Wedding Bells, Part I

With the new rights of same-sex couples in three states to get married has come a lot of arguing – often permeated by misinformation and outright lies. What should be a simple matter best left to history is turning into a hideous back-and-forth about the rights of the individual and the majority (not to mention the difference between a business and a church).

Last week, things happened at a pretty dizzying pace. The Supreme Court refused to hear a case regarding challenges to gay marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada. The Ninth Circuit had determined the bans were Unconstitutional, running afoul of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. The refusal of SCOTUS to hear the case meant that the Ninth Circuit ruling stood, effectively striking down gay marriage bans in those states. Activists in Arizona immediately jumped on the opportunity, arguing that the Ninth Circuit’s decision applied to all of the states in the division. Same-sex marriage was immediately made legal when AG Tom Horne announced that it wasn’t worth fighting and he was ordering the court clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples forthwith.

The argument being made by most of those opposed to same-sex marriage is that the majority voted to approve the ban, so it should be allowed to stand. Several have also tried to say that there was no ban – that the law (known in 2008 as Prop 102) was only about defining marriage as being between one man and one woman. Unfortunately, both of these arguments hold no water. Arizona’s laws regarding marriage had specifically targeted same-sex marriage, going so far as to bar state and local officials from recognizing such marriages that had been performed in other states (a la DOMA). The court wasn’t ruling on whether gay marriage was right – it was ruling that a law that singled out a particular subset of the population was Unconstitutional and could not be allowed to stand. They were right on that.

As for the majority argument? We are a Constitutional Republic, not a Democracy. Tyranny of the majority does not rule the day in America. The minority cannot be told they don’t have rights simply because the majority doesn’t want them to. I’m sure a rather strong majority of voters in Mississippi and Alabama wanted to keep Jim Crow laws when the federal government forcibly repealed them in 1964, but that didn’t make them right and it didn’t mean the court should have upheld them. There’s a majority of very liberal people in Chicago and Washington, DC. Gun laws for a long time have been so strict that carrying (or, in many cases, even owning) guns has been nearly impossible. SCOTUS had to stand up for the minority and tell the majority they were violating everyone’s rights. This is the same principle. The majority determines a lot of things; there are some things, however, best not left to a simple majority. That is the point of a Republic.

Then there’s the “G-d” argument. “G-d says marriage is between one man and one woman, so that’s the way it’s supposed to be!” If you want to believe that, it’s up to you. I’m not here to tell you you’re wrong. I am here to tell you that you cannot codify your personal religious belief into law. The only mention of religion in the entire Constitution is in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That means that no government entity or law can tell you what you are allowed to believe. On the same token, it also means that the government cannot pass any law based purely on one religious belief or another. Your rights to believe that I am a sinner for being gay are protected. Your right to tell me I’m a sinner for being gay are protected. You have no right to pass a law against me because I’m gay.

Which will lead into the next article…Wedding Bells, Part II: The Hitching Post!

DOMA Has Fallen

As expected, the Supreme Court has handed the decision over California’s Prop 8 back to the lower courts (all of which held that it was Unconstitutional). Now gay marriage will resume in CA. What SCOTUS didn’t do, as many gay liberals had hoped they would, was declare all gay marriage laws Unconstitutional, throwing the doors wide open for gay marriage everywhere, regardless of state laws and in violation of state’s rights.

What they DID do, however, was strike down DOMA. That is a consolation we can definitely live with.

What does that mean? It means that the federal government cannot legally deny benefits to same-sex couples married in states where gay marriage is legal. It also means that states where gay marriage is banned cannot continue to deny the benefits of married couples to those same-sex families. SCOTUS declared DOMA to be a violation of both equal treatment/due process (Fifth Amendment) and the Full Faith and Credit Clause (Article IV, Section I of the Constitution). In short, the federal government cannot pass a law that singles out gay couples to be denied certain benefits, and the states must honor any contract made in another state – which, in this case, would be gay marriage.

Now I’m just waiting for the Full Faith and Credit Clause to be applied to my paramedic license and my CCW. But that’s another issue.

The fact that SCOTUS didn’t hand down a ruling that immediately legalizes gay marriage in every corner of the Republic is not something to get upset about. They did what they were supposed to do – they interpreted the laws being challenged under the scope of the Constitution and ruled accordingly. They left the state issue to the state in question and handled the federal issue before them. DOMA is no more. That is something to celebrate.

I think I might actually take my nose out of my books for once and go out this weekend.

What it means for Equal Marriage Arizona is that the movement goes forward with efforts to bring marriage equality to Arizona. Having already taken the wind out of Cathy Herrod’s sails, Equal Marriage Arizona happily released to the public their intent to immediately begin collecting signatures to put the measure on the ballot next year. Warren Meyer said, “The US Supreme Court said today that the states can decide this issue for themselves, and this legitimizes our Equal Marriage Arizona efforts, allows Arizona voters the chance to guarantee the freedom to marry and guarantee religious freedoms. We’re confident the Arizona voters are ready to say YES to both of these interrelated freedoms.”

Erin Ogletree Simpson continued the sentiment: “Petitions will be printed today and our volunteer efforts will start tomorrow. People can get a petition by calling us at 480-625-8620. Whether you’re straight or gay, conservative like I am, or liberal this is an effort we all can embrace – an effort for guaranteed freedom to marry and a guarantee for religious freedom. The Supreme Court said it’s up to us, so now it’s up to all of us.”

If you’re in Arizona, it’s time to start work. Everywhere else…smile!

A Time For Equality

When I was born, being openly gay was only acceptable in certain parts of San Francisco. Even in the Castro, police would harass known gay people. Everywhere else? Forget it. New York City wasn’t even partially as progressive as San Francisco was. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

With the collapse of Nazi Germany (the third installation of which I will post tomorrow), a gay-rights movement sprang up in Europe, the UK, and the US. I think it may have been spurred on by the revelation that the Nazis had targeted homosexuals for extermination along with the Jews. The original movement gained a surprising amount of steam considering the conservative social sensibilities of the time. In 1966 LAPD officers raided Compton’s Cafeteria to arrest men dressed as women and a riot broke out – the drag queens and transgendered patrons destroyed the place. The next day, they went back to the cafe and smashed the newly-replaced plate-glass windows again (because, you know, destruction is the only way to get your point across when you’ve barely attempted to talk). In 1969, NYPD officers raided the Stonewall Inn, one of many mafia-owned gay bars.

Maybe I should explain here what laws were like in America at the time. Even in places that are now known as firmly leftist – Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco – there were decency laws. Some were targeted specifically towards those who identified as G, L, B, or T – in fact, it was illegal to knowingly run a bar or restaurant geared toward homosexuals. Men were not allowed to wear women’s clothing and women were not allowed to be too masculine. Laws for women were specific enough in some areas that in New York, for instance, a woman was required to wear at least three pieces of feminine clothing. Anyone caught in violation of public decency laws was subject to immediate arrest. Police harassment was commonplace. The First Amendment did not carry the same weight that it carries now; you were allowed to speak freely and express yourself, but if you ran afoul of the morality laws you no longer had those rights.

Nobody can accuse me of not knowing or understanding gay history.

Mafia crime families knew that clubs catering to gay patrons were cash cows waiting to be exploited, so they opened the first regular gay bars in Greenwich Village. They overcharged for drinks and watered down the booze, but they also paid off the police to make raids on their establishments less frequent. On June 28, 1969, four NYPD officers barged in to raid the club. Patrons began to refuse to produce IDs, so the officers decided everyone was going to jail. Male officers frisking lesbians all but sexually assaulted them. The few who were released assembled a crowd outside, even gathering passing pedestrians to witness what was going on. Finally, a lesbian being dragged out was beaten for complaining that she was uncomfortable – she called to the crowd that had gathered, at least 150 strong, to “do something!” They did. A mob of around 500 or so gravitated to the area within minutes and construction materials, particularly boards and bricks, ended up being used. Police officers had to barricade themselves inside the bar they’d raided to protect themselves. Rioters then tried to light the bar on fire, even tore a parking meter out of the ground to break the door down. Riots continued for at least five days, with multiple fires being set.

The riots were bound to happen, but Stonewall was too extreme. Much like the Black Panthers on the heels of Dr. King’s assassination, the Stonewall rioters did more to damage the cause of gay rights than they did justice. It is a good thing that gay rights organizations began to sprout nationwide, but what was the cost? Much of America began to fight back in subtler ways. It would be another thirty years before gay rights movements would be acceptable in any form. Decency laws are still on the books in some areas, merely being ignored because it’s too time-consuming for police to enforce them. Sodomy laws were already on the books in some states, but many – including my home state of Texas – enacted them in the years following Stonewall, not to be overturned for 40 years.

I explained that so I can explain this: I don’t think that a Supreme Court ruling striking down all state-level gay marriage bans or even DOMA is going to be a positive thing for gay rights. I think it would, yet again, set our cause back significantly.

The arguments being made by social conservatives about gay marriage right now are so ridiculous in many cases that I’m having a hard time keeping a straight face as I listen to them. The sanctity of marriage? Really? We have a divorce rate soaring well above 60% and they want to prattle about the sanctity of an institution that the overwhelming majority of our society abuses at an alarming rate? There’s the argument that gay couples cannot procreate. Out of curiosity, does anyone have the latest figures on married couples who either actively refuse to have children or simply can’t have children? Do we now expect all married couples to produce a child for their marriage to be valid? Yeah, I didn’t think so. My personal favorite so far is the argument that children being raised in gay homes are more prone to being ostracized – more simply, bullied. I’m sorry, but how is that my fault? Is it not YOUR prejudices that teach your children to treat other people that way? If you know your kid is being a jerk, it’s up to you to correct their behavior. It’s not my issue and I won’t be disrespected because you’re too prejudiced and lazy to do the right thing. Your religious misgivings about my sexual orientation do not deserve recognition in the law of the land any more than Sharia does.

At the same time, history has proven that gray areas like this (yes, it is a gray area, whether we like it or not – we can’t yet be classified as a race and subcultures do not count) draw intense backlash when the courts issue broad rulings too quickly. As evidence, I present Proposition 8. After the California State Supreme Court made gay marriage legal in the state, the backlash was swift and severe. Prop 8 gained popularity among far more than conservatives in the state. California voters gave Obama a resounding victory – the same people who voted for him also voted yes on Prop 8, making gay marriage illegal once again and proving that opposition to gay marriage crosses political ideologies and is not confined merely to the GOP. Why? Californians of all stripes and party affiliations were saying that the courts, comprised of judges who are not elected, are not the final authority on what the people are willing to accept. Enough liberals in California were not yet prepared to allow gay marriage that the half-hearted, snarky anti-Prop 8 campaign was doomed to failure.

And the gay left is still blaming conservatives. Forget looking inward to figure out how we can change our message, we want someone to blame.

Our society has come a hell of a long way since that late summer raid in 1969. Despite those leaps forward, the gay left is acting as if marriage equality is a life-and-death struggle. We’re not being persecuted by government agencies. We’re not being hounded by the police anymore. I’m not going to be tossed in the clink because I have short hair and my clothing couldn’t be remotely considered feminine. The argument has now turned from ending oppression to government-sanctioned happiness, and really, I don’t need the government to give me a blessing or any special privileges – I’d still love my girlfriend with wild abandon and not give a damn who sees me holding her hand or kissing her in public.

We need to learn that there is a time for all things. Not all forms of equality are going to happen overnight, and my greatest fear is that the Supreme Court would hand down a ruling that would throw the gates open for gay marriage just so society’s pendulum can begin to swing the other way and we’ll end up with hard-line social conservatives at the helm that will undo so much of what we’ve accomplished. It can happen. It has happened before. Now that the real struggle is over, we need to back off a little bit and work on winning hearts and minds.