Monday, November 28, 2011

DOMA challenges federalism, could still encourgage employment discrimination; amicus brief in MA

As part of a libertarian effort to discredit government mandated benefits and regulations as a drag on the economy, the Storey Institute has written a posting about the indirect costs of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), here.  Employers would have to pay slightly higher salaries to employees in a same-sex marriage to overcome the higher taxes on partner health benefits (when they are exempted to opposite sex partners) which could lead to reluctance to hire employees involved in same-sex marriage in states that recognize it.

The issue here is that the federal government is not fully recognizing some state prerogatives (as defining marriage law) as was accepted under federalism. 

But even I at one time thought it was better to let states “experiment” without impinging federal law, because I thought that progress in gay marriage could occur gradually, state by state, which has in a sense happened. 

 Otherwise there might be no progress at all—the “all of nothing” or “no part credit” problem. 

Moorfield Storey’s blog post is here.

The story appeared on the listserver for GLIL (Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty) on Yahoo! today. 

Here’s an amicus brief for the Challenge to DOMA in the First Circuit (Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. US Dept of Health and Human Services), link .

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Society's double standards, old boy networks, and homophobia

Today, Andrew Sullivan appeared on Chris Matthews, and made the comment that one of Sandusky’s victims at Penn State was being bullied for allowing himself to become the “cause” of the fall of Penn State football.  This sounds like “string logic” carried into moral absurdity as far as possible. But it also illustrates how deeply divided our society still can be when it lives by “double standards” (or frankly contradictory standards) of conduct. Doing what is right as an individual is not always what expresses loyalty and cohesion for the group.Sullivan’s Daily Dish has a blog entry  (“Is Penn State only a symptom?” )that refers to a few other commentaries on the “old boy network” problem, link here.

But there is more than just the “old boy” problem.  People in larger groups tend to assume someone else will act, or that the “crowd” or “herd” (even “nerd herd”) knows more than the individual. On Nov. 17, Washington Blade Editor Kevin Nash gave an example of a political science professor at Penn State who opened a classroom window on a subzero day, and found everyone afraid to ask her to close it (see Nov. 24 here). 

There is a natural tension between individual self-compass and sharing the values of a group.  That’s a definite quandary for society, because shared purpose is important for sustainability.

The New York Times has an interesting piece today about the old double standard, particularly as it applied to homosexuality in the old, pre-Stonewall days (and sometimes still does).  Baltimore native Dudley Clendinen has an opinion piece “J. Edgar Hoover ‘Outed’ My Godfather”.  Clendinen questions how far Hoover’s relationship with Tolson really went (as in the recent film), but Hoover definitely kept files on private lives and hunted down suspected homosexuals in government, at least through the 1950s.  (Yes, Hoover, the ultimate hypocrite, eptomized the "double standard".) It didn’t take too much to draw suspicion – not dating women (having “roommates” was common enough then, but still attracted negativity). The link is here. It has always struck me as an odd paradox that homosexuality was regarded by some as the ultimate sin and threat to society.  Why?  Someone like me could not be credible competition for someone’s wife or even girlfriend, or a direct threat to a marriage.   Someone like me was not going to create a baby and abandon it.  Was it because someone like me reminded other men that they could “fail physically” or experience real submission?  Was it because some who was perceived as unlikely to reproduce was a potential burden and drag on the family, or threat to its vicarious immorality? Was it because (as I experienced things during William and Mary and the aftermath at NIH) I was refusing to experience affection for or interest in less-than-perfect people when it would normally be socially expected?  Was my own personal “fantastic perfectionism” the penultimate threat? 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

VA: conservative control could become problematic for non-discrimination in schools; Black Friday; help for Occupy DC

Lou Chibbaro, Jr. had a major story in the Nov. 17 Washington Blade, front page, to the effect that Christian conservatives were back in control in Virginia state politics, story link here.

In the Virginia Senate there was a 20-20 tie, with the lieutenant governor having the ability to cast the “ping pong win” vote.  But one of the candidates who lost in the GOP was himself openly gay (Nov. 4).
Virginia, remember, passed the anti-gay-marriage Marshall Newman amendment in 2006. (There is a curious twist, that Marhsall-Newman could be construed as inadvertently nullifying some of the state’s filial responsibility law, never enforced; some day I’ll get into this.)  Now there are concerns that conservatives could try to ban “gay-straight” alliances in public schools  (some northern Virginia schools, in generally more moderate to liberal areas, have them), attempts to ban adoption by gay parents, or attempts to roll back anti-discrimination policies (with respect to sexual orientation) at state colleges and universities.  This last possibility is relevant to my recent visit to William and Mary (Oct. 21-22) as WM GALA celebrated its 25th anniversary. 

As for the clubs, it seems that Black Friday is as busy as any other weekend night (despite people leaving for a long weekend).  At least, the Cobalt was packed by midnight.  I overheard a conversation about an ongoing effort to supply meals to protestors at Occupy DC. I don’t know the specifics, but it’s good to hear that this is going on. 

I still have memories of Dallas.  The JR's Club in Dallas is four times the size of the same in DC. But that.s Dallas, where real estate is cheaper. 

Top two pictures: Old Dominion University, Norfolk; sorry for the technical glitch in the upper picture.

Friday, November 25, 2011

LCR on "It gets better". You have to make your own reality

A Washington Blade viewpoint by two people connected to Log Cabin Republicans on anti-gay bullying in schools deserves careful attention. The authors are Robert Turner, president of the DC Chapter of LCR, and Mike Hubbard, on the DC LCR board, with title “How does it get better? The answer isn’t so simple”, with link here .  In print, the piece appears on p. 20 Nov. 18.

The authors point out that gay teens often cannot get the support of their parents, who may see a kid’s homosexuality as an unfavorable reflection on their own marriage, or at least as not part of their vision of the “good life” for their “family”.  This is a frank and blunt assessment, but all too true.  People are influenced by the cultural norms passed down to them, and do not know how to make moral judgments of their own. 

The authors say that if you want your life to get better,  you have to take ownership of it – a pretty libertarian, Cato-Institute-like idea.  Play sports, or perhaps chess (keep up with those openings!), or perform drama or music, or compose, or write.  “Create your own reality”, a phrase which someone once announced was the essence of witchcraft.  And a lot of people don’t seem to get the opportunity, or even have the smarts, to do just that.

One observation that strokes me is that anti-gay bullying in public schools is being reported more just as, for grownups, gains occur: the repeal of "don't ask don't tell" for gays in the military, and progress across the nation on gay marriage and even gay parents. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving at MCC Washington DC

Today, I visited MCC Washington (Metropolitan Community Church of Washington DC) for the first time since my mother’s passing at the end of 2010. 

Reverend Dwayne Johnson gave the message.

At 1 PM, we held a sit-down Thanksgiving dinner, pot luck.  But at least one turkey did not get a pardon.
One person was trying to recall the rules for table setting – it’s all in an Emily Post book from the 1940s, and our parents taught this to all of us.  But these days, many of us have a lot less formality in our lives.
We had a lot of discussion about not so much gay issues but the total ineptitude of our Congress, where partisanship keeps it from getting anything done at all.  That’s ironic in a year where DADT was finally formally repealed. 

In the early 1990s, the church built the current open-viewed building on Ridge St. in Shaw.  Rev. Larry Uhrig was the pastor then. Uhrig had run a paid editorial in the Blade “There is no better half” – on the importance of being one’s own person regardless of having a partner – that’s a message that doesn’t wear as well today in the retreat from hyperindividualism.  Uhrig would pass away at the end of 1993, and I remember his  memorial service at the Church on New Year’s Day 1994, when people from the Clinton administration came. 

Previously, the church had met in a row house on M Street.  I once played piano there for a couple services (being late once).  On the movies blog, Sept. 14, 2007, there is a review of a short film “415 M St” by Stephanie Slewka, that played in DC Shorts that month, about the old property. 

This past week’s Washington Blade (which I had missed until today because of the Texas trip) has a great op-ed by Kevin Naff, himself a Penn State alumus, on the scandal there, as well as coverage of the first Marine Corps ball with same-sex partners, and also of the political climate in Virginia. More to come.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In my Dallas revisit: I see that: both the Cathedral of Hope and First ("Southern") Baptist Church expand

Monday, while driving in downtown Dallas, I happened by the First Baptist Church of Dallas, originally established in 1890.  It may be one of the largest in the SBC, with over 4000 members.  Gay rights activists have derided it as the “First Southern Baptist Church”.  In more than one sermon at MCC Dallas in the 1980s, Rev. Don Eastman explained how the Baptist denomination had split over slavery and segregation.
In fact, I lived in Dallas from 1979-1988. When my parents visited in 1979, my father wanted to attend a service there, so we did. Pastor W. A. Criswell gave one of his 40 minute sermons.  

One Sunday night in late 1980, Criswell gave a radio sermon on homosexuality. As one can imagine, it was not very nice listening, given the values of the time. I remember his saying that he was befuddled by how it had become acceptable, and that it should fade into insignificance.  That’s a clue to how some people feel: that the freedom of others to live by very different psychological norms can deep-six their own ability to make and stay interested in lifelong marital sexual commitments.  “I can only do the right thing if you have to play by my rules.”  To an individualist, such an admission sounds like a character weakness. 

The FBC in downtown Dallas is undergoing enormous expansion.  The building dwarfs what dazzled me at Sunday’s visit to the Cathedral of Hope, which long since left MCC and since 2007 has been a congregation of the United Church of Christ.  While I was at COH Sunday, I saw some pictures of the history.  I hadn’t realized that the old MCC Dallas had left the property (with Butler building) in Oak Lawn on Reagan St (ironic) in 1989, shortly after I left Dallas. 

 Just above, MCC Dallas when I lived there; below, a modern picture of the Cathedral of Hope. 
 and, below, the new Chapel of Peace:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Why does the Dallas "gay crossroads" boom in a conservative city? (It's one of the largest in the nation)

When I lived in Dallas in the 1980s, Cedar Springs and Throckmorton in Oak Lawn was the “gay crossroads”.  The bars were Magnolia’s (to become The Roundup), JR’s, Village Station, and Throckmorton Mining Company, TMC.   The Crossroad’s Market was the gay retail and bookstore.

Today the intersection is one of the largest and most modern “gay crossroads” in the nation.  Much of it is owned by Caven Enterprises, still.  Everything looks brand new. JR’s is two adjoining properties (in Washington DC it is still just one, because local interests resist expansion of nightlife).  JR's has a balcony upstairs with an odd proximity to power lines, which could almost be touched, and are safe only for ungrounded mockingbirds.  If Hollywood needed to film a scene involving a risk like this, it would come to JR's.
Outdoors, there are a lot of obvious modernizations on the strip, and relocations, as well as new retail businesses.  "Everything is up to date in Dallas", not just Kansas City.

The TMC has moved, and the former TMC is Sue Ellen’s (from the character on the TV series “Dallas”).
SueEllen's is effectively the women's bar, and has a recital hall on the second floor (you could do a piano concert there). A "Lite Band" was there playing, with one of the musicians saying he wanted to play in G Minor.

The Village Station (aka Old Plantation) is now the S4, or Station 4, possibly based on the idea that in the Army the S4 is the quartermaster (in deference to repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell”). It is one of the largest and newest gay discos in the nation.
The Roundup is still where it was in the 80s, and, as a CW place (yes, probably with weeknight square dancing lessons, allemands and Virginia Reels included), the lights stay on.  The expansive look indoors when packed gives one the feeling of being in a movie set. Late at night, the bar sometimes switches back to Lady Gaga-type music, and the "dirty dancing", for about an hour, gets more aggressive and public and existential than anywhere else.

Why do are gay businesses in conservative Dallas (eg. Lawrence v. Texas and 21.06 repeal)?  One big reason, besides the large young professional and collegiate population of a major city, is that real estate prices are lower than in many other places.  There is more room, more land, more physical space. It costs less to build these spaces in cities like Dallas and Houston than in many other places, especially in Washington and New York.  Lower real estate prices in an area obviously benefit some businesses and some people, and the gay bar business is doing better probably because of the mortgage crisis and fall in real estate prices almost everywhere. The neighborhood between Oak Lawn and downtown has a lot of new condos (and streetcars) and looks to be in great shape.

By comparison, it costs $10-12 to park in a supervised lot in Dallas near the bars; in Washington DC it's $15-20.  

(note: url title of post has "book" instead of "boom" because of an initial typo.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Newt Gingrich has wanted to resume "asking" on military ban

"Newbie" and "oldboy" conservative GOP presidential candidate attracted bad attention with the fees he had charged Freddie Mac (after saying people like Barney Frank should go to jail over similar interests),

Gingrich reinforces the concern over a possible "un-repeal" of "don't ask don't tell" if one of several GOP candidates wins in 2012. For gays in the military, it would be like a Dec. 21 2012 pole shift.

In 1995, shortly after a midterm GOP Congress took over during the Clinton administration, Gingrich suggested going back to "asking" when people join the military.  I remember hearing the speech on my car radio as I pulled into an Arlington shopping center. Then, we heard people like PO Keith Meinhold have to make statements opposing "forced outings" which in fact often happened under "don't ask don't tell".

For those concerned about "family values" and filial responsibility, the story of Newt and his treatment of his cancer-stricken wife, analyzed by Justin Elliot in Salon recently, might be interesting, link.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dallas Cathedral of Hope pastor offers perspective on repeal of DOMA

The Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson, of the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, TX, now a congregation of the United Church of Christ, has an important commentary on the call for the repeal of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, link here.

She says that neither  house of Congress is likely to be able politically do to the right thing now. 

She also makes some acute comments on other areas, including not only the lifting of “don’t ask don’t tell”, but also gay parents and foster parents. She comments on the inability of unwillingness of school districts to control bullying. She also notes that in the minds of some (religious) people, homosexuality is “the only unforgiveable sin.”  It has also struck me, especially given some of my own history (the William and Mary expulsion often discussed in these blogs – see Oct. 22), that the historical preoccupation with homosexuality seems anomalous when compared to the rest of most of western moral teachings.  Most moral issues today have to do with making choices and dealing with the consequences of these choices when they affect other people directly.  Even though it may usually have a religious rationalization, ideas about gender conformity seem to have to do with a system of thought that requires everyone to “fit in” to a social structure, so that everyone else feels motivated to make and keep the common emotional commitments expected of them. 

The 2005 book by Paul Robinson, “Queer Wars: The New Gay Right and Its Critics” (University of Chicago Press” has an interesting analysis of this perspective, discussing Oxford’s John Finnis, and E. I. Patullo.  Robinson writes, on p 50:

"Homosexuality ... threatens the way straight couples need to understand the role of sex in their lives and its social implications. 'The deliberate genital coupling of persons of the sex is repudiated because  ... it treats human sexual capacities in a way which is deeply hostile to the self-understanding of those members of the community who are willing to commit themselves to real marriage in the understanding that the sexual joys are not mere instruments to, or mere compensations for, the accomplishment of marriage's responsibilities, but rather enable the spouses to actualize and experience their intelligent commitment to share in those responsibilities, in that genuine self-giving.' "

This may sound like a mouthful of words, but it seems to say something like, “I can’t do what I think I should do unless everyone else has to do the same thing.”

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Palo Duro canyon near Amarillo, TX  (Although in 1983, a state representative from Amarillo introduced one of the most antigay bills ever, HR 2138, trying to ban gays from everything after the advent of AIDS; I was living in Dallas at the time.)