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Ann Rostow: Hmmmm. What Shall We Talk About?

By Ann Rostow

Hmmmm. What Shall We Talk About?

I think there are only three states left in the country that are not embroiled in a federal marriage suit, not counting the 17 states that already celebrate marriage equality, of course. Many states are enjoying multiple lawsuits. And I’m not even counting the state lawsuits here and there, like the one in Texas where a local judge recently slammed the state’s anti-marriage law in the case of divorcing lesbians in San Antonio.

The latest twist comes out of North Carolina, where a bunch of clergy and same-sex couples are attacking a state statute that basically bans ministers from performing weddings for couples without a marriage license. The lawsuit also targets the North Carolina anti-marriage amendment, but it has been drawing headlines for its claim that the Tobacco State is trampling on religious freedom.

Without delving into the aforementioned statute, I’m guessing that the language in the state code was originally meant to prevent straight people from running to the altar without bothering with the bureaucracy of actually getting a license and so forth. Strangely, the law seems to put the burden on the minister, by instituting a fine, forcing a minister to check the paperwork before he or she ties the ritual knot. (Ironically, the law serves to emphasize again, that marriage is a civil status, regardless of how sacred the religious side of it might be seen by the participants.)

At any rate, since gay couples can’t get a license to wed in North Carolina, the church plaintiffs are insisting that their right to perform a religious ceremony of marriage is unconstitutionally subjected to criminal penalties. Hey, they have a point! This ought to be interesting.

Off the top of my head, I can tell you that we have a new lawsuit in Georgia, and a full-throated suit for equality in Ohio. We’ve already won a marriage recognition case in the Buckeye State, but this latest one is for all the marbles.

In significant related news, the US. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has refused to consolidate the appeals of marriage cases out of Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee. Michigan’s attorney general had asked the entire court to go straight to an “en banc” review of marriage equality, but apparently not one judge agreed. The four cases will instead be heard by three-judge appellate panel, as is the norm.

Keep an eye on Indiana, where arguments will be heard May 2 on whether to skip a factual trial on marriage equality and proceed to summary judgment. In the history of marriage litigation, we’ve only had three trials on the subject, mainly because the conflict is arguably a matter of law, not facts. Nonetheless, we had a trial in Hawaii in the late 1990s. We had the Prop 8 trial. And we just finished a trial in Michigan the other day. (We won them all. Yay!) I’m guessing that Indiana will skip a trial, given that the same judge recently issued a temporary restraining order against the Basketball State in favor of a lesbian couple.

Let’s see. A federal judge in Oregon just heard arguments the other day. Since no state authority is defending the ban on marriage in Beaverland, the National Organization for Marriage popped up at the very last minute to demand a seat at the table. NOM’s attempt to intervene will be discussed at a hearing May 14. Meanwhile, the activists at Basic Rights Oregon say they will abandon plans to force a statewide referendum on marriage if the judge rules in our favor by May 23. If that deadline passes, I’m assuming we will see a popular vote to legalize marriage this November. And I’m assuming we’ll win.

Next up in the news: arguments on the Virginia marriage law before the US. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in mid-May.

Criminal Minds

Are my columns becoming tedious, Dear Readers? But what choice do I have? Back in the day, before hearing dates and appellate schedules overwhelmed this humble exercise, I had the space to discuss the wacky British lesbian who kidnapped her ex at knifepoint and took her on a harrowing ride down the M5. And the one who tried to poison her ex with sleeping pills and had to call emergency medical services. And the one who broke into her ex’s house and cut up her underwear. And the American woman who murdered her ex and left the body parts in boxes in the garage (carefully marked with her own name) to be discovered years later by her son-in-law.

Oh, I forget the details. But I do remember a time when gay news was colorful. And it wasn’t just the lesbians. Don’t forget all those gay male cannibals!

I have to assume that our community psychopaths are still out there. But maybe the news radar is so high these days that they’re not getting the kind of coverage that would attract our attention.

I just Googled “gay and lesbian psychopaths,” and found a list of six clues that suggest you’re dating a psychopath. If these clues seem familiar, the advice columnist suggests you “walk away” from the relationship. I have to say, that could be a problem, right? It’s the exes that get targeted for deranged shenanigans.

In a related note, here’s something I don’t like to see in an advice column. The other day, someone wrote Dear Abby to make a point about kind gestures. This writer, we were informed, went out of her way to help someone. I forget what she did, even though she included every detail of her considerate gesture. She then told the recipient to pass along the goodness. Her point to Abby was that self-sacrificing favors were their own reward and helped make the world a better place. Surely there was no reason for this woman to send this account off for publication other than to pat herself on the back. I can’t believe Abby played into this egomaniac, and I was officially annoyed.

The other advice column letters that I hate are the pompous notes from officials asking Abby to remind everyone to check their smoke alarms or stop texting while driving or watch out for phone scammers. We read Abby and her ilk for stories about obnoxious family members and scandalous affairs, not for boring civic reminders.

The Emperor’s New Faith

So, here’s a question. Do you think there’s a comparison to be made between Donald Sterling and Brendon Eich? Sterling, as you know, is the owner of the Clippers who was barred for life from the NBA after he was heard disparaging black men in a taped conversation with his girlfriend. Eich is the former CEO of Mozilla, who lost his job when it became known that he donated $1,000 to Prop 8. After Eich was drummed out of his job, the GLBT community began an important debate on how we should treat those who oppose marriage equality. Should we treat them as decent people with whom we disagree, or should we call them out in no uncertain terms? That debate is still going on.

It’s a given that Sterling is “worse” than Eich. Sterling has a history of racism, and his taped conversation revealed what we might call “pure” racism. Eich had no history of homophobia, and if Eich had been caught on tape denouncing gay men and women, I imagine no one would have suggested he stay on the job.

That said, Eich wasn’t banned for life from the tech industry. He had just gotten the CEO job and in the uproar over his opposition to marriage equality he was deemed a liability. What we seem to be asking ourselves is this: can there ever be a benign reason for someone to support traditional marriage? Was the uproar over Eich unfair, or misplaced? (Significantly, the uproar did not come from gay organizations, but from individuals.)

The answer often seems to rest on faith. Don’t we, as Americans, respect people whose faiths lead them to conclusions that we don’t share? In general, the answer is yes. But there must be a limit to this. Faith doesn’t justify racism. Why should faith be allowed to justify hostility towards gay men and women? Why do we allow religious exclusions to civil rights bills and policies? Because of Leviticus?

The people who insist faith commands opposition to gay rights are using the Faith Card as a stand in for tradition, for how they were raised, for their unconscious attitudes, for their instinctive dislike of homosexuality. And these are the same reasons that lead others to, let’s say, give a thousand dollars to Prop 8. There’s no call to be churlish in our reaction to our opponents. But there’s no reason to let their actions (and make no mistake, Brendon Eich took action) go unchallenged.

Just because Sterling is a hundred times worse than Eich doesn’t mean that both men are not guilty of the same crime. Sterling robbed a bank of a million dollars while Eich shoplifted a set of cufflinks. Still, there’s a connection.

Resting Places

Here’s a nasty story out of Idaho. A 74-year-old Navy veteran, Madelynn Taylor, lost her wife, Jean Mixner, in 2012. After Mixner’s death, Taylor went to the state veterans’ cemetery to arrange for the two of them to be buried together when the time comes. Mixner was cremated, and Taylor also plans to be cremated, so it’s not as if the women will take up much space.

But, as you might have guessed by the adjective “nasty,” the Spud State authorities said no. Because this is a state facility, the cemetery poobahs refused to recognize Taylor and Mixner’s 2008 California marriage.

You know, there are dozens of antigay news stories in any given week, but this one really takes your breath away. Taylor, who is keeping Mixner’s ashes in a closet for now, has lived in Idaho for a long time and has family in the state. “I just feel like it’s the right place for me,” she told the press. “You know, I’m a veteran. But I don’t want to be alone. I want Jean with me.”

Governor Butch Otter, in turn, noted in a statement that “Idaho’s Constitution does not recognize same-sex marriage. The voters spoke in 2006 by passing an amendment to our Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman.”  Give us a gay break, Butch. I wonder if this is really what the voters of Idaho hoped to achieve when they pulled the levers, or poked the chads, back in 2006. And when people speculate on why our movement has made so much progress, it’s because of people like Madelynn Taylor and Jean Mixner.

By the way, not only does Idaho have a federal lawsuit underway, but it is part of the Ninth Circuit, where a marriage case is still pending and where we are still waiting to hear whether our major sexual orientation discrimination ruling from last January will stay on the books without further review from the full court. If the ruling holds, and if the (Nevada) case goes forward, Taylor won’t have that much longer to wait before Idaho’s marriage amendment turns into mashed potatoes.

I can’t remember whether I’ve mentioned Mel and my plan to be cremated and mixed together. We decided to buy three tacky urns, perhaps decorated with sparkles and inlaid photos of the two of us smiling drunkenly and holding tropical cocktails. Maybe we’ll have “Mom and Ann” written in script. Anyway, we’ll give one urn to each of the three adult children with instructions to keep them on prominent display forever. Oh, maybe we’ll write “Nana and Grand Ann” and make the grandkids put the urns on the mantle. Something like that. The idea is so outrageous that it’s almost tempting.

Maybe we’ll write little notes and put them on the bottom under the ashes that say, “Put us back in the urn this instant!”

arostow@aol.com