could have been more destructive than had our military been forced to make this change not because our commanders had been directed to do so by our elected civilian leaders, but by judicial fiat. Simply put, the judicial branch is not (despite this Administration’s obsession with trying our enemies in civilian courts) charged with, nor does it have the temperament for, taking on the responsibility of national security. While all would agree that the policy is discriminatory, that in and of itself is a very very poor reason to make such a huge change to policy. For example, the ADA doesn’t quite apply to the military, now, does it? On the other hand, give me a truly national-defense reason for considering applying it so, and I (and all military commanders) will be all ears.

Some Senators argued that a change of this sort should not be made in time of war.  Two Republican Senators, Richard Burr of North Carolina and John Ensign of Nevada, voted to support a filibuster attempt that failed… and then later in the same day voted in favor of repeal. “Despite my concerns over timing, my conclusion is that repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is the right thing to do,” Burr said in a statement after the vote.

I agree that the timing is not ideal — it should have been done years ago. I have every confidence that the men and women of the armed forces are equal to the challenge posed by colleagues who no longer have to lie about who they are.

Meanwhile, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network offers a grim warning: “The bottom line is DADT is still in effect and it is NOT safe to come out.”

Even after the successful votes in Congress and even after the President signs the bill, the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must certify that the Defense Department is prepared to implement repeal. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will still be the law until 60 days after the President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs certify repeal can happen.

It’s tempting to think this is excessive caution — the President, SecDef and Chairman all are on record supporting repeal.  The 60-day waiting period was a fig leaf provided to those concerned about moving too quickly.  But when the Bush tax cuts were originally passed in his first term, I don’t think many people expected the ridiculous sunset provisions to be triggered — and they almost were.

I’ll give the final words to Nick at GayPatriot, himself a veteran:

I thank God for the gay men and women who have been serving during (and even before) DADT in spite of it. While many gay activists have been on the sidelines carping about “rights” and “integrity” and “honor”, these brave men and women put their Nation before themselves and sacrificed as their colleagues never had to. They were called by service and answered in a way that speaks volumes about their dedication to the mission of the military. They chose to serve even as doing so meant keeping such a big part of themselves under wraps.

The bottom line is DADT is still in effect and it is NOT safe to come out.

The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage


After the New Jersey Senate’s disgraceful vote to deny equal rights to same-sex couples, the fight for marriage equality turns to federal court.  Testimony began today in the effort to overturn California’s Proposition 8.

A fascinating subplot can be found in the fact that the lead legal adversaries in Bush v. Gore have joined forces to make the case for marriage equality.  The Republican, Ted Olson, is featured on the cover of Newsweek this week with an eloquent explanation of why he took the case.  An excerpt (emphasis added):

Many of my fellow conservatives have an almost knee-jerk hostility toward gay marriage. This does not make sense, because same-sex unions promote the values conservatives prize. Marriage is one of the basic building blocks of our neighborhoods and our nation. At its best, it is a stable bond between two individuals who work to create a loving household and a social and economic partnership. We encourage couples to marry because the commitments they make to one another provide benefits not only to themselves but also to their families and communities. Marriage requires thinking beyond one’s own needs. It transforms two individuals into a union based on shared aspirations, and in doing so establishes a formal investment in the well-being of society. The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance. Conservatives should celebrate this, rather than lament it.

Today’s NJ Gay Marriage Vote Hurts Real People

William and Michael.  Sharon and Cheryl.  Chris and Chris.  Kevin and Bill.  John and Billy.  Ulysses and Gary.  Elaine and Lauren.

These are not pseudonyms or hypotheticals — they are actual gay and lesbian couples in my life, people I cherish, good Christians in long-term committed relationships, some of them for 30 years and more.  Today the New Jersey Senate spat on their relationships, and I am pissed.

The Web Goddess and I voted for different candidates, but on this issue we are united, standing proudly to the left of our President.  We’re confident that our marriage will not be damaged if our friends are allowed to marry as well.  The idea is so bizarre that I should not have to type those words, but there they are.

Same-sex marriage is a straightforward civil rights issue, and the only acceptable outcome is full marriage equality.  I believe I’ll see it in my lifetime.  But New Jersey took a step in the wrong direction today, and I weep for my friends.

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Civil Rights, and the Intersection of Race and Sexual Orientation

Dennis and Christine Wiley, Baptist preachers in DC who support marriage equality

Dennis and Christine Wiley, Baptist preachers in DC who support marriage equality

Not long after the Presidential election last year, the Web Goddess and I had dinner with four of our closest friends, who happen to be a black couple and a lesbian couple.  There was exactly one McCain voter in the room — which turns out to reflect almost precisely the voting results in our hometown of Maplewood, NJ.  (I would have guessed it had been even more lopsided.)

I don’t think of these friends primarily in demographic terms — we’re three couples who met through our local Episcopal church and found we enjoyed each other’s company.  But of course, race was a common conversation topic in those post-election days.  Sexual orientation also claimed some attention through California’s successful Proposition 8, which overruled the state Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage in that state.  On this issue, we all knew the vote at our dinner table would be 6-0 the other way.

Obama’s ground-breaking candidacy had inspired a huge increase in black voters around the country — and it was being reported that his coattails may have had an adverse effect on gay people in California, as about 70 percent of black California voters had voted to ban gay marriage.  (Later analysis asserted that 58 percent was a more realistic number — still well above the 49 percent of whites who voted similarly.)

One of our friends, who wants nothing more than to marry, in New Jersey, the woman she has been committed to for more than a decade, brought up this awkward confluence of race and orientation.  Her voice trailed off as she looked inquiringly at our black friends, and we all watched the husband shake his head helplessly.  “There’s a lot of homophobia in the black community,” he said softly.

These memories were stirred today by the publication today of an op-ed in the Washington Post about the D.C. Council’s vote this week to legalize same-sex marriage in the nation’s capital.  The headline that caught my eye was “Why Two Black D.C. Pastors Support Gay Marriage.”  It turns out they’re not just black — they’re Baptists, and leaders of “the first and only traditional black church in the District of Columbia to perform same-sex unions [non-marital commitment ceremonies].”

Christine and Dennis Wiley write that “our first-hand experience has convinced us that homophobia within the black church and the wider community is real,” and they thoughtfully discuss what they see as the historical reasons for this.

A more complicated element of black homophobia is the lingering influence of sexual stereotypes that originated during slavery. According to theologian Kelly Brown Douglas, the myth of “over-sexualized” black bodies portrayed black men as violent “bucks” who posed an ever-present threat to white women, and black women as “Jezebels” who seduced white men.

These stereotypes served to justify the whipping, lynching and castration of black men, and to excuse the sexual violation of black women by white men. They were just one element of what blacks had to struggle against to gain acceptance and respectability in white society, especially during the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th. On this matter, religion has often been a vehicle of suppression, accommodation and control. While the church was a refuge from the horrors of racism and played an empowering role in African American history, it also taught black people to repress behaviors — especially sexual behaviors — that might attract unwanted attention, appear uncouth or seem threatening to white people.

A final piece that shapes black attitudes toward same-sex marriage is the preoccupation with racism in the black community. This obsession, although justifiable, has led to a failure to appreciate how racism is inextricably connected to all other forms of oppression. Those who fail to see this connection may resent the comparison of gay rights with civil rights. But as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

gaypridemarchT-blue copyKing also said, “the arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  I firmly believe that same-sex marriage is a straightforward civil rights issue.  There’s only one acceptable outcome — and I believe I will live to see full marriage equality in this country.

Even in the socially liberal Episcopal church, the topic of gay equality has been controversial.  (Nationally, at least — in Maplewood, not so much.)  I marvel at the courage of these two black Baptist preachers, and I wish them Godspeed.

Witnessing a Step Toward Marriage Equality in NJ

kirk-nina trenton lobbying copyThe Web Goddess and I journeyed to Trenton yesterday in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples.  (The picture makes me look fatter than I am.)

Pictured in the background is our priest, Father Bernie Poppe.  A Senate committee approved the bill, which is to be voted on by the full Senate on Thursday.

My account of yesterday’s events is at Maplewood Patch.  My previous blog post on this matter has touched off a lively debate in the comments.

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Lobbying for Marriage Equality in New Jersey

gaypridemarchT-blue copyThe Web Goddess and I are headed to Trenton Monday morning to lobby for pending legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey.  We’ll be car-pooling with friends both gay and straight from St. George’s Episcopal Church.

I’m covering the event for Maplewood Patch, a charter member of the Maplewood BlogolopolisTM.  Patch already has my preview story posted.

I’ll be wearing the snazzy T-shirt at left, designed by the Web Goddess of course, and available from Cafe Press.

This week is the last chance for at least four years to establish marriage equality legislatively in New Jersey.  If the state Senate Judiciary Committee votes the bill out of committee Monday, the full Senate is likely to vote on Thursday.  Democratic Governor Jon Corzine has said he would sign the bill.  Republican Governor-elect Chris Christie has said he would veto it.  At the committee hearing, the Right Reverend Mark M. Beckwith, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark and the Web Goddess’s boss, will be testifying in favor of the bill.

Resolved: Western Civilization is Morally Superior to Certain Other Cultures. Discuss.

Sir Charles Napier had it right: Change the culture!

Sir Charles Napier had it right: Change the culture!

One of my favorite lesbian clerics (yes, I have more than one such favorite), the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, has a post on her Episcopally renowned Telling Secrets blog about an op-ed last week in which an Anglican bishop in Uganda urged passage of…

… the proposed “new” law in Uganda which calls for capitol punishment for the “crime” of what they call “aggravated homosexuality.”

Translation: Anyone who is open and honest about being an LGBT person.

Digging into the original op-ed, I find that even though the bishop in question supports the comprehensive anti-gay legislation in question, he doesn’t actually WANT to kill gay people.  He wants scientists to cure them.  I suspect this qualifies him as a liberal by Ugandan standards.

Anyway, since most of you won’t actually click the link to Mother Elizabeth’s blog (I double-dare you!), I’m taking the liberty of reprinting here the comment I posted on her blog:

Kirk Petersen said…

Elizabeth, I agree that it’s about power. Power matters, and the culture of the power-holder matters.

Some cultures are morally superior to others. As tolerant people it makes us uncomfortable to hear that, but it’s been true for centuries.

In the 1840s, when India was a British colony and General Sir Charles Napier was its President, a group of Hindus complained to him about the prohibition of suttee — the practice of burning widows alive on their husband’s funeral pyre.

His reply? “You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom. When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we shall follow ours.”

To stave off any tedious “Wikipedia is not authoritative” arguments, I tracked down a scholarly reference, one of many: http://www.eppc.org/publications/pubID.2636/pub_detail.asp

If you Google “Charles Napier ‘burn widows’” you’ll get 22,000 hits.

Yes, the British have to answer for some despicable actions over the centuries…. but they also seeded Western values around the world. Eventually those values may take hold in Uganda.

Long-time readers of All That Is Necessary may realize that this discussion has implications for Islamic Fascism.

If you’d like to argue the other side of the “resolution” in the headline, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.  I will be at least as civil as you are.

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