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    Ann Rostow: Tough Times

    By Ann Rostow

    Hello, dear readers. I changed the name of my Wi-Fi network last night and now my main computer no longer goes on line. The little tablet I’m using won’t let me use my favorite font (Times New Roman) so I am obliged to use “Ariel,” which I hate. I stayed up too late and am tired. I lost my list of news ideas for this column. My pug is gradually going senile, or maybe blind, and has spent the last hour barking outside the dog door. By barking, I mean a continual and loud “ruff ruff ruff.” Three barks, pause, three barks, pause. It is driving me crazy.

    Oh, thank heavens. She just came in. Good dog. Speaking of pugs, tomorrow we’re scheduled to go to our monthly pug bar night, an evening at an outdoor saloon south of town with maybe twenty or thirty more or less identical dogs and their owners. Doing our part to keep Austin weird.

    So here’s what I recall from the missing list: Some guy was put in jail for being gay in some conservative area of the world, in part because he drank Bailey’s, considered an unmanly affectation. One of the writers of Orange is the New Black has dumped her husband after realizing that she’s a lesbian. Everyone hates the vendor down the street from New York’s Big Gay Ice Cream store, who has started to advertise “straight ice cream.” A German activist was beaten up by antigay thugs in Belgrade where he was attending a conference. I’m sure there was more, but I’ll have to go search for the list or spend another hour (that I don’t have) refreshing my memory.

    And I was just reading an article about the nefarious international escapades of National Organization for Marriage head, Brian Brown, when I noticed a link to “Woman Finds Body in Trunk, Learns it’s her Neighbor.”

    Say what? And it was a Lexus to boot. Talk about lowering your resale value.

    The woman was shopping at a Walmart in Riverside, California, and noticed a bad smell when she returned to her car. The offensive aroma turned out to be the decomposing remains of one of her neighbors from Pomona, about twenty miles away. Who drives twenty miles to shop at Walmart? Why are you shopping at Walmart if you can afford a Lexus? Why didn’t she discover 33-year-old Miguel Angel Perez prior to the shopping trip? And how did Mr. Perez’s killer manage to open the trunk?

    I can think of several answers to those questions, but no other details were forthcoming from the report. Maybe she left the trunk ajar. Maybe she had other errands in Riverside and needed cheap t-shirts or bargain paper towels. Maybe it was hot in the parking lot. I suppose, since this is a gay news column, that I should mention that the National Organization for Marriage is considering renaming itself the International Organization for Marriage. Considering the group’s lack of success here in the Homeland, I’m thinking Brian Brown and company would have a lot more luck preaching homophobia in Russia or Uganda. By “more luck” I mean more bait for their fundraising hooks. I gather that NOM’s coffers are pretty dry at the moment.

    Supremes Hurry to Review Marriage Case

    Here’s the big news of the week. First, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit waited all of one week after oral arguments to issue a unanimous ruling in favor of marriage equality. We already expected a 3-0 decision in these cases out of Indiana and Wisconsin. But no one expected the decision to be virtually instantaneous. My God! Appellate rulings usually take months and months, even after all the arguments are done. The marriage cases are mostly fast tracked, but this appeal was wrapped up in warp speed.

    More importantly, the Supreme Court has asked everyone involved in the Tenth, Fourth and now the Seventh Circuit’s marriage cases to deliver their petitions for review in time for the Justices’ September 29 conference. Again, the petitions usually take months to prepare. Once they’re filed, the Court may dilly-dally before the petitions are scheduled for review. Not this time. The September 29 conference marks the start of the High Court’s 2014/2015 term, so it’s evident that some combination of these cases are headed to the docket. We knew that, but it’s nice to see this kind of intensity from the Supremes.

    So, this may explain why the Seventh Circuit played hurry up. Both the Tenth and the Fourth Circuit based their marriage rulings on the Due Process Clause, concluding that marriage is a fundamental right for same-sex couples and cannot be abridged without a compelling reason. The Seventh Circuit, by contrast, ruled that marriage bans are a violation of Equal Protection, discriminating against same-sex couples without a legitimate public purpose. Although the decision laid out a scheme to deliver heightened scrutiny to sexual orientation bias, it concluded that the discrimination in marriage could not survive any level of legal analysis. It seems likely under these circumstances that the Seventh wanted to add their line of reasoning to the mix before the Court.

    Meanwhile, the Ninth Circuit just heard arguments in the Nebraska, Idaho and Hawaii cases. This panel is sure to rule in our favor, so I wonder whether they too will issue a quick ruling in an attempt to join the party at the High Court. And we’re still waiting for word out of the Sixth Circuit, where arguments were held August 6 in cases out of Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky. We may well lose these appeals since there were two conservatives on the three-judge panel. That said, do they want their voices heard in Washington as well? Or do they want to slink into a corner and avoid the dreaded “wrong side of history?”

    You Are What You Drink

    I’ve been considering making myself an iced coffee with Bailey’s ever since I mentioned the allegedly effeminate concoction at the start of this column. For the record, the aforementioned incident took place in Cameroon, where being gay can cost you five years in the clink and where stereotypical behavior is grounds for conviction. In other words, you can be put in jail for acting gay. A defense lawyer, explaining this state of affairs to a reporter from ThinkProgress, used the example of one of his clients, who lost his freedom to a judge who believed only women drink Irish Cream. Perhaps Brian Brown should put Cameroon on his travel agenda.

    I just had an image of Brian Brown ordering a Kir Royale at the Yaounde Hilton. The bartender pushes a button under the counter and, a few minutes later, two men in dark uniforms approach the American. The quick thinking activist takes a sip of the sparkling pink cocktail and spits it out in feigned disgust. “What’s this fag drink? I said Scotch. Neat!” Still suspicious, the officers nod and walk back to the lobby. Stone faced, the bartender serves Brown a shot of 12-year-old Deanston. He’s not fooled. As Brown raises the tepid liquor to his lips, his hands tremble imperceptibly.

    Actually, it’s too nice a day for the heaviness of Bailey’s. I made myself a Campari and iced tea instead. A drink of my own invention. Perfect for a late summer afternoon.

    My Best Mate’s Wedding

    Let’s move on to the two straight men who got legally married in New Zealand in order to win a radio contest. I’m unclear on the contest details, but I can report that 23-year-old Travis McIntosh and 24-year-old Matt McCormick tied the knot in Auckland surrounded by about 60 family members and friends. The men, described as “best mates,” have won a trip to next year’s Rugby World Cup in London.

    At least one gay activist told the Australian Associated Press that the men’s charade made a mockery of the fight for marriage equality, and at first I agreed. But on second thought, I changed my mind. The escapade makes a mockery of marriage in general perhaps, but it’s no different than reality show marriages or getting hitched to a stranger in Vegas. In a way, it illustrates that same-sex marriages can be just as absurd as straight ones. I was oddly touched by all the family and friends who showed up, as well as the comment by Mr. McCormack, who told the press that he thought the marriage might last about two years. For the record, same-sex marriage was legalized in New Zealand in 2013.

    And what else is new? In addition to the Belgrade bust up, there are other gay bashing stories, including a gang attack on two men in Philadelphia, a nasty bar fight in Wellington, and the case of a gay man in Wales who was splashed with gasoline and lost the use of his (previously damaged) left eye in the assault. In a detailed article on September 7, the Guardian’s Helena Smith described conditions in Greece, where antigay violence is a serious problem, exacerbated by the reluctance of the country’s conservative leaders to pass strong gay rights legislation. A couple of weeks ago, Smith reports, two men were attacked by over a dozen skinheads in the middle of an Athenian park. One man’s leg was broken in three places, yet police dismissed the injury as minor scratches.

    And we’re not even going near the African continent, otherwise we’d be fixated on this depressing subject for pages and pages. My mood has darkened over the last half hour and, to make matters worse, the sun went away and the afternoon turned from gorgeous to gloomy. I even lost interest in my drink. No, I’m not joking about violence. It’s there. It’s inescapable and, quite frankly, I’d rather write about constitutional law.

    So Sue Me

    Yet surely there must be a third alternative topic, or even a fourth. How about the guy from Bangladesh who sued his employers at an Italian restaurant when he claimed a male chef put the moves on him back in 2011? Mohammed Muktadir also said the staff called him names and refused to accommodate his diet at the employee meal.

    All in all, it sounds like Muktadir had an unpleasant working experience, but was it worth a lawsuit? Brooklyn judge Frederic Block apparently didn’t think so. During a break in the trial, Judge Block ran into a colleague who asked him what he was working on. “Just a stupid little trial,” Block said, unaware that one of the jurors was right behind him. Judge Block was obliged to announce his transgression to the lawyers and dismiss the eavesdropper from the jury. The newly constituted jury threw out the case in fifteen minutes, arguably proving Judge Block’s point.

    Now that I reread that, I find the story much less interesting than I had thought. I don’t know. I had an image of the predatory chef, his knife blistering through an onion, his beady eyes on his colleague. I could see Muktadir sullenly picking bits of smoked ham out of his antipasto, mind whirling, suppressing his outrage. A desire for revenge builds, frustrated only by the need for a paycheck. Finally, even this consideration is tossed aside. He quits! He sues!

    In Brooklyn, the wheels of justice turn slowly. Settlement talks go nowhere. Motions are heard. Depositions are scheduled, delayed, rescheduled. But Muktadir persists. He must have his day in court. Dollar signs dance in his thoughts as he falls asleep. He imagines his former foes in deep distress, ordered to pay for their sins. Bankrupted. Rueful.

    And finally, the trial begins. First jury selection, then testimony. And then? An 80-year-old white guy calls his case stupid and the jury throws it out without a moment’s thought or a dime of recompense. Could this be happening? In the courtroom, Muktadir can’t help but take a sidelong glance at the randy chef. He’s smirking!

    Well, that’s my version of it anyway. I can’t stand people who sue over life’s relatively minor setbacks. And I’m assuming that, since the jury tossed the case so easily, Mr. Muktadir’s complaints were ill founded. At any rate, the story was a psychological improvement over broken legs and blind eyes. And the sun has returned.

    arostow@aol.com