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    Ann Rostow: And the Survey Says …

    By Ann Rostow–

    And the Survey Says …

    You probably saw the news about a massive genetic survey on same-sex attraction that showed, well, it showed that sexuality is complicated. About 400,000 middle-aged Brits in a DNA database and another 70,000 middle-aged Americans who ran tests with 23andMe answered sexy questions, leading researchers to conclude that gayness is only partly genetic, and even so, it is not tied to a particular gene. Instead, thousands of genes show a correlation with same-sex attraction, or was it hundreds of genes? 

    Genes are like stars. I can never remember if there are millions, billions or trillions. In this case, the tedious, but important, study made my eyes glaze over. Some genes may influence our orientation. Or they might not! Most of our sexuality is formed by environment and external factors. But not all! Maybe two thirds. Or less? Who really knows? 

    This was the biggest study ever, done by the best researchers with the best data. And what’s the verdict? Well, human nature can’t really be pinned down or neatly categorized. Thanks, guys. 

    We all know, instinctively, that this is true. But it would have been nice to find just one or two special things about us, little peculiarities wired into what makes us gay or lesbian or whatever we are. Let’s say the same gene that often signals same-sex attraction to women was also indicative of expensive tastes in alcohol. That would have been nice. And given the vague nature of the research results, who’s to say that such a correlation does not exist? Indeed, I’ve noticed this pattern in many of my friends. I think I’ll ring for a little eye-opener right now.

    Only in Mississippi?

    Speaking of eye-openers, there’s a story on The Root about a wedding venue in Mississippi that refuses to serve gay or interracial couples, due to the owners’ “Christian faith.” In a Facebook video, which has been removed from Facebook but can still be seen on The Root, a woman tells the sister of a black man with a white fiancé that her business “chooses not to participate.” When the sister asks for a Biblical explanation, the women says she does not want to “argue her faith.” 

    “We don’t do gay weddings or mixed race, because of our Christian race—I mean our Christian belief,” she clarifies.

    I know none of you are surprised to discover this attitude in Mississippi. But recall that Mississippi passed one of the only statewide “religious freedom” laws in the country, allowing businesses to pick and choose their customers regardless of local or (it seems) federal civil rights laws. Aimed at gay customers, many observers have noticed that there’s nothing to stop some so-called Christians from announcing that their “faith” calls for racial discrimination. 

    Conservative courts have pooh-poohed the notion that religious exemptions to civil rights laws could backfire in this manner. Even Justice Alito, writing in the related case of the Hobby Lobby stores a few years ago, said that the right to opt out of Obamacare’s contraception coverage based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act could not extend to a faith-based right to discriminate on the basis of race. 

    “The principal dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example, on the basis of race, might be cloaked in religious practice to escape legal sanction. Our decision today provides no such shield. The Government has a compelling interest in providing an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce without regard to race, and prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal.” 

    Maybe, maybe not.

    And Minnesota?

    Staying on this subject, the other day the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that a videographer in Minnesota may have the right to refuse gay wedding clients based on the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and freedom of religious expression. Led by a Trump nominee, the divided three-judge panel sent the case back to lower court for another review.

    “The Larsens do not want to make videos celebrating same-sex marriage, which they find objectionable,” noted Judge David Stras. “Instead, they wish to actively promote opposite-sex weddings through their videos, which at a minimum will convey a different message than the videos the [gay inclusive Minnesota Human Rights Act] would require them to make.”

    And what if the Larsens or some other people wished to actively promote “racially pure” marriages, rather than the interracial marriages “required” by the state civil rights act? Would the Constitution guarantee that freedom as well? Judge Stras ignores this possibility.

    In dissent, Judge Jane Kelly writes that while “religious and philosophical objections [to same-sex marriage] are protected, it is a general rule that such objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.” Judge Kelly is now the only Democratically appointed judge still sitting on the Eighth Circuit, where Trump has appointed no less than four new members to the bench.

    Meanwhile, in Kentucky, the state supreme court has just heard arguments in the case of a t-shirt maker who refused to make shirts for Lexington Pride, in violation of the city’s Fairness Ordinance. After the Lexington Human Rights Commission ruled against Hands On Originals, a state court and a state appellate court both ruled in favor of the unpleasant shirt people and the case has been circulating for seven years.

    Oh, and we’re still waiting for the Arizona high court to rule on the status of the stationery store Brush and Nib, which seeks the theoretical right to reject gay wedding invitation jobs in violation of the Phoenix civil rights rules. That case was argued in January and we just hit September. Let’s go guys! Cough up that opinion.

    Wymyn Power

    Did you read The New York Times article about the remote women-only lesbian cooperatives started in the 1960s and 1970s? It sounds as if they have outlived their usefulness as safe shelters from patriarchal oppression, and are now sparsely populated by sturdy senior citizens who still chop wood and make communal stews. 

    More power to them, but I’m still glad the rest of us got the chance to go work and live more or less openly in an increasingly welcoming society. 

    I was never a big fan of the lesbian separatist ethic, with its narrow politics, rules and regulations. In college, one of my straight friends was an ardent feminist who was nonetheless ignored and demeaned by our group leaders because she slept with the enemy. I, on the other hand, was focused on parties, dancing, and drinking. I went to the feminist meetings solely to chase girls, made dismissive comments throughout, never volunteered for anything, and yet I was always treated warmly by one and all.  

    I remember one conversation with an earnest feminist who explained that she was a lesbian solely for political reasons and was not even that attracted to other women. I would have crossed her off my list at once, except she was not on it to begin with. 

    And speaking of parties and drinking, my butler is not answering the bell, although the maid, Myrtille, did poke her head in. She’s not very good at mixing drinks, but I suppose she could open a bottle of Krug in a pinch.

    Sixth Circuit Nails Davis

    Do you remember Kim Davis, the obnoxious self-important Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses in the wake of the High Court’s marriage equality ruling? Lawsuits have been filed, and to be honest, I have not tracked them closely. But recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued two related opinions. First, the appellate judges ruled that the state of Kentucky will be on the hook for some $225,000 in attorneys’ fees incurred on behalf of four couples who sued Davis and won a federal court case in 2017. Kentucky had tried to argue that Davis herself should be on the hook for the cash, but to no avail. As you know, I’m sure, the winner of a civil rights case gets his or her lawyers’ fees paid by the loser. If that were not the situation, only rich plaintiffs would be able to take advantage of the courts.

    But there’s another case in the works, brought by two other couples. A hard-working reporter might have dug around to figure out the difference between these lawsuits and why the first one did not resolve the second one. Too bad you don’t have one of those at your disposal. 

    Nevertheless, Davis tried to get this latter case dismissed in its infancy, by arguing she is immune from lawsuits by virtue of her position (at the time) as a state and county official. Qualified immunity allows officials to operate within a bureaucracy and to do their jobs without being tossed and turned at the whims of litigious citizens. It is forfeited, however, when an official deliberately violates someone’s constitutional rights—rights that were clearly established and should have been known to the official. The same Sixth Circuit panel ruled that marriage equality was clearly established and that Davis deliberately violated the law. As the British press likes to say, the case continues.

    Davis was voted out of office in November of last year.

    The Lion Queen

     I guess over a million people have viewed a zoo video of two male lions trying to have sex, although I cannot figure out where it was filmed. Out magazine has an article about the nature porn, noting that sometimes a female lion can have a mane, so maybe this was a gender bending straight scene. Alternatively, the boys might have just been fooling around. Normally, Out continues to explain, lions ejaculate quickly with a loud yelp. Here there was no such release, so the cats may have just been exhibiting, um, locker room behavior. 

    To make matters more complicated, it looks as if a female (un-maned) lion appears at one point and tries to intervene, only to be snarled at and run off by one of the (presumed) males. 

    In the course of trying to stick a time and place on this video, I discovered several instances of gay male lions, including a scene from the wild in Kruger National Park where again, a he-lion made sexual advances on another male. And you can tell both lions are male, by the way. The passive lion seemed completely indifferent to the action, which looked as if the top lion gave up after failing to find a connection, so to speak. An expert hypothesized that this was a “bromance,” not uncommon among small groups of male lions who prowl around looking for females together. 

    Make of that what you will. Personally, I’m assuming that gay attraction for lions is a complex mix of genetic, social and environmental factors.

    Throw Away the Key

    Finally, one of my favorite tea party scandales is back in the news now that former Michigan state representative Todd Courser has pled no contest to one charge of willful neglect of duty by a public officer. Courser is getting off easy after being charged with several felonies back in the day for his bizarre shenanigans with another far-right colleague four years ago.

    Elected to the state house in 2014, Courser presented himself as a Christian crusader, posting a response to the governor’s state of the state speech that was also signed by newly elected state representative Cindy Gamrat. Courser and Gamrat thanked “God and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for our salvation and His abounding and generous gifts, blessings and His grace, and mercy on our state and nation,” adding that it was “important to acknowledge that it is only by His power and might that our state and nation remain.”

    No wonder the (family man) Courser and (married with kids) Gamrat were worried when Gamrat’s husband threatened to expose both lawmakers for having an affair. In a strategy exposed on tape by Courser’s aide, Courser planned to spread wild rumors about homosexual sexcapades that could subsequently be disproven. This “controlled burn,” as he called it, could then be used to confuse the public if and when any subsequent bad press developed. “It will make anything else that comes out after that—that isn’t a video—mundane, tame by comparison,” Courser said in the audio recording, which the aide released to the media.

    Both Courser and Gamrat were drummed out of office, after which Courser tried unsuccessfully to sue various people for various offenses. He will be sentenced later this month.