Devilry Afoot

1-Ann RostowBefore I begin this morning, I would like to complain and whine for a few minutes. Our “good” computer has decided to sever its relationship with its keyboard. If you turn it off and back on it will work for a while and then stop again for no reason.

I had no choice but to revert to our “bad” computer, which pauses for lengthy stretches of time between each task. Googling, clicking on something, reading a story, progressing down the page, switching from one program to the next— all these maneuvers take a full minute or more.
Earlier, I was trying to copy and paste an astonishing quote from the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, blaming Satan for destroying civilization with same-sex marriage and also crediting the “Lord of Lies” for “the denial of objective truth” that characterizes social discourse these days. Nothing says “objective truth” to me like a discussion of Beezelbub and his nefarious meddling in Minnesota public policy.

But I grew tired of waiting for Bad Computer to pick up the text. Just as I clicked back to Word, the text was highlighted, but it was too late because the ponderous machine was now consumed with the program shift. To cap it off, I glanced around the screen while the minutes passed only to see a sidebar story about a man who videotaped his wife having sex with their dogs, and I couldn’t react! It would have taken a half hour or more, and to what end? What more do we need to know of this sordid enterprise? The breeds? I think not.

I know I can just run out to the store and buy another computer. I’ve been meaning to do so, but inertia sets in.

Parsing Kennedy

I have just returned from an interminable foray into cyberspace, where I encountered an interesting, yet weird, essay on the implications of the High Court’s decision in Windsor (the DOMA case). Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the author without another time-consuming delay, but I can tell you that he made some trenchant observations about Justice Kennedy’s frustratingly confusing opinion.

As I’ve said before, Kennedy did us the immense service of overturning Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, but he did so without advancing gay rights law, or indicating whether or not sexual orientation discrimination should be closely scrutinized by future courts. Indeed, as my mystery lawyer noted, Kennedy did not even ground his conclusions in specific constitutional doctrine. Instead, he left us a lot of fancy prose to interpret as we (and our adversaries) see fit.

So what does Windsor say about those of us who got married in a free state, but reside in mean state? On the one hand, Kennedy went on at length about the respect owed to state policies, which could argue against forcing mean states to bow down to their sister states. On the other hand, the weight of his opinion insisted that the federal government could not ignore the dignity and value of the marital status conferred to gay couples. If that’s true, then how can other states turn a blind eye without violating the same (unspecified) constitutional principles that Kennedy imposes on the federal government?

We’ll see, won’t we? Meanwhile, the weird part of this essay was the suggestion that states be required to recognize a gay marriage when a couple moves from a free state to a mean state, but that mean state residents who travel to marry should continue as legal strangers. Say what? Could that line in the sand pass muster under the Equal Protection Clause? Only in an essay, not in real life. After all, how could a state argue that marriage discrimination serves a legitimate, let alone important, state interest if it recognizes some gay marriages but not others based on logistics alone?

We’re Back in Kansas!

Moving on, my stepson has just brought equality to Topeka, Kansas. I exaggerate only a tad, but last
night, the Topeka City Council voted 6-2 to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s Human Rights Commission’s list of protected classes. Nathan cast one of those
6 votes and, of course, advocated for the
ordinance.

Topeka’s Human Rights Commission does not have the power to litigate, but that didn’t stop opponents from insisting that the measure would summon the wrath of, I don’t know, Satan? That said, the opponents were outnumbered and overshadowed by moving testimony from our side, and as you can see from the lopsided vote, they were in the minority of public opinion as well. Indeed, eight years ago Topeka residents voted down an effort to repeal benefits for gay and lesbian city staff, so you see, there’s nothing the matter with Kansas, or at least its capital city.

As you know, Topeka is the home of the so-called Westboro Baptist Church, a family compound run by lunatic Fred Phelps and several of his deranged children. You may have heard that a group bought the house across the street from the compound, painted it in rainbow colors, and began raising money for the overall betterment of mankind, journalism lingo for I’m not sure exactly what their raising money for but it’s something worthy. My six-year-old granddaughter has been selling lemonade at the location, proving that our families can raise activists too.
Finally, don’t forget that whatever you think of Sam Brownback and his fellow conservatives in power, it was Kansas that helped free the slaves. Missouri’s the real villain in this part of the country. I come by my views through marriage, but they are now deeply held.

Why Do I Live Here?

Speaking of mean, my own Lone Star State is one of a handful of states attempting to make it difficult for gay members of the Texas National Guard to get spousal benefits. Yes, there is state participation in the Texas National Guard, and yes, Texas does not recognize same-sex marriages. But the Texas National Guard is, for all intents and purposes, a federal operation, overseen by the National Guard Bureau and administered under a system called DEERS, the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System.

As such, guardsmen and women are federal employees, and while the Texas branch indeed has “Texas” in its name, that doesn’t mean that the state can opt out of the Supreme Court’s recent mandate. I gather that there are maybe 20 or so federal guard offices in Texas, so when a gay guard tries to sign up for benefits at their local headquarters, they are instead directed to one of these 20 offices, even if the closest one is a hundred miles away.

It almost makes me want to stop rooting for the Longhorns, as if my status as a Longhorn fan isn’t painful enough as it is. I think Lambda is suing the state. Yay. And, for the record, the reason I live here is Austin.

Returning To Our
Favorite Subject

There are now so many marriage lawsuits, both state and federal, that I cannot keep them straight. Toss in our legislative efforts to pass marriage in Hawaii, in Illinois, in New Jersey, and yet a greater level of information overload is achieved.

Under the circumstances, instead of an orderly review of our efforts on the front lines of marriage equality, I will provide a hit or miss collection of recent events more or less at random.
Let’s start with the lawmakers. In Illinois, the state senate passed marriage equality last February, but we have yet to amass the needed votes in the house. We may be getting close, however, and it’s possible that we could see a successful house vote in October or November. Lawmakers meet for a couple of days in both those months for a “veto session.” I have no idea what that means exactly, but it provides a couple of windows of opportunity. If those windows don’t open, we resume our efforts in January.

In New Jersey, we already passed marriage equality, which was vetoed by Chris Christie. (I think his lap band is working, don’t you?) At any rate, we have until next January to override that veto, and we are reportedly getting closer. Meanwhile, Hawaii lawmakers are expected to take up marriage equality this fall.
As for the lawsuits, my eye is on New Mexico, where the state supreme court finally agreed to take on marriage equality after clerks around the Land of Enchantment started handing out licenses on their own initiative. A similar state suit is building in Pennsylvania, where rogue clerks were told to cease and desist. And Pennsylvania is also the scene of a federal case, challenging marriage discrimination on U.S. Constitutional grounds.

In Michigan, a federal marriage suit has just been cleared for an early October oral argument by a judge who says he will decide quickly on the fate of the Mitten State’s antigay constitutional amendment. Other federal marriage cases, or Prop 8-type cases shall we say, are pending before the Ninth Circuit against Hawaii and Nevada. Meanwhile, in addition the Pennsylvania case, our allies have filed federal suits against Virginia, North Carolina and you know what? I can’t remember them all.
The long running state law claim against New Jersey should be coming to a conclusion in the months ahead. And there’s a state law case just filed in Kentucky of all places, although instinct suggests that this litigation might not be resolved in our favor. Still, these days you never know.
You get the picture, right? Many cases. Many bills. Many things happening. Did I mention that Oregon voters would likely repeal their constitutional amendment in 2014? Just name a state and something’s going on. Unless the state you name is profoundly conservative, that “something” could easily carve out a new zone of marriage equality.

Twelve Gay Men

I see from my list that I should be telling you about the pharmaceutical price gouging case now pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Why? Because in addition to sorting out the underlying issue, the panel will also decide whether or not lawyers can use preemptory juror challenges based solely on sexual orientation. They can’t exclude jurors based on race or gender, so why should they be able to dump gays and lesbians?
I should be talking about the juror question, but although at times this week I’ve been quite obsessed with the subject, I can’t summon my erstwhile enthusiasm at the moment.

Let’s talk instead about the ad for Legal Zoom featuring the woman who has created a toffee business based on her mother’s recipe. The ad itself is innocuous. But after seeing it seventeen million times, sometimes twice in a row, it’s starting to drive me out of my mind.

Her simpering smile. The strange room where, in addition to making toffee, it looks as if she has mounted a couple dozen bags of toffee on the wall in some kind of art display. It’s not a retail display. What is it? It makes no sense. And, well, how realistic is the whole premise? How realistic is the image of a simple housewife who starts a major candy company in her spare time using online legal websites instead of actual lawyers? It’s Hallmark stuff. It annoys me. Who eats toffee? Who buys it in precious little bags tied with ribbon? The packaging alone must jack the price sky high. I bet each unit sells for $15. Does Legal Zoom provide bankruptcy forms? So many questions.

These days, we are watching Broadchurch, the final episodes of Breaking Bad, and of course reruns of Star Trek Next Generation. As such, my final observation concerns the Star Trek writers’ vision of 24th century bedding. Why would we dispense with the luxurious duvets and fluffy pillows of today and content ourselves
with a single sheet of Kevlar and a small cushion several centuries hence? Why wouldn’t we have more comfortable options rather than less comfortable ones?

Another lapse in imagination from the same writers who produced no openly gay characters and who made every single alien race exactly the same height as us and every other planet exactly the same size as Earth. I still love them

arostow@aol.com