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    Ann Rostow: You Got a Fast Car

    By Ann Rostow

    You Got A Fast Car

    A huge news story might be breaking this week. In journalism, the professional term for such a situation is “hic sugit,” which is Latin for “try your best under difficult circumstances.”

    On the other hand, the big breaking story may turn out to be nothing much. You remember, of course, that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently ruled in favor of marriage equality in the case out of Virginia. Like many of you, I assumed the court would second-guess the Supreme Court by putting a hold on its decision. Ever since the High Court flashed a red light on Utah marriages six or seven months ago, most other courts have stayed their own marriage rulings, figuring that the Justices want everyone to wait until they themselves can issue a decisive opinion.

    But guess what? The Fourth Circuit did not issue a stay. Instead, the appellate panel ruled that same-sex marriage could begin in Virginia on August 21. Woah, Nelly!

    That ruling has been quickly appealed to Justice John Roberts, who is assigned to handle emergencies from the Fourth Circuit. He is widely expected to consult with the other justices, and announce a decision shortly. Indeed, by the time you read this, you will know what happened.

    As I said, it could be nothing much. Roberts and company could issue another stay without comment, and that would be that.

    Alternatively, it could be a big deal. The parties, including the State of Virginia, have asked the Court to take review of the Virginia case at once, without waiting for formal petitions or long conferences. If the Court were to issue a stay, but go ahead and schedule the case for this coming session, they’d be generating a lot of headlines.

    Finally, the Court could drop a bomb by declining to halt marriages in Virginia. Such a move, which would require five votes, would signal that marriage equality is inevitable. Sure, we think that anyway. But wouldn’t it be nice to know? (Editor’s Note: On August 20, the Supreme Court granted a stay in the Virginia marriage equality case. LGBT couples likely will not be able to legally marry in VA until at least next June, according to Bay Times columnist and Marriage Equality USA activist Thom Watson.)

    For the record, the State of Virginia wants the High Court to issue a stay. Even though they refused to defend discrimination, they still think a stay would avoid confusion or something like that. Their brief to the Court explained that driving without a seatbelt in a speeding car is not a problem as long as you don’t have an accident. But if the car crashes, people could get hurt. The car crash, in this illuminating metaphor, would consist of the Court allowing marriage in Virginia and then reversing marriage law next year, not a happy prospect. But Virginia is not asking the Court to mandate seatbelts. They’re asking the Court to pull over by the side of the road for the next nine months.

    Still, we have to thank Virginia’s Democratic officials for supporting our cause and leaving the defense of state law in the hands of some conservative clerks. That helped.

    Storm Clouds

    It’s been a long time since we’ve had a negative story about marriage equality. But sad to say, the time has come. For one thing, a conservative state judge in Tennessee issued an antigay ruling in a gay divorce case, perhaps the first such defeat in the months since the High Court’s decision to strike Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act. Please note, however, that a seven-page ruling by a clueless red state county judge does not even approach the definition of “setback.”

    No, the real downer looks like it might be heading our way from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Two weeks ago, a three-judge panel heard hours of arguments in marriage cases out of four states. As bad luck would have it, we wound up with two conservatives on the three-judge panel, and the arguments suggested that we might end up on the wrong side of a split ruling.

    We could still be happily surprised. But the “cautious optimism” that everyone used to describe the run up to rulings in the Tenth and Fourth Circuits has been replaced by “dimly hopeful pessimism.”

    With one judge for us, and one judge pretty clearly on the other side, we are looking at the man in the middle, Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a Bush Two appointee who appears to cherish states’ rights and the Democratic process. Why shouldn’t each state decide their own marriage policy for themselves? And what about the precious principle of majority rule that animates our republic? I’m putting words in Judge Sutton’s mouth, but let’s just say that the man in the middle is not in the center.

    As for the other Bush Two pick on the panel, most analysts gave up immediately on Judge Deborah Cook, whose questions appeared to bolster the antigay side. Personally, obsessed as I may be on this subject, I chose not to plough through the transcripts of the arguments, so I can’t give you a solid critique of Judge Cook’s colloquy with the various attorneys. Let’s just note that conventional wisdom says we will lose the Sixth Circuit cases.

    And before I leave this subject, let me register some annoyance with the pundits who insist that we “need” to lose a federal appellate case because the Supreme Court often waits until there’s a difference of opinion among the lower courts before they agree to accept review.

    Yes, this is basically true. The High Court is not going to review some arcane feature of federal procedure unless some confusion has arisen. But marriage equality is on another level. Once the Tenth and Fourth Circuits ruled that state laws and amendments were unconstitutional, the High Court was basically obliged to settle the matter. For God’s sake! The Justices put a hold on marriage in Utah! Would they have done so if they were not planning on deciding the underlying issue themselves? No. Can the High Court allow our marriages to be viewed as a fundamental right in some states, and a deviant sexcapade elsewhere? No.

    As such, we need a loss at the Sixth Circuit like we need a hole in the head. It won’t be fatal to our cause by any means. But there’s a difference between striding up to the Supreme Court with an overwhelming set of favorable precedents in our pocket, and walking in with a mixed bag.

    Sticks and Stones

    Here’s a confession. If some celebrity I’ve never heard of comes out of the closet, I don’t care and I don’t cover it. I’m not proud of this. It’s not very professional. But there you are. The older I get, the more people fall into this mysterious chasm, which is also home to fictional characters by the way. For example, I just read that Daryl Dixon might turn out to be gay on season five of The Walking Dead.

    If I were not in the process of telling you that I ignore people I’ve never heard of, you would not be reading about Daryl in this column because I disdain all things zombie and vampire. Nor would I be telling you about newly out Christian recording artist Vicky Beeching, because I also disdain Christian recording artists. And I would also skip a headline like: “Expendables 3 characters played by Arnie and Jet Li are gay, says director.” Even though the “Arnie” refers to Arnold Schwarzenegger, I am so oblivious to action movies that I did not make the connection until I clicked in pursuit of my current train of thought.

    These evasions sometimes lead me to race through the gay newsfeeds, dispensing with story after story in search of the ones that let a frisson of glee penetrate my rigid editorial filters.

    How about the 42-year-old father of three in Newcastle, who was fined the equivalent of $663 for a Facebook rant that targeted a gay pride celebration near his home. “If your parents were faggots,” wrote Paul Gair, “you horrible gay cu-ts wouldn’t (have) been born! Should be lined up and machine gunned, vile disgusting cu-ts!” We don’t have the same kinds of laws against offensive or threatening speech here in the U.S., which is good. But it’s still nice to see a man like Gair slammed in the wallet for his obscene tirade. Gair explained that he was not aiming to be homophobic, but that he had been having a bad day.

    I know that much has been written about the incivility that reigns online and sometimes on social media. For people like Paul Gair, I believe that living on this kind of venom, whether expressed or not, must be a certain kind of hell. What really depresses me, however, is the routine meanness and negativity that typifies our discourse.

    In general, I don’t read online comments. But our Austin newspaper has a section called “You Said It!” or something like that, where readers are allowed to opine on one topic every day. If it’s a skyscraper going up, people will say the city’s too big and too expensive. If it’s a new community college campus, people will complain about their taxes. If it’s a plan for light rail, people will wonder why the busses don’t run on time. A general theme is that Austin was “better” 20 years ago, and is being ruined by growth and tourist events like South by Southwest and Formula One racing. No matter what the topic, the section attracts naysayers and snipers.

    At any rate, I was going to write a letter to the paper about this, but then I realized I would sound just as negative as my targets, and I suppose that’s part of the problem. No one comments about things they like, do they? Personally, I like living in a city that’s vibrant and growing rather than one shedding jobs and businesses, but that’s just me.

    The Gay Place

    Speaking of Austin, you probably noticed that Texas governor Rick Perry was indicted the other day. You may also have noticed that everyone jumped to his defense, wondering what the big deal was about a simple veto. Executive officers can veto whatever they want, right? Just because you don’t agree doesn’t make it a crime. Now, I don’t like Rick Perry, but I’d be the first to defend him on principle. The problem is that people don’t seem to understand the charge.

    Travis County is one of the few Democratic counties in the state, and we elected a Democratic District Attorney, who also happens to be a lesbian. I add that because I’m using Rosemary Lehmberg’s sexual orientation as an excuse to put this item in a gay news column.

    Lehmberg got plastered a while back and was arrested with an empty bottle of vodka in her car and a blood alcohol level that would make Dracula pass out. She drunkenly threatened the cops and was videotaped acting like a madwoman. A day or so later, she apologized, pled guilty, served time in jail, and promised not to run again this fall.

    Recall that Lehmberg is an elected official in a Democratic county.

    During the months that followed her arrest, a citizen filed suit to try to have her removed from office on, I think, a morals charge of some sort. I’m not sure what legal avenue led to the courthouse in that case, but Lehmberg won and kept her job.

    Meanwhile, Lehmberg’s office oversees a public accountability commission that investigates corruption in state government. Perry hates this commission and told Lehmberg to resign or else he’d strip the office of all funding. She refused. Hell, I can’t defend Lehmberg’s behavior. If I were nailed for DWI, I would be polite to the cops. But we elected her. She did her time. Rick Perry has no authority over the Travis County District Attorney, but he’s a bully and he tried to leverage her arrest into political power play. Illegally, I might add. Oh, and it wasn’t Lehmberg who investigated and indicted the governor. It was an independent prosecutor.

    We’ll see what happens here, but considering the pendulum of punditry swayed way over to Perry’s side as the initial reactions came in, I won’t be surprised if the second wave of analysis sways it back to the prosecutor. Believe me, none of us want Rick Perry to build up any momentum for a national run.

    arostow@aol.com