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    Ann Rostow: And the Land We Belong to is Grand!

    1-Ann RostowBy Ann Rostow

    And the Land We Belong to is Grand!

    One of the many antigay proposals now floating through the Republican majorities in many of America’s state legislatures has been a so-called Religious Freedom initiative out of Oklahoma, which purported to allow businesses to discriminate against gay clientele based on the business owner’s faith. That measure, like several others of its ilk, seems to have failed for the time being. But part of its downfall may be due to a brilliant amendment attached by Democratic state representative Emily Virgin.

    Virgin, apparently no innocent when it comes to clever parliamentary machinations, suggested language that would require a business to post a notice, both in the store and online, if said business decides not to allow gay or lesbian customers. Hey, if it’s really based on a deep religious conviction, then of course you’ll have no problem making your antigay policy explicit through a public announcement, right?

    Can you imagine? Unfortunately, I’m guessing the same people who would try to force bills like this one down our throats would just as easily kill a “public notice” amendment. But listen. This is the kind of maneuver that can change the tenor of the debate.

    Most Americans (unfortunately) will tell you that a Christian baker shouldn’t have to sell a wedding cake to two men if doing so would offend his or her faith. But most of these compatriots, in turn, would probably agree that there’s nothing wrong with making the baker put up a sign to indicate that gays aren’t welcome. After all, the baker doesn’t want to serve gays anyway, and it allows the gay people to look for another baker. And yes, we all know what would happen to a small business that displayed this kind of notification (cue: giant “FAIL” sign in block letters).

    As a rule, we all hope that these Religious Freedom bills will fail without recourse to poison pills, but if not, this is a sweet one.


    So, as the last issue went to press, I just missed telling you about the whole hoopla out of Alabama, where the state supreme court jumped into action and squashed marriage equality for the next month or so in the Yellowhammer State. Say what, you ask? Didn’t a federal court just legalize marriage in Alabama the week before? And didn’t the High Court itself refuse to put a hold on same-sex marriages while the litigation continues? Um. Yes!

    Do you even care what happens in Alabama? If not, skip to next section.

    Hello thoughtful readers, and welcome to our bonus coverage of marriage in Alabama. I know you’re wondering how a state court, even the state’s highest court, can intervene in a federal case. Aren’t those two different court systems? And doesn’t federal law trump state law anyway? The answer is yes, and yes. But unfortunately, we have something of an anomaly here in Dixieland.

    Basically, the marriage equality ruling delivered by the lower federal court a month or so ago should dictate the state’s marriage law. That said, this ruling would normally be reviewed by the relevant federal appellate court, and if necessary, the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit put a hold on its review pending the High Court’s consideration of four other marriage equality cases later this year.

    That left our vulnerable little lower court ruling sitting out there all alone and undefended. When a probate judge in Mobile (basically a county clerk) refused to abide by its order, a gay couple sued and the court issued a specific injunction, forcing the probate judge to generate a marriage license. When other probate judges asked if the injunction applied to them, the court noted that, although they weren’t singled out like the guy in Mobile, they could keep enforcing an unconstitutional law at their peril.

    At this vaguely confused point, along came some antigay groups with no stake in the federal case whatsoever, asking the state supreme court to order the rest of the Alabama probate judges to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Just because. Because this is Alabama, the justices complied, and there’s really nothing to be done about it except to…wait for it…file more lawsuits! Which, since we’re no slouches in this department, we have done. Just the other day, as a matter of fact, the original judge refused to let that aforementioned Mobile probate judge off the hook, and reiterated that her previous injunction against the antigay marriage law remained in force regardless of the antics of the state supreme court (which she agreed were “dizzying”). Meanwhile, the National Center for Lesbian Rights is pursuing a class action suit on behalf of all same-sex couples in the state.

    It’s a Date

    Hey, I’m with you, slacker readers! Who cares about Alabama? I didn’t even write the rest of that last section myself, but I let my new app do it for me. You just plug in the subject and the word count, enter your account number and presto! It’s done. It’s pretty good, but you have to admit, it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.

    Now, I’d be remiss not to mention that the U.S. Supreme Court has picked Tuesday, April 28, as the date for arguments on marriage equality. In a break from tradition, the justices will release oral transcripts to the public starting at 2pm, just four hours after the 10am start. I am not sure exactly who will be arguing on our behalf, or for how long. But I’m hoping that we don’t send four separate lawyers down to argue the four separate cases under review.

    Actually, there may be four cases before the justices, but there are only two questions for the Court to consider. First, must a state contract same-sex marriages? Second, must a state recognize a marriage contracted outside its borders? If memory serves, the main question of marriage equality will be debated for 90 minutes, while the secondary question of marriage recognition will get an hour.

    I hear you out there in Reader-land. “If memory serves? Ann, how hard would it be to check on the Supreme Court’s time allotments? Are you really that lazy? Do we mean so little to you?”

    But friends, I write to you from the front seat of a car, hurtling north on IH 35 on my way from Austin to Topeka. There’s no checking anything until our next rest stop, maybe two hours from now after we cross the Red River. (Confirming that memory served me right! Oh, and they have pretty decent margaritas at the Applebee’s in Ardmore, Oklahoma.)

    Just Say No to Ax Murder

    Happily, I have taken some notes, so I am not without fodder for our journey through recent GLBT news. Take, for example, the link line of an article on the New York Daily News website that reads as follows:

    “A Michigan pastor is in hot water after comparing gay and transgender people to ax murderers in a sermon.”

    I was struck by the use of the expression “hot water,” a term that already sounds like something my grandchildren will think of as dating from the 19th Century. Where did it even come from to begin with? Cannibals? Lobsters? I will look it up after the Red River. It’s called the Red River, by the way, due to the orange-colored clay characteristic of southern Oklahoma.

    At any rate, the Michigan pastor was musing about homosexuality to his parishioners, and attempting to argue that once you think you might be gay, the best thing to do is simply not to act on the offensive discovery. Much as if you suddenly come to see yourself as an ax murderer, you would presumably want to squelch the instinct. If you’ll allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment, I think there’s a distinction between making this (assuredly unpalatable) point using the analogy of an ax murderer and “comparing” gay and transgender people to ax murderers in the sense of saying: “gay people are almost as bad as ax murderers!” Not much of a distinction, but a small one.

    As for the use of “hot water,” it’s the sort of thing you say about a husband who forgets his wife’s anniversary, or a high school kid on prom night who comes home at three in the morning. It’s a little jarring used here, don’t you think? It’s like: “Frat boys in the doghouse with school authorities for racist chant.”

    It just occurred to me that in a few hours I will be driving past the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman, scene of the frat boy chant. Shortly thereafter, I’ll be in close proximity to the state legislature in Oklahoma City, perhaps spittin’ distance from Emily Virgin and her colleagues. It’s as if I’m driving through my column! At present, for the record, I am passing the exit into downtown Ft. Worth. Cowtown. Mooo.

    (Postscript: an expression involving “hot water” was first documented in the 1500s, but it referred to “costing” hot water. In our case for example: “Bad analogy could cost a Michigan pastor hot water.” That’s all I got.)

    Marching Madness

    What else is new? Well, much was made of the fact that we finally got a gay section into the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston. This whole thing reminds me of the Boy Scout issue. For one thing, we took both conflicts to the Supreme Court back in the day and lost. For another, by the time the institutions caved, nobody cared. Strike that. I personally didn’t care. Maybe lots of other people did.

    Here’s the thing. Back in the fin de siecle, we GLBTs were surrounded by hatred and exclusion. Yet things had been getting a little better, making continued prejudice less tolerable. Those smarmy nasty parade people were infuriating. The pompous scouts with their holier-than-thou all American pretensions made you want to slap them. With more people coming out, we were able to corral scores of openly gay Irish and dozens of current and former gay Eagle Scouts and off to court we went.

    We may have been too hasty in the case of the Parade. In its ruling, the High Court said parade organizers control the speech of the formal participants, a decision that makes sense for us as well. Individual gay marchers have always been allowed in any parade. It was only an official gay float that was banned in Boston. Yet, would we ourselves want to be forced to welcome a Westboro Baptist Church float into a pride parade? Of course not. Well, whatever. The Boy Scouts ruling, in turn, was a travesty, a tightrope walk over freedom of expressive association that saw gay bias as a virtually harmless coincidence of laudable scouting fellowship.

    Ironically, both the Boston parade and the scouts have had to tread water in the public disgust that rose up and eventually subsumed their so-called victories. Now they’re drowning in negative media and trying desperately