On Rod Dreher and the Futility of Arguing

I read something like this about same-sex marriage and my mind just boggles:

Civilization was made possible by controlling and channeling sexual desire, and harnessing it to a framework that makes for stable communities. My side believes that the liberation of sexual desire that this culture has embraced, and the obliteration of the traditional family as the ideal, will in time have devastating consequences for us all. There is no institution more important to conserve than the family. As has been widely acknowledged by our side, heterosexuals have done a terrible job of living out our convictions. Even we Christians have internalized the Sexual Revolution to an appalling degree. Nevertheless, normalizing SSM really is the Rubicon on all this, because from our point of view, it fundamentally changes the definition of marriage and the family, and with it, definitively topples the cultural authority of Christianity, which was the basis for Western civilization after the fall of Rome. That’s not nothing. This matters. 

How does one even begin to argue with someone, like Rod Dreher, who thinks this way? I guess you can’t. Logic doesn’t work, because a person’s beliefs are a product of one’s own psychology, one’s own biochemistry, one’s own history, and those are deep-rooted and powerful things. It’s like thinking all you need to do is repair a patch in the ceiling, and realizing you actually need to tear the whole house down to fix the problem.

Anyway, to counter Dreher: he really thinks that letting five percent of the population get married is what will “topple the cultural authority of Christianity”? Does he not realize that centuries of epochal change in our understanding of the universe and ourselves have already toppled it? Galileo, Newton, evolution, the germ theory of disease, Freud, brain science, the whole scientific revolution — no, apparently gay marriage is the Rubicon, the final straw.


I don’t understand how someone who is intelligent can think this way. It’s not like Dreher is some rube who can’t string sentences together. He can obviously write and he’s obviously smart. But his world view is so thoroughly different from my own that I wouldn’t even know how to begin to convince him.

I used to think logical argument could be enough to change people’s minds. Eventually I learned that it doesn’t always work.

It’s discouraging. But I guess we just have to work around people like him.

The Next Marriage Debate

We seem to have moved into a new phase of the marriage equality movement. Gay couples will probably be able to marry nationwide by the end of this decade, perhaps even before Obama leaves office. The people arguing for public discrimination — that is, discrimination by the government — have repeatedly lost in court; there have been no anti-equality court decisions since the Supreme Court overturned DOMA section 3 in U.S. v. Windsor last summer.

Having lost the debate over public discrimination, opponents of equality have moved on — or retreated — to arguing for the right to private discrimination, couched as “religious liberty”: the right of bakers, photographers, florists, and so on, to refuse to provide services for same-sex weddings. First the opponents feared that churches would be forced to marry gay couples, but most of them soon realized this was ridiculous, since the First Amendment prevents the government from forcing churches to perform particular religious services. So they moved on from defending religious institutions to defending businesses owned by religious individuals.

That’s a murkier issue. Whether private businesses have the right to discriminate is something on which I haven’t completely made up my mind. My gut and my heart firmly oppose such discrimination; I don’t see why a private business has any more right to discriminate against gay couples than it has the right to discriminate against a particular race. If you choose to enter the public marketplace, you must play by public rules. Adults should know that they can’t always do what they want. It’s the price for being a member of society.

But part of me can see the other side. Photography and baking and flower arranging are not just business practices; they are also forms of artistic, personal expression, expressions of one’s selfhood. And if someone really, truly opposes gay weddings, should we make that person take part in such a wedding?

It would be a simple question if the only issue were liberty. The photographer’s liberty is at stake here; the gay couple’s is not. A photographer’s refusal to take pictures doesn’t affect the gay couple’s freedom to get married. It does affect the photographer’s freedom to choose clients. If liberty is the only issue, the photographer should be able to say no.

But liberty is not the only issue. Equality is important, too. Liberty and equality are both cherished American principles, but they often conflict. When it comes to race, we realize this. Few people except Rand Paul these days would publicly defend the freedom of businesses to deny service to blacks. We believe that people should be treated equally in marketplace.

Why do some of us, even some of us who are gay, struggle more with the right to deny service to gay couples? Is it internalized homophobia? Are we too used to walking on eggshells? Are we trying too hard to be magnanimous, generous, taking too much care not to offend others, even those who spent decades opposing our human rights?

All I know is, it’s a harder question than the simple one of whether we should be free to marry. But that doesn’t mean the question isn’t answerable.

It’s okay for a healthy democracy to discuss these things. In a way, it makes me happy, because it’s just another sign that we’ve already won.

The End of DOMA, and Being Haunted

When I was 11 or 12 years old I realized I had a terrible secret. I was attracted to other boys. I would develop these intense crushes: a handsome black-haired classmate in middle school, a kid at sleepaway camp the summer I was 12. I wasn’t sure what I was feeling; all I knew was that I felt it, and nobody else did. There was something wrong with me. I tried not to worry about it too much; I just hoped that it was temporary, and that at some point before I became an adult it would go away and I could be normal and get married. But I continued on through middle school and into high school, and it didn’t go away. I started to worry. I decided I must be cursed. My life already seemed bad enough: I was a nerdy, grade-skipping outcast, and yet not academically perfect enough to please my parents. And I hated my Jewish afro hair. On top of all that, why did there have to be this? Why did this alien presence choose to infect me and make me fall in love with boys?

It was the mid-/late 1980s. All I knew about gay people was that they got AIDS and went to hospitals where they wasted away and died. I remember once I heard my mom refer to someone derisively as a “frustrated homosexual.” And one day I came across a copy of a book called Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask). It was published in 1969, and it said horrible things about gay people. I didn’t want to turn out like the people in that book. I became even more terrified.

At 19 I told my parents I liked guys. They got mad and said it was not acceptable. So a couple of days later I went back in the closet, to them and to myself. Then I had five agonizing years of mental gymnastics as I tried to figure out what I was, until finally, at age 24, I decided, fuck this — it’s never going away, this is who I am, and I just want to be happy. So I stopped agonizing, accepted that I was gay, started dating and having sex, and the next year, at age 25, I told my parents that I was sure this time, that I really was gay. They were very upset for a few weeks. It was painful for me. But they eventually came around.

Since yesterday morning, when the Supreme Court struck down section 3 of DOMA, I’ve been thinking a lot about my past — mourning it, in fact. I’ve been wondering if I would have been a happier, less scared kid if I’d grown up in a country where gay people could get married, where I could have read an opinion by a justice of the United States Supreme Court recognizing the dignity not just of gay couples’ relationships but of gay couples’ marriages, where my country’s government treated those marriages with the same respect they treated my parents’ marriage and my aunt and uncle’s marriage and my grandparents’ marriage and the marriages of every other adult I knew. I wonder if my parents would have been more accepting of me if they’d raised me in that world. I wonder if they would have thrown away that old book. I wonder if I would have come out sooner, started dating sooner, had sex sooner, gotten more relationship experience sooner.

I’m so envious of gay kids today, and gay teenagers, and gay college students, and gay people in their 20s, for living in a different world from the one I grew up in, just as I’m sure many older gay men are envious of me for growing up post-Stonewall and coming of age in an era when the world knew already about HIV and how to protect ourselves from it. Just as every generation is envious of people who are younger than them.

I was already 22 and out of college when the Supreme Court first spoke up for gay rights in Romer v. Evans. I was already 29 when the Court first said in Lawrence v. Texas that I have dignity as a gay man. I was 37 when the state where I lived said I could get married. Now I’m 39, and I’m getting married to Matt in a few months, and my national government will treat us the same way they treat every other married couple.

In a way it feels very scary and “adult.” We’ve been able to get married for the last two years, but it always seemed like it would be somehow pretend, like playing at marriage: “skim-milk marriage,” as Justice Ginsburg wonderfully put it. But now we’ll be filing taxes jointly, and be eligible for spousal Social Security benefits, and have all the federal as well as state responsibilities of marriage, just like my parents, and my brother and his wife, and Matt’s parents, and all the straight married couples we know. Just like everyone else.

The Supreme Court’s decision yesterday was not the end. Thirty-seven states still tell gay couples they can’t get married. But we are closer to justice than we were yesterday. I see it as one of those pictures where your perception shifts between positive and negative space. Before yesterday, there were 12 islands of marriage equality in a vast sea. But now there are 37 islands of marriage discrimination. Now that the U.S. government recognizes same-sex marriages, the discriminatory states are the outliers, no matter how many there are. That shift in perception is crucial.

I’m happy I’m still young enough to live in this world. I’m happy I’m going to get married.

And I’m happy for all those gay kids who get to grow up in a different world from the one I grew up in.

Thoughts Before the Supreme Court Rules

Getting my thoughts down before the Supreme Court releases its decisions on DOMA and Prop 8 in just over an hour.

I slept badly last night. I fell asleep around 11:30, woke up around 3 a.m., took a four-hour sleeping pill but didn’t actually fall back asleep for another 40 minutes, then woke up again at 5:30. (So much for modern medicine.)

At least we know it’s coming this morning. That’s better than the last few days of watching and waiting.

It’s been a nutty 24 hours in American politics. The Voting Rights Act got eviscerated and Texas almost effectively outlawed abortion last night. I wish the United States were a normal country.

I feel a little selfish that I’m worried about DOMA when I have friends in California who can’t even get married in the first place. But Prop 8 is toast no matter what happens — if not now, then in the next couple of years via the ballot. Which is a long time to wait, but not as long as we’ll have to wait to get rid of DOMA if the Supreme Court does nothing about it this morning. The gerrymandered Republican House means that DOMA isn’t going away anytime in this decade without judicial intervention. A skim-milk marriage is better than no marriage — but we deserve full equality. I will be extremely sad if the Court lets DOMA stand.

The last day has reminded me that we live in a deeply flawed country in an imperfect world. But I still have hope that no matter what happens today, things will eventually turn out right. It will require work. But things will work out.

Still, Justices of the Supreme Court: do the right thing this morning.

Is Being Gay a Choice?

Today the Delaware Senate is debating marriage equality. According to Twitter, some anti-gay senator or witness brought up the old canard that being gay is a choice.

This is such an old, tired, beaten-to-death topic that it’s not even worth writing about. But I will.

First of all, shouldn’t we gay people be the prime authority as to whether being gay is a choice? We’ve said time and again that it’s not a choice. None of us chose to be gay; we just are gay. But apparently we can’t be trusted to know whether we actually chose it or not. Because we’re, I don’t know… mentally ill? Pathological liars? Brainwashed by imaginary gay central headquarters? Who knows. Even those who are professedly neutral and say things like “science is unclear on whether being gay is a choice” are insulting us. Is being gay a choice? Just freaking ask us. The answer is no.

I think the problem is one of language ambiguity. Being gay means, in most cases, “being exclusively (or almost exclusively) attracted to people of the same sex.” But some people mistakenly think that “being gay” means “having gay sex.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if many of these people are themselves fighting homosexual urges. They tell themselves that as long as they don’t act on their urges, they’re not gay. Therefore, in their universe, “being gay” only means “having gay sex.” Because if “being gay” means “being attracted to people of the same sex,” they’d have to admit that they were gay.

These are probably the same people who think that if society becomes more accepting of same-sex marriage, everyone is going to turn gay and get gay-married and nobody will reproduce anymore and the human population will die out. They think that everyone else has secret gay urges just like they do.

Finally: even if we defined “being gay” as “having gay sex,” and therefore “being gay” was a choice, so what? Religion is a choice. Fine, that’s specially protected by the First Amendment, so also: masturbation is a choice. Heterosexual sodomy is a choice. Extramarital sex is a choice. Who cares?

But it’s not a choice in the first place. I wish that canard would stop quacking already.

The DOMA Oral Arguments

When Matt and I get married this fall, will we just have a skim-milk marriage? Or will our country’s government treat us equally?

Today’s oral arguments in the DOMA case leave me cautiously optimistic — moreso than yesterday’s Prop 8 arguments. There seems to be a consensus among the experts that DOMA Section 3 is doomed, precisely and only because Justice Kennedy evidently believes that it violates the power of states to define marriage. Only four justices (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan) appear willing to overturn it on grounds of equal protection; Kennedy would provide the crucial fifth vote.

Roberts and Scalia also brought up federalism, but in a curious way. They asked: if the federal government is not allowed to exclude same-sex couples from the federal definition of marriage, does that mean it’s not allowed to include them, either? Wouldn’t that, too, violate states’ rights to define marriage? And if it is okay for the federal government to include them, then why isn’t it okay for the federal government to exclude them?

It was an odd perversion of the principle of federalism. The answer to their question requires asking: what’s the point of federalism in the first place?

Federalism is usually seen not as an end in itself, but as a vehicle to protect individual liberty — usually, negative liberty (“freedom from X”). How does it violate principles of liberty for the federal government to extend federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples? In other words, how does that interfere with anybody’s rights? On the other hand, when the federal government withholds those benefits from same-sex couples, as it does right now, it restricts positive liberty. (More here.) Our government was structured in such a way as to further certain principles, but Scalia and Roberts sounded like they were more interested in sophistic thought games than in the real-life implications of DOMA on these principles.

I thought Roberts, for one, would be more skeptical of DOMA, and I’m kind of disappointed in him. I guess the health care got all of our hopes up.

Then there was Alito, who twisted the principle of equal protection. Alito raised concerns that getting rid of DOMA would itself cause equal protection problems: what if a surviving same-sex spouse in New York doesn’t have to pay estate taxes because New York recognizes same-sex marriage, but a spouse in North Carolina does, because North Carolina doesn’t recognize those marriages? Doesn’t that raise equal protection concerns, he asked?

The answer is: isn’t that North Carolina’s fault, because it doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, rather than the federal government’s fault, since the federal government just defers to state definitions of marriage? Why wouldn’t the remedy be to shield all surviving same-sex spouses nationwide from the estate tax, rather than make all of them pay it? It seems odd and cruel to say that it’s better not to provide benefits to any married same-sex couples rather than provide benefits to all of them. It basically holds couples who live in same-sex marriage states hostage to all the other states. How is that okay?

Despite Alito’s questions, I still see him as a possible vote to strike down DOMA. Maybe not very likely, but still possible.

Thomas, of course, said nothing. But I wonder if he, too, might strike down DOMA on federalism grounds. I’m not counting on it, but not totally ruling it out either.

So that leaves the four liberals plus Kennedy. States’ rights isn’t the reason I’d prefer for striking down DOMA, but I’d certainly take it.

And now the long three-month wait to see whether Matt and I get to have a whole-milk marriage.

The Prop 8 Oral Arguments

Some quick, pre-seder thoughts on today’s oral arguments in the Prop 8 case:

As I wrote the other day, the DOMA case is more personally relevant to me than the Prop 8 case. I already live in a state with marriage equality, and at this point, the only way DOMA will be overturned is if the Supreme Court does it. Due to partisan gerrymandering, we won’t have a Democratic House of Representatives for a while, and no GOP-controlled House is going to vote to get rid of it. No matter what happens with the Prop 8 case, it seems clear that it’s going to disappear one way or another in the next four years. Four years is still a long time to those who can’t get married, but without judicial intervention, Prop 8 will disappear much sooner than DOMA will.

That said, today’s oral arguments in the Prop 8 case were frustrating to listen to and read. Some of the justices just don’t get it.

There was Scalia, snidely and passive-aggressively asking Ted Olson exactly when it became unconstitutional to deny gay couples the right to get married. Olson smartly parried with his own question: when did it become unconstutional to deny interracial couples the right to get married? Scalia was just beating his dead horse that the Constitution never changes. I’d like to ask Scalia: exactly when did it become unconstitutional to discriminate against women?

Then there was Scalia (again) saying that we don’t know whether it’s a good thing for children to be raised by same-sex couples, even though all respectable social science has shown that it makes no damn difference what the genders of the parents are. Is it a good thing or a bad thing for kids to be raised by interracial couples? Is it a good or a bad thing for kids to be raised by Jews who live in Christian neighborhoods? Is it a good or bad thing for kids to be raised by couples who are in any way different from everyone else?

That’s my biggest problem with opponents of marriage equality. Don’t they realize that thousands of gay couples are already raising children, married or not? And if these justices have a problem with marriage equality because it might lead to more kids being raised by same-sex couples, why don’t they have a problem with civil unions, which supposedly already provide all the rights and protections of marriage, because after all, marriage is just a “label”?

Then there was Alito, saying that we need to be careful because same-sex marriage is newer than cellphones or the internet, like that makes any difference when we’re talking about love and commitment and human rights.

I was discouraged by Kennedy, who didn’t seem to want to buy the Ninth Circuit’s argument that was tailored implicitly for him. Maybe the Ninth Circuit was too clever by half.

I was most of all discouraged by Chief Justice Roberts, who seemed as skeptical of marriage equality as the other right-wingers.

Oral arguments are not necessarily indicative of the final decision (just ask Roberts about the health care case). And it seems very possible that the Court could overturn Prop 8 through inaction, either by letting the Ninth Circuit decision stand or by dismissing the case for lack of standing. But the tone of the questions discouraged me.

Perhaps things will go differently tomorrow in the DOMA hearing, when federalism arguments will take prominence. I imagine someone will ask about what happens if a Mississippi couple decides to get married in New York, because it has no residency requirement, and then goes back home to Mississippi: will the couple have a marriage that is recognized for federal purposes but not for state purposes, and how is that more complicated than having a marriage that is recognized for state purposes but not for federal purposes? The answer is that far more couples get married in their home states than go forum-shopping for marriage. But the justices like to poke and prod at the issues, so the question could come up.

I don’t know. I’m just going to take a deep breath and remember that none of us can predict anything.

The Supreme Court and Prop 8

On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama was elected president and California passed the unconscionable Proposition 8. Four years later, Barack Obama has been re-elected, but the legal status of same-sex couples in California remains in limbo.

And that limbo continues for at least several more months, because today the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear the Prop 8 case.

This is a surprise, at least to me. It was nearly certain the Court would choose to hear one of the DOMA Section 3 cases, but it wasn’t certain what they would do about Prop 8. The issue before the Court with Section 3 of DOMA is potentially narrow: whether the federal government must recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who were legally married in states that allow it. This wouldn’t have any effect on states that discriminate against same-sex couples with regard to marriage. The issue before the Court with Prop 8 is, potentially, more sweeping: whether any state in the country has the right to prevent same-sex couples from marrying.

That’s not the way the Prop 8 case came up to the Court from the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit struck down Prop 8 on narrow reasoning: that once a state grants same-sex couples the right to marry, it can’t then take that right away. The only state where those circumstances are relevant is California, so the decision got the job done on as narrow grounds as possible in order to prevent being overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the U.S. Supreme Court can rule as broadly or as narrowly as it wishes on case before it. For instance, in the Citizens United case, the parties came to the Supreme Court on a pretty narrow issue: whether “electioneering communications” — in that instance, a political documentary — could be prohibited from airing on TV within 30 days of a primary election. But the Court decided, on its own accord, to broadly overturn a century of campaign finance law.

The Court can do one of several things in the Prop 8 case. It could rule that:

(1) The U.S. Constitution guarantees that same-sex couples have the right to get married. This would be a sweeping ruling that would probably lead to renewed calls for a constitutional amendment allowing states to discriminate against same-sex couples. Such an amendment would not likely get the 2/3 congressional majority it would need in order to be passed to the states, but there could be “massive resistance” in some states (let’s say, the southern states), where government officials may simply refuse to marry same-sex couples. This is the least likely ruling.

(2) Same-sex couples have no constitutional right to get married. States are free to allow it, but they don’t have to. In other words, we’d have the status quo, and marriage equality would continue its state-by-state progression. In 2016, there would probably be a ballot initiative in California to overturn Prop 8, and it would probably pass.

(3) The opponents of Prop 8 lack standing to argue the case. Interestingly, the Court directed the parties to brief this question. After Judge Walker struck down Prop 8, the state of California refused to appeal the case to the Ninth Circuit; Prop 8’s opponents asked the Ninth Circuit if they could argue it instead. The Ninth Circuit ruled, on the advice of the California Supreme Court, that it could. But the U.S. Supreme Court could find that the Prop 8 opponents are not a party to the case, in which case the Ninth Circuit’s Prop 8 ruling would be invalidated. It’s not clear what would happen then – would Judge Walker’s broad decision remain in effect? Or would it only apply to the couples who actually argued the case?

(4) Prop 8 is unconstitutional, but only because of the circumstances specific to California. In other words, it could affirm the Ninth Circuit’s decision.

I’m not sure the Court will do this. To be honest, the Ninth Circuit’s decision was a little disingenuous. The Ninth Circuit reached the right decision — that Prop 8 is unconstitutional — but it was a bit too clever. It doesn’t really make sense that the constitutional right to marry depends on whether a couple previously had the right to marry or not. The court, citing Romer v. Evans, says that taking away a pre-existing right is evidence of animus, and that animus is not a valid reason for taking away a right. But the people who didn’t want gay couples to get married after Prop 8 are the same people who didn’t want gay couples to get married before Prop 8. Why was it animus to believe so after Prop 8 passed, but not before? It doesn’t make sense, and I suspect a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court agrees, no matter how they feel about the substantive right at issue.

Then again, the Ninth Circuit did base its ruling on Romer, which said this very thing. So it’s possible that Kennedy (who wrote Romer) along with Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan could uphold the Ninth Circuit’s ruling using Romer as precendent.

But why would it do so? Why not just refuse to hear the case and let the Ninth Circuit’s decision stand? It takes four votes for the Supreme Court to hear a case, and we have no idea which justices voted to hear this one. If it was the four conservatives, perhaps they think they can win Kennedy over. Or Kennedy himself, who, for good and for ill, doesn’t seem to know the meaning of judicial restraint, might have voted to hear the case in order to put the Court’s own stamp on things. We have no way of knowing.

All we know for sure is that same-sex couples in California have been on a roller coaster over the last four years. Their hopes have been raised and dashed repeatedly. Last week it seemed that Prop 8 might soon be in history’s dustbin; the same seemed true earlier today. Instead, these couples will have to wait for justice until at least the end of June.

And justice delayed is justice denied.

Obama Endorses Marriage Equality

So Obama has finally endorsed marriage equality.

I will admit, I was totally surprised by this. We all knew he was doing an interview today and that he’d likely be asked about this topic, but I figured he’d continue weasel-wording his way through it as he’s done in the past. I was in no way expecting him to say that he supports marriage equality.

But on second thought, it doesn’t seem like as big a deal as I first thought it did.

I mean, yes, it’s great to hear him say it. His views had been “evolving” for a long time. But did anyone really think he didn’t deep down support marriage equality? He stated back in 1996 that he supported it. Then he became a national figure and he backtracked. But his administration has refused to defend DOMA. Now Obama himself has finally come out of the closet in favor of it, and it’s nice to hear him finally say so.

But he said that he still supports letting states decide the issue on their own.

So it’s not like his words are going to translate into further action.

Some people think Obama acted cowardly by waiting until after North Carolina voted on Amendment One yesterday. But would his words really have made a difference there? As Ezra Klein pointed out a few weeks ago in the New Yorker, presidential rhetoric rarely moves the ball.

And maybe I’m just a worrier, but I’m concerned that this will get the religious zealots out to the polls in November. Until now they were lukewarm about Mitt Romney. Now they have a reason to go out and vote for him. On the other hand, Romney was always probably going to pick a Christian fundamentalist as his running mate anyway. Probably.

And yet I don’t think Obama would have lost anything by continuing to play the game about “evolving.” I think it might have been politically smarter to hold to that position until after the election. I guess we’ll see.

I still think what he said is significant — not because his words will have an effect in and of themselves, but because if the President of the United States can come out in favor of marriage equality, it shows how mainstream the issue has become.

New NJ Marriage Lawsuit

Today Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit in New Jersey seeking marriage equality. Here’s the complaint.

In 2006, in response to a previous lawsuit, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the state had to provide equal treatment to gay and straight couples, but it left it up to the state legislature to decide whether this would come in the form of civil unions or marriage. The legislature chose civil unions. Now Lambda has sued the state, arguing that civil unions are not good enough and that only marriage will provide equality.

The complaint sets forth the reasons why civil unions aren’t good enough. Skip ahead to page 16 (paragraph 30) for some specific ways in which gay New Jersey couples in civil unions have experienced inequality even though civil unions supposedly provide equality. Complications have come up in hospital emergencies, in funeral homes, in the context of insurance benefits, and in other areas.

It’s interesting: right now, New Jersey treats gay couples better than New York does, but in a few weeks, New York will leap ahead of New Jersey, and New Jersey will be the inferior state.

Here’s hoping New Jersey follows New York’s lead.

Online Marriage Debates

someone is wrong on the internet

I’ve been debating marriage equality today on a conservative website during some free moments. There was a time when I used to do more of this, but I gave up a long time ago, because (1) life is too short for the unpleasantness and stress that comes from experiencing the vitriol of people who don’t want you to have equal rights; (2) I got tired of saying the same things over and over again to different people; and (3) our side started winning in the court of public opinion. Still, for some reason I felt like doing it today.

There are many problems with trying to debate people online. The biggest problem is that you’re arguing with a disembodied entity. People who engage in online debates tend to forget that they’re arguing with fellow human beings, so there’s a certain amount of empathy and politeness missing. It’s easy to be nasty when you forget that the person you’re arguing with is an actual person.

And it’s not just that people forget they’re arguing with human beings; they forget that they’re arguing about human beings. It’s a lot easier to make silly arguments that gay people are trying to bring down society and are just being selfish little pricks when you don’t know any actual gay people. Human beings are not abstractions; we have desires, and interests, and hobbies, and friends, and hopes, and dreams, and thoughts, and feelings, and pasts.

And the problem works both ways. Sometimes no amount of logical argument will change someone’s mind. Sometimes it helps to try and understand where the other person is coming from and why they feel a certain way rather than fruitlessly try and “win the argument” right now. But on the internet, you have no idea whether you’re arguing with a 55-year-old guy with lots of life experience or a snotty college student who’s not as smart or worldly as he thinks he is. I might use different tactics with each person. But on the internet, that’s usually not possible. This is still one of my most fulfilling moments in more than 10 years of blogging, but it’s very rare.

So why bother? Well, maybe other people are lurking, and maybe they’ll be convinced by what you say. Or maybe those lurkers agree with you and they can use your arguments in other places.

Generally I find it’s not worth it. On rare occasions, like today, I just feel like it. But often I’d much rather have a discussion than a debate, and that’s not really possible in many places online.

Marriage Equality in New York

It’s been a long road to marriage equality in New York State.

Five years ago next month, the New York Court of Appeals ruled in Hernandez v. Robles that the state constitution didn’t give same-sex couples the right to get married. I remember the anger, sadness and frustration I felt that day. The decision came out in the morning; in the evening, we went to a rally in Sheridan Square. Later that night, I wrote the following:

This decision is as insulting as Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 anti-sodomy decision that was eventually sent to history’s dustbin by Lawrence v. Texas. Rallies were held in Sheridan Square on the sad day that Bowers was decided and again on the happy day 17 years later when Lawrence reversed it. I look forward to the day when a rally is held in celebration of New York State’s allowing its gay citizens to get married, a day when Hernandez v. Robles itself is relegated to the dustbin of history.

And we’d damn well better not have to wait 17 years for it.

It turns out it took just five years, not 17. The depressing 38-24 Senate vote two years ago was just a bump along the road, but an important one; without it, we wouldn’t have seen where senators stood and known who needed to be lobbied, and we might not have ultimately achieved victory this past Friday.

These last two weeks were excruciating. The Senate seemed stalled at 31 votes for, 31 against. It didn’t even seem clear that there’d be a vote. It felt like Groundhog Day, waiting and waiting and waiting day after day for the Senate to act. But part of me knew it would happen; it just didn’t seem possible that we would come this far, only to have the Senate not vote, or worse, reach a tie vote. There was a rumor that a 32nd vote had been found, but it didn’t seem to be sourced.

Some of Matt’s family was visiting this weekend, and as we traipsed around the city on Thursday night and Friday, doing touristy things with them, we both kept obsessively checking Twitter to see if there were any developments. Frustration began to set in as the process dragged out longer and longer. It started to seem like maybe the Senate session would end without a vote.

But then suddenly the dam broke. Things seemed to happen so quickly: they’ve agreed on amended language! The Assembly has voted on it! And then… the Senate will vote on it tonight!

On Friday night, Matt and I sat at home, watching the vote live on TV and following our Twitter feeds. And then Stephen Saland, a Republican who had remained publicly undecided, announced on the floor of the Senate that he was a yes. That was it: this was really going to happen. At one point I was afraid that that bigot Ruben Diaz was going to drag things out and that somehow there wouldn’t actually be a vote. But it happened. 33-29! It was done! All the frustration and anxiety melted away so quickly that for a while I almost forgot I’d spent the last two weeks feeling it. It wasn’t until I remembered the anxiety and realized I didn’t need to feel it anymore that it really began to hit me.

This new law obviously has very personal implications. Matt and I have been together for seven and a half years, and we’ve discussed getting married, but it’s always been a necessarily hypothetical discussion. Now the possibility is real. Whatever we decide, I’m thrilled that my state now treats me as an equal citizen and that we’re allowed to make the choice for ourselves.

I’ve been so proud and happy to be a gay New Yorker this weekend.

Don’t Touch the Hasids

The torturously slow fight for marriage equality in New York State has been going on for the last week. There have been lots of rallies, pro and con.

Yesterday something interesting happened. State senator Ruben Diaz, the only Democrat to oppose equality, showed up at a rally with a bunch of anti-gay Hasidic Jews. Then suddenly Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the LGBT synagogue in New York City, appeared with her own pro-equality sign. A sign battle ensued for a few moments as each side tried to get their sign in front of the camera.

And then, for some reason, Rabbi Kleinbaum did something controversial: she put her arm around the shoulder of one of the Hasidic Jews. This is just not done. Hasidic Jews believe it’s wrong to physically touch people of the opposite sex other than your spouse.

Below is the video of what happened. For a moment the man did nothing; maybe it took him a few seconds to realize what was going on. But then he violently pulled away, as if he’d touched a pulsating pile of human brains, and he and his colleague ritually spit in Rabbi Kleinbaum’s direction and began shouting at her, “You are not a Jew!”

For some reason she seemed surprised that these guys were so upset. Come on, rabbi: you’re an expert on Judaism. How did you expect them to react?

I really don’t understand what her point was. Maybe she was trying to be friendly? At any rate, I think it was stupid of her to touch the guy. I don’t think she had any right to do so; would it have been proper to force feed him a ham sandwich?

And it undermines our message. One of the points of the marriage equality movement is that it is distinctly not about infringing on other people’s religious practices. Religion should not infringe upon the state, and vice versa. If marriage equality becomes law, Hasidic Jews and evangelical Christians will still have the right to refuse such marriages from taking place in their houses of worship; they will continue to have every right to practice their religion. They just won’t be permitted to make the rest of us practice it as well.

I can understand why some people might think it was okay for Kleinbaum to try to “teach the guy a lesson.” After all, Hasidic Judaism is homophobic and sexist; these men are trying to impose their beliefs on other people, and the imposition of their beliefs has harmful consequences for real-life couples and families; and they chose to protest in a secular location, and a crowded one at that, so they should have expected that they might accidentally touch someone of the opposite gender.

But Kleinbaum went out of her way to put her arm around the guy. She didn’t bump into him. She did it deliberately.

No, it’s not a terrible thing. But it wasn’t really necessary, either.

Obama and DOMA

Matt has been bugging me to write something about the Obama administration’s decision to stop defending DOMA in court.

I just don’t consider it as big a deal as some other people seem to, for a few reasons.

One, contrary to what Newt Gingrich says, the administration is not suspending enforcement of the law. The law is still in place.

Two, we’re not talking about all of DOMA. We’re talking only about Section 3. If Section 3 is declared unconstitutional, the federal government has to recognize same-sex marriages performed in any state that allows them, but it doesn’t do anything about states that don’t allow them. Okay, that’s still a big step. But it’s not everything.

Three, the House can still step in to file a brief defending DOMA in court, and even if it doesn’t, independent organizations can always file amicus briefs putting forth their positions on the matter, and the court can take heed.

The ultimate decision-maker on this issue — barring DOMA repeal by Congress, which won’t happen anytime soon — will be the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court will do what the Supreme Court will do, no matter what any lawyer argues. It’s become a judicial cliché that Justice Kennedy’s opinion in the only one that matters, but in this case it’s true. Although Roberts, Alito, Sotomayor and Kagan were not on the Court the last time it decided a major gay rights case — Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 — we can be pretty sure where they’ll line up. Kennedy’s the wild card.

Yet in an intangible way, the administration’s decision is important. Obama is using the bully pulpit of the presidency to make a statement in favor of gay rights, and any time the topic is raised for debate, more people become convinced of the arguments in favor of equality.

It’s just a matter of time.

DADT Repeal

In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that anti-sodomy laws were permissible under the U.S. Constitution. Seventeen years later, in Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court overruled that travesty of justice.

In 1993, the “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy was instituted. Seventeen years later, Congress is about to repeal another injustice against gay Americans.

I can’t believe this is actually going to happen. Just over a week ago, DADT repeal seemed dead. The Republicans had blocked it not once, but twice. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and Joe Lieberman could have given up, but instead of just giving repeal their pro forma support and saying, “Sorry, we tried,” they actually worked to make it happen. A standalone bill seemed like a Hail Mary pass — there might not be enough time, and both the House and the Senate would have to pass it.

But it’s happening. At 3:00 p.m. today, the Senate will vote on the actual repeal bill, after 63 senators — including six Republicans — voted this morning to allow a simple majority up-or-down vote on repeal.

I don’t know if it’s significant that each of these mistakes — Bowers v. Hardwick and don’t ask/don’t tell — took the same amount of time, seventeen years, to reverse. Seventeen years is not quite a full generation, although it’s close: a gay person born in 1993 will be able to join the military as an openly gay American when he or she becomes a legal adult next year. Perhaps the seventeen-year time frame is just a coincidence.

What we do know is this: each step toward justice builds on the steps that came before. Before Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, being gay itself was practically a crime. In the 1990s, in a child custody case in Virginia, a judge ruled that a lesbian had no right to custody of her own child because Virginia’s anti-sodomy law made her a felon.

After Lawrence, such a ruling was no longer possible. Opponents of marriage equality can no longer use anti-sodomy laws to show that gay people are unfit to marry or raise children. A weapon in their arsenal was taken away.

And now the ban on gays in the military is about to be repealed. In and of itself, this is a wonderful thing and long overdue. But it will also give more ammunition to the fight for marriage equality. After all, how can you argue convincingly that someone who has served his or her country as a member of the U.S. military should not allowed to marry the person he or she loves, or is unfit to be a parent? We’ll see example after example of openly gay soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen and airwomen; we may not see tons of them right away, but we’ll begin to see more and more of them. Anti-gay bigots will start to see a mismatch between their own stereotyped preconceptions of gay people and the reality out there. A does not compute message will begin to form itself in their heads, and either they will change their minds or their heads will explode.

No victory stands alone. Each one is helped by previous victories and helps to create future victories. Our president likes to quote Dr. King: “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Each step nudges the trajectory a little bit more in the right direction.

Comments on the Jewish Standard

By the way, the comments that numerous readers have left on the page containing the Jewish Standard’s original craven apology are pretty terrific, almost uniformly in condemnation. Most of them are wonderfully heartfelt and well-written.

And some of them are just funny. This one made me laugh.

You people are just a “ray of sunshine” for everyone, aren’t you?

Good luck with your Einstein decision to align yourselves with the haters.

I don’t know how to explain why, but there’s just something so great and Jewish about that comment.

This is my other favorite:

There are not words strong enough to shame you. Not even in Yiddish.

Jewish Standard: Followup

There’s some fascinating follow-up to the story of the Jewish newspaper in New Jersey that decided to discriminate against gay couples.

Yesterday, the newspaper published a new statement saying that it may have acted too quickly in deciding to discriminate:

We ran the wedding announcement because we felt, as a community newspaper, that it was our job to serve the entire community — something we have been doing for 80 years.

We did not expect the heated response we got, and — in truth — we believe now that we may have acted too quickly in issuing the follow-up statement, responding only to one segment of the community.

We are now having meetings with local rabbis and community leaders. We will also be printing, in the paper and online, many of the letters that have been pouring in since our statement was published.

We urge everyone to take a step back and reflect on what this series of events has taught us about the community we care so much about, and about the steps we must take to move forward together.

There’s also word that the editor of the paper, Rebecca Boreson, personally disagreed with the decision to discriminate but was pressured into it by the Orthodox community of Teaneck, NJ, where the newspaper is published.

It’s also possible that the newspaper was essentially blackmailed into this decision by the organization that certifies kosher restaurants, which threatened to decertify any kosher restaurant that continued to advertise in the newspaper if the newspaper continued to run same-sex marriage announcements:

It is my understanding that the Jewish Standard was basically being blackmailed. The RCBC, the Orthodox Rabbinate threatened to take away the hechsher, the certificate of kashrut, from any restaurant that continued to advertise in the Jewish Standard if they did not announce that they would never publish another gay wedding announcement. This would effectively put the Standard out of business, as it is advertising and not subscriptions that keeps their doors open, and it would have put the Kosher restaurants, caterers, and other Kosher food providers in the position of having to find another hechsher, which in Bergen county would be hard to do. It would alienate the Orthodox community from all of the liberal Jews who keep Kosher and it could cause financial havoc in the Jewish community. RCBC should be ashamed.

If true, these are disgusting and thuggish tactics.

On the other hand, this is not an example of courageous journalism, either, and it could have been handled much better. The publishers of the newspaper look like total cowards. As one commenter here says:

I’m not going to say “thanks” for your reconsideration on the subject like some other people. I’m taking a step back and I’m still baffled by the quick kowtowing to these Orthodox Rabbis SO quickly- like they were the Sopranos threatening cement shoes.

Additionally, here’s an interview with the couple who was the subject of the original wedding announcement that started this whole thing. They talk about what they think of all this:

I would hope that people don’t jump to conclusions and blame the newspaper. I think they made a mistake but are a generally good and pluralistic newspaper. The Jewish Standard will stay afloat with support from the greater community. They don’t need to toe the Orthodox line.

Finally, the New York Times might be working on a story about all this. That wouldn’t be surprising.

Jewish Standard Discriminates Against Gays

Two weeks ago, a Jewish newspaper in New Jersey, the Jewish Standard, published a wedding announcement for a totally adorable same-sex Jewish couple.

Now the newspaper is apologizing for it and saying it won’t happen again:

We set off a firestorm last week by publishing a same-sex couple’s announcement of their intent to marry. Given the tenor of the times, we did not expect the volume of comments we have received, many of them against our decision to run the announcement, but many supportive as well.

A group of rabbis has reached out to us and conveyed the deep sensitivities within the traditional/Orthodox community to this issue. Our subsequent discussions with representatives from that community have made us aware that publication of the announcement caused pain and consternation, and we apologize for any pain we may have caused.

The Jewish Standard has always striven to draw the community together, rather than drive its many segments apart. We have decided, therefore, since this is such a divisive issue, not to run such announcements in the future.

In an incredibly heartening turn, tons of fellow Jews have posted comments on that page in response, strongly disagreeing with the decision.

The Jewish Standard claims to be “not affiliated with any program, organization, movement, or point of view, but is dedicated to giving expression to all phases of Jewish life.” It is based in Teaneck, NJ, home to a large number of Orthodox Jews, but it puts itself forth as a newspaper for all Jews, not just for the Orthodox community.

As a gay man, a Jew, and a New Jerseyan by upbringing — heck, as a human being — I find this decision to be disgusting, cowardly, and hurtful. It makes me sick.

It would be one thing if this newspaper marketed itself as an exclusively Orthodox newspaper, catering to that steadily shrinking segment of the Jewish community. But it doesn’t. Its mission, as stated is, in part:

TO PROVIDE the Jewish communities of Bergen, Hudson, Passaic, and Rockland counties with an indispensable newspaper that will present local, national, and world news of Jewish interest….

Not just the Orthodox community. The entire Jewish community: Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, unaffiliated.

According to many of the commenters, the newspaper has no problem advertising restaurants that serve non-Kosher or inadequately Kosher food. It has no problem publicizing events that occur on Friday night or Saturday, when observant Jews would be celebrating Shabbat. But somehow a small portion of its readership has experienced “pain and consternation” at the announcement that two people have fallen in love and wish to spend the rest of their lives together.

What kind of heartless human being would feel “pain and consternation” at the joyful celebration of two people who love each other? What about the pain and consternation caused to gay Jews and their families and friends who now know that their life events are not worthy of being publicly celebrated in a community newspaper? What’s even more callous and disgusting is that this happened several days after a gay New Jersey college student killed himself after his asshole roommate decided to air live video of him “making out with a dude.” It’s because of decisions like the one the Jewish Standard has made — decisions that encourage the idea that gay relationships are never as good as straight relationships — that young gay people decide to kill themselves.

It seems to me that this was a business decision. The Jewish Standard is probably worried that the powerful Orthodox community will cancel its subscriptions and its advertising if the newspaper persists in being inclusive.

Well, a few years from now, the editors of the Jewish Standard are going to look upon themselves and their decision with great regret, embarrassment, shame, and remorse — just like businesses in the 1960s that used to cater to racism out of fear of losing money or rocking the boat.

I don’t see how this is any different from the newspaper in Maine that apologized last month for showing American Muslims celebrating Ramadan on September 11.

I’d never heard of this newspaper — it doesn’t publish in the county where I grew up. I’m more familiar with the New Jersey Jewish News, which I think my parents subscribe to. So, congratulations to the Jewish Standard: your cowardly, hurtful business decision has broadened your public profile.

Same-sex Couple Marries at UVa Chapel

The chapel at the University of Virginia hosted its first same-sex commitment ceremony over the summer. Very cool. Of course, since it was in Virginia, it didn’t have the status of law, but the couple is planning to get married in Washington, D.C. in November, where it will be legal.

I’m pleasantly surprised to hear that this was allowed. It’s always been hard to peg UVa on the political spectrum. When I was there, it was said that compared to the Ivies, UVa was conservative, but compared to the other top college in Virginia, it was liberal. Charlottesville, of course, is a bastion of blue in central Virginia.