Thursday, October 26, 2006

Piddle and twiddle: watch those Republicans choke on gay marriage

Okay, the ante is up, as social conservatives think they have their ammunition handed to them by “activist judges,” the latest from the New Jersey State Supreme Court. (No matter the activism of our own Supreme Court in Bush v Gore and the 2000 presidential election).

So the eight state constitutional amendment referendums (the most notorious being the Marshall-Newman in Virginia) might actually get an unwelcome push from “conservative” voters.

But what, really, does the “normal married person” want out of this? A young man who is now a prosecuting attorney in the Midwest told me, “something to feel superior about.” Think about it. If the rest of your life, especially career and work, doesn’t go that well, the social approbation of your marriage gets pretty important. You feel that society has ratified you as a grown-up person with full rights once you’re married with your own kids. You have proven psychosexual maturity. The social support is integrated into your marital experience. It helps provide the social safety net for relatives and kin. If push comes to shove, you have the right to demand a tribute from a freer but less “mature” person who never took the dive. After all, the immature man wanted access to sexuality for free, without openness to new life, blindfolded socialization, or filial responsibility.

Turn this around, though. You go to gay discos like Cobalt or Apex in Washington (or the Velvet Nation, that got overrun by the baseball Washington Nationals) or say the Saloon or the Gay 90s in Minneapolis, and see the ritual celebration on the dance floor, the love trains, and you see this is a kind of public expression of what (or who) is perfect, or what (or who) deserves emotion. It’s meant to have an effect on things. Nothing is that private any more. It helps to reach one’s biological solstice and enter a time machine so that you can remain perfect forever. Note that there is a movie “Children of Men” coming. There was even a Smallville episode based on this idea. There is another lesson in this: the celebrant on the dance floor is saying that he makes emotional connections to other people on his own terms only. That sounds like his libertarian right (no pun), but that puts a lot of other people into a losing position.

So both sides of psychological divide want to feel superior in some way.

Then you look at the Foley scandal again, that a couple weeks ago seemed to deep-six the Republicans (including Log Cabin). They seem to deserve it, for their pretense of hiding under their own “don’t ask don’t tell.”

Fred Berlin of the National Institute for the Study and Prevention of Sexual Trauma drew a ring around the whole problem that deals not only with the minors issue, but with the difficulty in keeping marriages together, when he suggested that people who “show no interest in people their own age” are disordered. That kind of hits the nail on the head. Maturity is supposed to merge the need of others with emotional interest. Maybe failure to do that is a reason to look at someone as immature and less “equal” (sic). But conservatives want to equate this with being able to form and stay in a heterosexual marriage and raise one’s own children.

I was criticized, when a substitute teacher, for being unwilling to enforce discipline with certain kinds of disadvantaged students. I ask, why should they respect me when they “sense” that I am not the equal of other men, even in the eyes of the law. Or is this just a matter of disorder and emotional immaturity?

Piddle. Twiddle. And resolve.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

New Jersey state supreme court rules on same-sex couples

On Wednesday, October 25, 2006 the New Jersey state Supreme Court (in Trenton) ruled that couples consisting of two adults have the same rights whether a couple's members are of the same or of the opposite biological gender. The vote was 4-3.

The Court gave the state legislature six months write legislation putting this in to effect. But it stopped short of ordering the legislature to create "marriage" for same sex couples (I sound like The Washington Times here in putting the word into quotes!). It would be acceptable to create a civil union and call it that but give the same rights and obligations as "marriage."

It is my take that the court is sensitive to the possibility that gay individuals can find themselves in second class status, at the whim of the needs of heterosexuals to have others support their marriages, without explicitly equal rights.

New Jersey does not have a law prohibiting recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages, so in this sense it is a more critical testing ground that is Massachusetts. However, right now Massachusetts is the only state that recongizes "marriage" for same-sex couples and can call it that.

The name of the case is Mark Lewis and Dennis Winslow, et al. v. Gwendolyn L. Harris, etc., et al, (A-68-05).

Findlaw has made the opinion available at this
on a PDF file.

An important quote from the Opinion:

"Although we cannot find that a fundamental right to same-sex marriage exists in this state, the unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer be tolerated under our state constitution," as written by Judge Barry Albin.

The AP/CNN news story is at this link.

The Washington Post has a story on Oct 26, 2006 by Michael Powell and Robert Shulman, "N.J. Ruling Mandates Rights for Gay Unions: State Court Does Not Specify 'Marriage'". at this link.

The New York Times has a story by David W. Chen, "New Jersey Court Backs Full Rights for Gay Couples, But Justices Direct Legislature to Decide on Issue of Marriage," on the same date. The NY Times has a brief editorial, "A Ruling for Equality in New Jersey," that is guarded but points out the practical and financial disadvantages of gay couples.

On Dec 13, 2006, New Jersey passed a bill allowing civil unions with the same rights and responsibilities as marriage. Story by Robin Shulman in The Washington Post, Dec. 15m 2006, at this link.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The “gay marriage” amendment in Virginia – a more personal take

"It just wasn't meant to be." So say some people about gay marriage. Of course, we are human beings with reasoning powers, and we can design what we mean to happen. There is always a fault line when we test the limits of "nature" and see that there are layers of human behavior underneath the surface. But let's move on to the main stuff here.

A local Northern Virginia church, from a mainstream Protestant denomination, plans to do a door-to-door campaign soon to encourage voters to vote “No” on the Marshall-Newman amendment, which in Virginia would not only limit marriage to one biological man and one woman, but prohibit recognizing same-sex relationships as approximating marriage.

I generally do not like to contact people personally about specific political candidates or issues. I generally do not go door-to-door or call or “bother” people. With the web, I prefer to write my thoughts and be found by search engines. That has been a very effective way to be heard, although I cannot be sure that it will always be available.

I can run through some observations that may be old hat now. One of the most obvious is that the focus on “gay marriage” is a diversion from both political camps. It seems to be trying to encapsulate complex and disquieting discussions about personal socialization into words that, viewed through the lens of rationalism, have little practical meaning. It’s easier to talk about a political slogan than it is to face personal obligations to others. It also forces both camps to run treadmills, keeping them from making real progress with more fundamental problems.

The surface practical question is, who will be affected by this? A recent New York Times article indicated that there were less than a million same-sex couples in the country. If gay marriage were legal everywhere, not that many people would use it. Nevertheless, there have been outrageous abuses of people who are in relationships, such as with hospital visitations and particularly during probate battles from jealous blood relatives. (Some of these problems should be resolved outside of the institution of marriage, but the Virginia amendment might even interfere with these in some cases, leaving ill persons unable to receive visitations from partners in hospitals, for example.)

Furthermore, from a legal perspective, there is almost no chance at all that higher courts in this country would uphold challenges to traditional marriage statutes on constitutional grounds, despite the anomaly in Massachusetts. And the homosexuals are certainly not going to interfere with heterosexual marriages on an individual level, right?

It’s ironic, too, that in Virginia the Marshall-Newman amendment is inserted as a provision in the “Virginia Bill of Rights.” That may have been intended to get around the idea that constitutional provisions normally should be about governance, not about regulating individual lives or rewarding various social behaviors. Nevertheless, we are seeing the underbelly of this whole problem: that many old-fashioned heterosexual people see the social approbation for marriage as part of their “rights.” It goes beyond this. Many people see the social supports for marriage as part of the “family bed” experience. The privileged status is what makes it worth staying together for a lifetime, despite the media distractions and reminders that there are more “attractive” or “competitive” and (usually, following the mentality of Oscar Wilde, younger) potential partners out there. The social rewards of marriage are part of a "collective" package that enables people to maintain a deep emotional bond "in sickness and in health" -- that maintains that a partner can remain worthy even though he or she is much less than perfect.

Here it becomes personal. We have to go beyond the areas where conventional rationalism and objectivism take us. My own coming out was a long and complicated process, documented elsewhere on my sites, but the end result is that I spent about thirty years living in urban areas tending mainly to my own needs. That took most of my attention. I was not prepared to support anyone else. My life sat on that moral knife’s edge for three decades.

But as long as I had my own life and could execute my own “private choices,” I did not care that much about abstract notions of equality. In the 1980s, we had to deal with all of the political and personal threats from the AIDS epidemic, and we were fighting to keep our private space.

In the 1990s, as AIDS came to become perceived as socially manageable (largely because of new drugs and more careful behaviors), a new perspective on gay rights developed as Bill Clinton raised the issue of gays in the military, and as the battles over same-sex unions brewed in Hawaii and Vermont, and then other states. There was more attention to the idea of participation in broad social responsibility: being able to help defend freedom by serving the armed forces (or by holding a security clearance or by working in law enforcement, for that matter); being able to participate in raising children, and being there for a lifelong partner, whether of the same or opposite sex. The debates, in the 90s, began, somewhat under the table in various magazines at the newsstands, to recognized social obligations as a real moral requirement, somewhat as they had up to the 60s. A person's "status" as an equal person can be affected by the perception that he/she "pays his dues" and shares the burdens fairly.

Any legal doctrine that interferes with someone's ability to participate in these essential activites then makes someone a "second class citizen," and through circularity drives the person away from sharing responsibilities. One can see how a constitutional amendment like Marshall-Newman can make a single person with no prior intention of personally attempting gay marriage or a domestic partnership into a second-class citizen, interferring with his contributions to others. So the amendment can affect singletons as well as those in relationships.

During the 1990s, there was an odd dichotomy in the workplace. Sometimes single, childless people like me were expected to fill in for a greater share of the on-call responsibilities (without compensation in a salaried environment) when people with families and children had problems at home. People would get very uncomfortable with discussing the “unfairness” of this development openly. At the same time, with the growth of the Internet, I was seeing “complaints” that less economically or socially advantaged families had a hard time staying together and raising their kids in such a media-saturated and expressive culture. Remember, people of that mindset don't want to hear about things that can distract them from their families -- that's part of the bargain.

Just before 2000, there was a serious medical issue in my own family. I don’t want to discuss private matters here beyond what is necessary to make my point, but eldercare and answerability to the needs of others, even when requiring sacrifice from me, became a very real issue. All the sudden, family responsibility wasn’t just something that starts with conceiving children. It’s something that we all can be expected to share. Many people learn that with other (especially younger) siblings; I was an only child so I bypassed that socialization.

After a corporate buyout and “retirement” at the end of 2001, I tried a number of odd jobs, and one feedback that I got a few times, especially when I worked as a substitute teacher, was that I am not “assertive” enough. Particularly in the teacher situation, I was unwilling to present myself as an “authority figure” over non-intact kids.

So here we have a picture. I am supposed to validate myself by “protecting” other people. The way most men do this is by courting women, marrying and having children. It’s easy to make the connection: the preferred status for heterosexual marriage makes it easier to provide for other people—if you get heterosexually married. But if you stay outside the marriage system, you’re fair game to be nabbed to make more sacrifices to help those with families. Your life is not as important as the life of someone raising a family. You must validate yourself by meeting the needs of others in some socially approved way before embarking out on your own expressions.

I have always been very sensitive about this point. When growing up, I noticed that when a man would die in war, his memory would be validated by mention of his wife and kids as if it justified his existence. But if we value human life (enough to oppose abortion), why were we so nonchalant about drafting young men and sending them to battle? Why were men expendable this way, until they married and fathered kids?

I think this takes us back to the observation that biological lineage is the one “achievement” that is supposed to be available to most people, regardless of other talents or political injustices. Even the Gospels try to deal with the “unfairness” of live at economic and political levels by emphasizing the importance of blood relations, which are, however, supposed to lead to community socialization. The privileged position of traditional marriage, even if it made second-class citizens of the unmarried, was always integrated into what the conforming married person experienced, even “in the bedroom.” That is what is threatened by “gay marriage.” It is what some people see as an intrinsic part of heterosexuality. Yet it is essential mainly for people who don’t have expressive talents that they can call their own.

I sometimes get a reaction that protecting one’s parents is as vital a responsibility as raising children (look at the Fifth Commandment!), and one should accept that lot if it comes one’s way. Indeed, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 did recognize that parental eldercare could be a justification for asking an employer for (unpaid) leave, just as would child care.

This is a very difficult observation for me to take. Even in the 1950s, a lot of adults were not “of the marrying kind” and often accepted the idea of staying home to look after the elders of a family. Non-marrying women were openly welcomed, often preferred, as grade school teachers (even as “old maids”). The Catholic Church developed a whole system for non-procreative men and women to serve the church and teach – and at least for men, the priests, we have found out that Church covered up a huge problem (hence all of the recent antigay seminary bans and pronouncements from the Vatican about “objective disorders”, etc.) We all know that some people are more “appealing” as partners (and as potential ancestors) than others, and a meritocratic society is likely to see attractive people as “better” than others. I am left holding the bag as someone who was not “competitive” enough as a man to procreate (at least the way soap operas like “Days of our Lives” would see things), so I am supposed to be there for others who were. You can see that I envy the life that Truman Capote lived and his output.

Marriage, though, is cast in exactly this biological web. Its privileged status is justified (not with airtight intellectual arguments) as an institution for procreation, for biological creation (or adoption) of children and raising them. But those who do not procreate (or who are not inclined to engage in the physical activities that generally lead to having babies) are almost by definition forced into a socially subordinate position, whose sacrifices can be commanded at the “needs” of families. Or, at least, they are forced to subsidize the tax benefits and privileges of legally married people because of this connection to the "ideal environment to raise children." (Oh, yes, there is the marriage penalty, though, which is supposed to be going away.) Do we deliberately want to make some people subsidize the life choices of others based on social utility? It seems as though a lot of people raising traditional families can't stand even being made to think about this!

Having gone through all of this candor, we come back to facing a social and practical reality. Given the problems that are coming (global warming for openers), we have to face how we will share responsibilities and even sacrifices. Equal access to marriage, whatever one’s choice of an adult significant other, and even to adoption and child rearing, will help move in that direction.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Update on VA Marshall-Newman same-sex marriage amendment polls

Chris L. Jenkis, The Washington Post, writes on Tues. Oct 17, 2006, that 53% of Virginia voters back the constitutional amendment (the Marshall-Newman amendment) to the Virginia Bill of Rights, that would limit marriage to a legal arrangement between one biological man and one woman, ban civil unions, and refuse to recognize relationships intended to approximate marriage. But in Northern Virignia counties (probably just Arlington, Fairfax and Loudon), voters reject the amendment 55 to 42. The total sample size was 1004. Arlington is probably the most liberal of these counties, and is likely to vote No heavily.

Other states with similar proposals are Arizona, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Tennessee has an amendment limited to marriage definition only, and Colorado offers domestic partnerships separately. It is reported that in Wisconsin there is a good chance that the amendment can be defeated.

Somehow this all brings to mind Washinton Blade editor Chris Crain's March 2004 editorial (before the federal amendment debate, which failed that summer), "Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve." Remember the sorry debate in the Senate, when Santorum spoke, and then Diane Feinstein stated that they were spending hours on gay marriage when they hadn't passed any much more pressing legislation. During the intermissions, C-SPAN played the first movement of the Bruckner Symphone #5 in B-flat, giving the whole debate a pompous resolution.

The local "conservative" newspaper, The Washington Times, always puts the word "marriage" in quotes when following the parole "gay." That is, the newspaper always prints it as -- gay "marriage" ---.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Statistics on marriage, same-sex couples, and the never married

Sam Roberts has a story on p A14 of the Oct. 15, 2006 New York Times, “It’s Official: To Be Married Means to be Outnumbered: Data Suggests that More Couples are Waiting.”

According to the Census Bureau, 49.7% of the U.S.’s 111.1 million households in 2005 comprised legally married (heterosexual) couples. In 2000 the percentage had been 52%.

There were 413,000 male couple households, and 363,000 female couple households. This is about 0.7% of the households. In San Francisco, about 2% of the couples were same-sex couples. Presumably these are the households than can benefit from domestic partnership or civil union or even gay marriage legislation. These percentages sound much lower than what I would have expected.

Presumably, a lot of households consist of never married, divorced, and widowed adults. This would include the majority if gays and lesbians (and some transgendered).

According to Penn State, 5% of elderly adults have never been married. (“The never married elderly: what do we know?”) I do recall that singleness and childlessness of other adults was much more common in the 50s than people probably realize today. The link is this.

According to a Cox New Service report from Nov 2005, 44% of all adults have never been married. The story is by Katherine Heine: “Has marriage lost its luster?”

The story also reports that 40% of unmarried couple households have children.

This is some of what the gay marriage battle must deal with.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Pension Protection Act and GLBT couples

At the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner in Washington DC on October 7, 2006, president Joe Solomonese mentioned the improved benefits for same-sex couples as a result of the Pension Protection Act signed into law on Aug. 17, 2006. Previously, same-sex partners had to withdraw an entire inheritance from a partner's IRA, with heavy tax penalties. Now, apparently partners will be able to transfer funds to their own IRA's and withdraw over a five-year period or over a lifetime. There are also hardship distribution provisions.

A good writeup of the provisions is from Ramon Johnson, "You Guilde to Gay Life," at this link:

HRC's writeup is here.

Friday, October 06, 2006

GA: gay parent cannot be denied visitation or custody

On September 28, 2006 a Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that a parent cannot be denied custody or visitation rights of a child solely because of sexual orientation, absent other information that the child could be harmed.

The news release is available from the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, at this link.

CA: California appeals court rejects challenge to anti gay marriage law

In a 2-1 decision, a California appeals court rejected a challenge to a law that prohibits same-sex marriage in California.

The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund has a major release at this link.

The case is Woo v. California.

From the release:

"In 2005, the California Legislature enacted AB 849, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act sponsored by Equality California, which would have ensured equal treatment under the law by allowing same-sex couples to marry in California. Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill."

Bob Egelk of the San Francisco Chronicle has an article on this, "Same sex marriag r ban upheld by court, Ruling says change can only come from voters or legislature," Oct 6, 2006, link here (subscription may be required).