Ann Rostow: Big Gay Day Coming Up in Sixth Circuit

This Just In!: Tenth Circuit Rules for Equality; Indiana Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

As this issue of the SF Bay Times goes to press comes word that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has ruled in our favor, striking the amendment that bans marriage in Utah. The same panel, which split 2-1, will shortly rule on a similar marriage case out of Oklahoma. The panel put a hold on its ruling pending review by the High Court.

In another last minute June 25 headline, a federal judge in Indiana has overturned the Hoosier marriage amendment, putting another marriage case en route to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The Seventh Circuit will also be reviewing our recent victory in Wisconsin.

By Ann Rostow

Big Gay Day Coming Up in Sixth Circuit

Here’s a new twist on our federal marriage litigation. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has scheduled oral arguments on five marriage cases for the same day, before the same panel. The arguments will run consecutively.

Hey, it’s a little weird. The cases include four marriage recognition cases, and one marriage equality case. For all practical purposes, the four recognition cases are actually three, since two of them are related rulings from two Ohio lawsuits. The other two recognition cases are from Tennessee and Kentucky, while the marriage equality case is from Michigan.

Arguments are set for August 6, so we’ll find out the names of the three judges around July 23. And we’ll probably wind up with a Republican majority. Of the 15 active judges on the Sixth Circuit, ten were appointed by GOP presidents, including seven by Bush 43. That said, we’ve seen Republican judges come through for our cause in the recent past, so we’ll have to check out the panel in detail once the names are announced.

Meanwhile, we’re still waiting on appellate rulings out of the Tenth and Fourth Circuits, and I for one am dying of anticipation. C’mon guys. Make our day.

Obama Cares

The President is making news this month, perhaps timing his latest pro-gay maneuvers for Pride. Obama has pledged to sign an executive order that will require all federal contractors to protect against gay and trans bias. He has also confirmed that the federal government will make sure that all marriage benefits under its control are available to married gay couples, even those who live in states that do not recognize their unions.

I gather that social security and veterans benefits are tied to state law, ergo there’s no way to make these available to married gays who live outside the Free Zone unless Congress takes action. That’s not going to happen anytime soon, but we hope that the Supreme Court will rectify this discrimination once the various marriage appeals reach the High Court’s docket. Considering that spousal social security payments are perhaps the most significant federal benefit available to married couples, it would be hard for the justices to uphold the promise of Windsor without ordering states to recognize marriage for this purpose. But, of course, we expect them to do more than that, don’t we?

As for the executive order, expected in a few weeks, I had read that the new contractor policy would protect several million gay workers from workplace bias. But I just read an article by Jonathan Capehart in the Washington Post that suggests that the vast majority of federal contractors already have LGBT protections in place. Well, it’s certainly a good step in any event.

Distractions

School is over, so Mel is at home. This is excellent news, although she is now watching a rerun of The Blacklist in the same room where I am trying to write this column. She seems so content over there on the couch, charmingly spitting sunflower seeds into a glass, that I can’t bear to ask her to shut it off. Her seed sucking habit has led to the accidental growth of a ten-foot sunflower in our garden, presumably born from seeds in the compost pile. Personally, I have never liked to consume things that must be spat out.

Speaking of Mel, the main impact of the Windsor decision on our lives is that my tax deduction for health insurance is now reduced because her income must be taken into account. A small price to pay for equality!

So, I was interested to see that our governor, Rick Perry, actually bothered to backtrack on his observation that being gay was like being an alcoholic, an addiction to be fought. The other day, Perry admitted that he “stepped in it,” with that comparison, and mumbled something about how everyone needs a job regardless of sexual orientation. (Indeed, I suspect that alcoholics need jobs too. Probably more than most people.)

Anyway, the mea culpa suggests Perry is gearing up for a national campaign since the Texas electorate couldn’t care less about our communal struggle for civil rights. It’s not just Ted Cruz. Have you read about the moron Texas is about to nominate for Lt. Governor? Or did you notice that the Texas Republican Party recently cast a vote of approval for reparative therapy? Fortunately, we live in Austin, an island of sanity. But still. It’s Texas.

Bad Diva, No Arias

Strangely, we haven’t seen any new states join the Marriage Club this fortnight, leaving us with extra space to delve into other topics. So how about the opera star who was kicked out of her company when someone unearthed a nasty Facebook comment about gays from last year?

According to press reports, the Georgian soprano Tamar Iveri wrote an open letter criticizing a gay rights demonstration in Tbilisi in May of last year. The letter, which was then posted on her Facebook page, referred to gay people as “fecal matter” and praised the violently antigay protest that led to several injuries. For some reason, the letter came to light only recently. And within 48 hours, Iveri had lost her contract with Opera Australia, where she had been scheduled to sing the leads in Otello and Tosca.

Iveri claims that she loves gay people and that her Christian conservative husband rewrote the letter and put it on Facebook without her permission. No one is buying this explanation, in part because it conflicts with some previous statements she made at the time of the incident. I’m confused by this, but chose not to pursue it. Let’s just say that Iveri represents the latest example of the zero tolerance policy that greets celebrities who express disdain for gay men and lesbians.

The religious right is fond of claiming that this fairly new rejection of homophobia itself constitutes “discrimination” or “intolerance.” I’m not sure anyone is planning to jump to Iveri’s defense, considering her scatological references, but this is exactly the type of situation that has conservatives absurdly trying to play the victim. The problem is that there’s a thin lie between calling gays “sinful,” and comparing them to sewage and that’s the line these would be victims will have to walk. Good luck with that.

And speaking of homophobia, have you been following the Mexican soccer fans who yell “puto,” the Spanish word for “faggot,” en masse at the opposing goal tender every time there’s a free kick or corner? The childish outbursts were investigated by FIFA, which determined that the expression was harmless in this particular context. Say what? Is there an okay context for the “n” word or the “f” word? I’m not sure what FIFA could have done about it anyway, but whatever that might have been, they should have tried.

The whole situation reminds me of the “not gay” chant once featured at University of Virginia football games. Maybe you remember that the school song had archaic lyrics, something about being young and gay, and that all the students would yell, “Not Gay!” during that verse.

At some point, well over a decade ago, I reported on some LGBT campus activists who were getting people to sign a petition to stop the practice. I remember making fun of these do-gooders in print, suggesting that they were tilting against windmills. But you know what? Eventually, after years of education and effort, the chant grew dimmer and was finally relegated to a few alumni. I thought this was the sort of problem that activism can’t fix, but I was wrong. So maybe there’s hope for Mexican soccer.

Big News Buried in This Next Section

What else is new? I gather that the National Organization for Marriage had a march on Washington rally for “traditional” marriage the other day, and not very many people came. It was between a few hundred and two thousand, reports say.

The Presbyterians just voted to approve same-sex marriage by a large margin, 429-175. And the Methodist minister who was defrocked for marrying his son to another man has been reinstated by a church panel. So it’s all good! Oh, and Starbucks raised the rainbow flag outside their Seattle headquarters. Makes me want to go out for a vente mocha half caf with a shot of Bailey’s on the side.

By the way, we’re now watching Grey’s Anatomy. I had forgotten how much I despised the self-centered and profoundly irritating Izzy Stephens. On the other hand, Dr. Torrez and her girlfriend Arizona from pediatrics are really quite something.

Oh my God! Breaking news. Big exciting breaking news just appeared on my iPhone. I should really rewrite the lead paragraph and start with this exciting development, but I won’t. I can’t wait. Here it is:

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will not review the January ruling that heightened legal scrutiny for cases of sexual orientation discrimination. In simpler terms, this means that gay civil rights will be automatically upheld throughout the nine western states that comprise the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction. Plus Guam!

The ruling came in the case that questioned whether or not a lawyer could dismiss a prospective juror because of his or her sexual orientation. In deciding that such a dismissal was unlawful, Judge Stephen Reinhardt ruled that discrimination against gay men and women must be held to a high legal standard, much like discrimination based on race or gender. The higher standard, along with its requirement that the offending party shoulder the burden of proof, set a landmark in the history of gay rights jurisprudence.

Everyone waited to see if the ruling would be appealed, either to the full court or to the Supreme Court. And everyone celebrated when the deadline to challenge expired. But then, one or more of the 29 judges on the Ninth Circuit asked his or her colleagues to reconsider. Damn! Time passed. And then on Tuesday the full Ninth Circuit refused to tamper with the ruling. Three judges wrote dissents, but I don’t know the actual vote.

Is this case finally in the books? I hope so. I think so. We’ll see. I thought it was in the books a few months ago, so what do I know? But if indeed this new standard is binding law in the Ninth Circuit, you can soon say goodbye to marriage restrictions in Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska and Montana (and Guam). Actually, I just checked and the Northern Mariana Islands are also covered.

Arguments are expected in September in two marriage cases, one out of Idaho and one out of Nevada. With heightened scrutiny in place, we will win both these cases, perhaps by the end of the year. Of course, those decisions are subject to review by the Supreme Court, but we will relish the victories nonetheless.

I Survived!

That’s about it for gay news, unless you want to hear about Rudy Gay’s contract negotiations with the Sacramento Kings. I think not. Instead, let me tell you about the terrifying tornado warning I experienced the other night.

I knew there was a tornado “watch.” But that’s not a big deal. It just signals big thunderstorms. A tornado “warning,” however, indicates a tornado has been sighted on the ground somewhere. Tornados never bothered me until a few years ago, when all these giant half-mile wide tornados destroyed entire towns and cities. But, ever since then, I’ve been scared of them.

Mel was away, so I turned on a local station where, sure enough, the weather guy was telling us what’s what. His map was full of frightening red storm areas and there were seven or eight spinning circles, which he claimed were windy areas or something. (But they looked like tornados!) Then he had arrows showing that the spinning circles were heading straight to south Austin.

The guy kept repeating the guidelines for what to do in a tornado. Get into an interior room, preferably a closet. Cover yourself with quilts and pillows. Blah blah blah. Every now and then he’d note that there was no immediate threat of a tornado, but then he went right back into panic mode. I was terrified!

Finally, I switched stations and found another weather person who said a tornado had been spotted two hours earlier and about fifty miles away. There was no other tornado. Just a big rainstorm. I was so relieved. And so grateful for a station that delivered the actual news rather than making a ratings grab with deceptive maps and crazy talk about interior closets and quilts. I’m never watching that station again!

arostow@aol.com