Legal Stuff! DOMA, VRA, and Defending Scalia (which, gross)

One reason I changed the name and tone of this site a bit ago is that, while I have a lot of deeply-held convictions and strong opinions and am way more than happy to share them, I hate the idea that those things define a person, that they compel him to toe a certain line in all instances, that they make all those who disagree, however reasonably, the enemy. “The Cranky Lefty,” in the political meaning of it, might accurately describe my leaning and general disposition, but kind of signifies the opposite of anything I want to be, a myopic and closed-minded crusader who is too busy speaking to listen.

And Oh. My. God were there a lot of cranky lefties on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Continue reading

Celebrating the Homocalypse: My Post-Traditional-Marriage To-Do List

487576_10200982950486922_2109154223_nYesterday, the state senate of Minnesota — the state in which I was born and currently live — voted to approve a bill that, when Governor Dayton signs it today and it takes effect on August 1, will make Minnesota the twelfth state to legally recognize same-sex marriage.

It’s a really minor, minimalistic bill, when you look at it.  In the sentence “Marriage, so far as its validity in law is concerned, is a civil contract between a man and a woman,” those last five words are replaced with “two persons.” That’s pretty much it, with a few more deletions made for consistency, a few gender-neutralities, and a whole bunch of language added in to make sure everybody knows we’re not making any religious leaders do anything that violates their beliefs. That’s it, really; couple snips here, a few extra words there. And yet, its importance can’t really be overstated. Minnesota is doing a great thing today, extending a significant right to a group of people that’s been kept from it for way too long.

I’m happy, and I’m proud. Mostly, though, I’m excited, because from listening to the warnings from opponents of marriage equality, I know that I suddenly get to do a lot of completely awesome shit that I didn’t get to do a day ago. Here are six highlights (some of them kind of irreconcilably contradict each other, but that’s the way these things go):

  1. Well, I’m not married anymore, obviously. The group that sponsored the anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment that I was sure would pass just six short months ago (and that probably inadvertently created this whole glorious mess) is called “Minnesota for Marriage.” Now, Minnesota for Marriage exists to limit the availability of marriage strictly to the heteronormative majority, which seems downright Orwellian of them until you realize that what they’re really doing is attempting to protect marriage as an institution by opposing this only-ostensibly-nondisruptive addition to the definition. When we “redefine” marriage such that it applies to any two willing adults and does not depend on one of the two actors owning a vagina and the other a penis, MFM helpfully informed us many times over, it will mean the destruction of the entire institution of marriage altogether (just yesterday, they said it “upends our most foundational institution”). These brave people tried — and failed — to defend my marriage and yours from this insidious attack.
    And this seemed like a bad thing, at first, the total destruction of marriage. I mean, I love my wife and kids a lot, and there no longer being any marriage at all kind of complicates things there. But then again: Doritos and cupcakes for dinner! I’m gonna call this a win, provisionally, until I get a tummy ache or something.
  2. I’m pretty sure I can own a Christian now. This has been all about religious liberty, we’ve been told. Minnesota law already firmly prohibits discrimination by businesses, including discrimination based on sexual orientation. But, it didn’t previously allow for same-sex marriage, so a business that was unwilling to perform services relating to a same-sex couple’s wedding couldn’t have engaged in a prohibited form of discrimination, you see, because those weddings (and in some legal senses those couples) didn’t exist! So by extending equal rights to same-sex couples, Minnesota has viciously attacked religious liberty by acknowledging that one certain plainly discriminatory practice is in fact discriminatory. (And we’re not even forcing religious institutions themselves to do it, by the way, only for-profit businesses, like florists and cake decorators. Wait, we’re worried about anti-gay florists and cake decorators being forced to cater to gays? If only the gays had other options in those fields!)
    Clearly, this all-out assault on the Christian faith and way of life can only end in the full-on oppression and ultimate enslavement of some practitioners of the religion with which about 70% of Americans still identify. In other words, we’ve got gay marriage now, so I get to own my very own Christian!
    Now, I have my qualms about this. I’m very much a Christian myself, for instance (UCC), so that makes me feel a little uneasy about owning a brother or sister of the faith, and slavery as a principle is very two centuries ago. But I don’t make the rules, just take advantage of them; some closed-minded fundamentalist Christians previously were at liberty to hold bigoted and hateful opinions of homosexual individuals without having to deal with any potential consequences of that hatred in their businesses, and that may in some limited cases no longer be true; this apparently means that those Christians don’t have any liberties anymore at all, and we own them. Bit of a mixed bag, that, but I’m pretty sure I can make it work for me. I’ll be a kind master.
  3. We’re changing the definition of marriage that’s been in place for thousands of years. This is another one that’s a bit hard to give up. As a participant in a marriage that follows the rules established over thousands of years, I’ve enjoyed being able to freely use and enjoy concubines and to essentially be the only human in my household, dominating my wife and family in every possible way, but I’ll tell you, if I were ever to get married again, I could do without having to pay that substantial dowry. My wife can’t own any property separate from me, though, so I expect I’ll recoup my losses on the way out.
  4. I can literally fuck a duck. I mean, obviously.
  5. I can marry more than one person, or a child. I’m pretty happy with the wife I’ve got (1. above notwithstanding), but who couldn’t use an extra hand around the house? We’ve had a lot of electrical and plumbing problems, and neither of us is terribly organized; rather than calling in an all-purpose handyperson or maid and paying through the nose every time, I think maybe I’ll just marry one of each. And apparently, since two consenting adults who love each other but happen to have the same genitalia are absolutely no different from a creepy old guy who wants to marry “a consenting nine-year-old girl” (who is legally incapable of “consent” but nevermind that), minors are fair game? There’s a thirteen-year-old down the street who’d be a pretty great babysitter for my kids, but that costs a lot of money over time, so I’ll just marry him too.
  6. Next time I see a dude I kind of like, I can just decide to marry him. Some conjecture with this one, but given the fear and discomfort and defensiveness with which homophobic/hetero-supremacist bigots have greeted the otherwise totally neutral-to-them extension of the right to marry, I have to assume (as Jon Stewart did) that now that we’re allowing gay marriage, on some level gay marriage is mandatory. Like, if I see a guy, and I like him, he has to marry me. Single or attached, gay or straight; we’ve allowed same-sex marriage now, so that dude is mine. I think that’s how it works, anyway.
    And, I mean, I’ve never really been tempted before — I like women kind of a lot, it turns out — but now that I’m single and an owner of Christian people in this brave new hellbound world, you’d better believe I’m gonna be open to it. I’ll be on the lookout for guys with skills I don’t have (organization, carpentry, washboard abs) and high earning potential. You’re probably not attracted (you may view it as kind of like kidnapping at first, in fact) and neither am I, but we can make this civil contract work for us, dammit. We’re a gay-marryin’ society now, so we hafta!

And all that just scratches the surface of this post-religion, post-morality, orgiastic Sodomite utopia in which we Minnesotans now (effective August 1!) live. We have decided that any two adult people who love each other ought to receive the equal treatment under the law that is guaranteed them by the Constitution, you see, and that that Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the same suggests that individuals’ access to those rights ought not to be dictated by other individuals’ (or even a majority’s) religious beliefs.

And making those ostensibly commonsense decisions has doomed us. We’re all going straight to hell, and fast. But it sure sounds like fun. Now, who wants to go raise a child in mother-figure-less depravity?

Jason Collins, Gay Athletes, and Wearing Our Cookie Monster Pants

Cookie Monster PantsYou may or may not be a sports fan, but you are a Person On the Internet, so it’s pretty likely that you’ve heard at least something of the fact that yesterday, we were finally introduced to the first active, openly gay professional athlete in any of the U.S.’ four major men’s team sports when journeyman NBA center Jason Collins came out via a must-read Sports Illustrated article.

It’s such a great story, and so important in so many ways. No one’s sexuality should ever matter to anyone else with whom that first person is not currently shacking up, but the fact is that it does matter to a lot of people, and it matters a lot in the world of professional men’s sports, which until very recently has been (and in many ways probably still is) among our most backward, old-guard, dudes-just-bein’-dudes institutions. You take disciplines that by and large tend to draw from the religious and the less-than-totally-invested-in-education, you add in the closeness and camaraderie inherent in professional team sports and the communal locker rooms, and you’re going to get a lot of across-the-board, identity-repressing, literally homophobic (as in, actually afraid of any appearance of gayness) norms and unwritten rules and behavior. That’s not in any way to excuse it, that’s just how it’s been; as the rest of our society has moved, and moved quickly, toward acceptance of others regardless of sexual identity or orientation, men’s professional sports has lagged way, way, way behind. Since it’s also one of the leading sources (and perhaps the leading source) of role models for men and especially youth, this has been a pretty huge problem.

That’s started to change lately, partly because no one can be immune from societal pressures forever and partly because of great work by a few pro athletes, like football players Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo. But you can read a lot more about that today in a lot of other places. I’m interested in focusing on a particular reaction to the news, that of professional basketball player and crazy person Metta World Peace (MWP):

Whether this is a free country or not, you should be free to act and do what you want to do, you know, as long as it’s not violent. No matter what it is. I came here in a Cookie Monster shirt, you know, because I wanted to. I was gonna wear the pants, but I thought you guys would judge me. I was gonna wear the hat, too, but I figured you guys would judge me. And I don’t want Mitch [Kupchak, the Lakers’ GM] to judge me. That’s why I didn’t wear the hat and the pants.

Okay, so the first part suggests that maybe MWP thinks we live in something other than a free country, and I don’t think I’m on board with that, and there is a certain something about this “hey, anything goes” response that rubs me the wrong way, like being gay is just as crazy and out there (and as much of a personal choice) as wearing a full-on head-to-toe Cookie Monster uniform. That, I’m not okay with. Put those little nagging senses (and anything you might know about MWP’s history) aside for a second.

Because regardless, distilled down to the basic essence of it, I really fucking love this. I have tried and I have failed to think of a better metaphorical symbol for being openly oneself, for letting one’s freak flag fly, for doing as one feels moved to do so long as that’s respectful of others, and for respecting others’ own choices in doing the same than wearing one’s Cookie Monster Pants. 

It’s absolutely perfect. Whoever you are, whatever you do for a living — even you writers living at home in your pajamas — there’s a pretty good chance that literally wearing Cookie Monster pants all day would at some point get you some funny looks, maybe be a bit uncomfortable. And so what? You’re not hurting anybody. If wearing Cookie Monster Pants is what you want to do, then by God, you should wear those damn pants.

I don’t need to spell it out for you here, do I? Because at some point I’m going to start sounding like a straight white guy who is telling you that the struggles of the LGBTQIA community and other minorities or disadvantaged groups are as trivial and easily solved as deciding whether to wear some goofy pants in public. That’s certainly not the point at all, of course, and what Jason Collins did yesterday took an incredible amount of courage, was nothing short of heroic. All I’m saying is that that’s the world I’d sure like to live in, where we’re all totally free to wear our Cookie Monster Pants with pride, whatever that may mean to us.

Trite and simplistic? Sure. Making way too much out of a throwaway quote from one maybe-actually-insane basketball player? Definitely. I don’t care. I love it. I don’t even know what that concept means for me personally, really, but I want to find out, and I want to wear those pants every damned day.

Should the Word “Homophobia” Stick Around?

Last week, a friend of mine on Facebook (who happens to be gay) opined that we should retire the term “homophobia.” His argument was that no one except folks who are closeted themselves actually fears homosexuals or homosexuality, as is suggested by “phobia.” Rather, he argued, people who might otherwise be labeled homophobes should be termed “heterosexual supremacists,” which more accurately identifies their position.

And I see where he’s coming from. There’s a lot of that: people who are opposed to homosexuality, but for whom “fear” is certainly the wrong term. People who feel they deserve more rights than gays do because they’re just better people. I’m with my friend there: as loaded as “heterosexual supremacists” is, it works for them. That’s just what they are.

However, there are plenty in the same-sex marriage “debate” (quotes necessary) who will tell anyone who will listen that they have nothing but love and respect for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation; that they just want this thing called “marriage” to remain the way it’s been for the last several hundred years. And I believe them, or some of them. Some of them (I know a few) have gay friends they legitimately adore, and I’m sure many have gay family members who they love and cherish (in their own ways). They’re probably basically good people, by and large, people who legitimately love all their neighbors, et cetera, but they’re just tied to their own myopic interpretation of the Bible, or their church’s, or some similar sense of tradition or morality or whatever. I don’t think these people are “supremacists” of any stripe. They don’t actually want anyone to have fewer rights than they do. They just don’t view it as a “rights” issue at all.

And that’s why I think the word “homophobia” still has its place. Because if that describes you, you’re not a heterosexual supremacist, but you sure are scared. You’re scared as hell.

The Bible has plenty to say on what foods to eat and avoid, on observing the Sabbath, on the rightful respective places of women and men and so  forth, and there are plenty of believers out there who more or less hold to them; yet, none of those believers are trying to legislate those faith-specific mores into every other U.S. citizen’s daily life. Almost every Christian would agree that adultery is sinful, but you don’t see a lot of call to (re-)criminalize unfaithfulness. The thing is, you can believe in the Bible (I do, though a different version of it than most seem to), and you can preach it, and you can do everything you can to change people’s minds with it, but you owe it to your country not to vote with it. This doesn’t get talked about much (and many believers might reflexively disagree with that statement), but in practice, that’s generally the way it works. We’re not a Christian country, and people of faith are generally incentivized to convert others through reaching their hearts andor minds, not through legal coercion. You can see it in the examples above. Even in the abortion debate, there’s a religious element to it, but at bottom the pro-life argument seems generally to come down to the basically secular idea that you’re talking about killing a baby and that that’s just not okay. Religion certainly informs people’s politics, but it’s really almost never the whole basis for them.

This — gay rights, and same-sex marriage specifically — is apparently a different thing, though, because this is just the way it’s always been, and because “marriage” is a word that happens to apply both to the government-sanctioned privilege and to a number of different religious rituals. And if you’re opposed to the idea of making the change that’d grant the right to enter into the government version to everyone, and you don’t actively hate and want to oppress homosexuals, then the only possible conclusion is that you’re scared. Scared of change, in a blanket sort of fashion. Scared that letting two people who want to bind themselves to each other and call it “marriage” just like any other two people get to will somehow lead to the downfall of our society or the end of morality as we know it. Scared that anything that appears to encourage or legitimize gayness means that your children or your spouse or you are going to Catch The Gay. Scared (despite all the evidence to the contrary) that gay marriage’s legality is going to force your church and your pastor to perform those marriages, contrary to your faith.

If you’ve ever said “they can have all their rights in civil unions, just don’t call it ‘marriage,'” you’re afraid of something. If you’ve ever made any reference to “protecting” or “defending” “traditional marriage,” as though granting equal rights and dignity to two people who love each other could possibly have any effect on your own marriage, or your hetero friends’ or your children’s or any other group of consenting adults’? You may or may not be a bigot, may or may not hate the gays, may or may not be a heterosexual supremacist. You’ve sure as hell got some fears, and they’re most certainly the kinds of manic, non-reality-based types of fears generally associated with the term “phobia.” You’re homophobic. I like that word (I mean, I hate what it represents, but it’s a fairly descriptive term). And I think we need that word, and that we will as long as those kinds of ugly, utterly baseless fears hang around.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as Minneapolis Star Tribune poll of 800 individuals suggests that my home state, which in November became one of the first four to reject an anti-gay measure by popular vote, was still not ready to accept the legalization of same-sex marriage.  It’s pretty depressing, as are the quotes in that piece (though notably, for “momentum” reasons: all the worst quotes come from individuals in their mid-sixties or older). For whatever the reason, a vote against legalizing marriage for everyone is a vote to deprive someone else of a right you have — to marry the person you love. There are no arguments against that, and no religious beliefs or moral qualms, no matter how deep they may run, that justify voting that way.

Thankfully, it’s out of the public’s hands, and in its elected officials’. The courts, and to a much smaller extent the legislatures, exist specifically for these kinds of situations (among many other things, of course): where there’s one obvious right answer benefiting a minority and the majority hasn’t come around on it yet, for whatever reason, those branches of our government have the power and the duty to make that one right answer the one upon which our laws are based. I’ve got a lot of hope that they’ll do that. It’s the way the country is going, and I don’t think it can be stopped at this point (or at least I hope it can’t, of course); it just can’t happen fast enough. Homophobia is dying (and so is hetero supremacism), but sure ain’t dead yet.