By Ann Rostow
Don’t tell my editors, please, but I’m way behind on my column because I had to fill out my billion-dollar March Madness bracket. All these decisions to make. Is Wichita State for real? Can Harvard make another run? Will Joel Embiid return in time for Kansas to beat New Mexico in the second round? And what do I do with my own struggling home team, the University of Texas, which everyone is picking to lose in an upset to Arizona State.
My answers: yes and no; not this year; Kansas will win with or without him; and yes, Texas will beat Arizona State, but that’s as far as we go this year.
Years ago, before I married into a family of college hoops fanatics, I used to dread this time of year when the sports channels were overrun with boring games between no-name schools. One time, however, I was watching Gonzaga play just after I had written a story about some bad anti-gay thing that happened at Gonzaga. Amazingly, I was fired up about the game, rooting hard for Gonzaga’s foe and I had a brainstorm.
The following year I vowed to rank all 64 teams based on a gay factor. Was the team from a pro-gay state? Did the college have an antidiscrimination policy? Did gay groups on campus say the place was friendly, or not? After convincing my editors (at the Texas Triangle) to promote the big gay bracket issue, I dove into the project only to realize that it was insanely labor intensive. I wound up working for hours and hours and hours, and in keeping with my natural penchant for sloth over slog, I vowed never to do it again.
Happily, given my conversion to college basketball, I no longer have a need for gimmicks. But I still root against Gonzaga on principle. They’re not even at the dance this year. Hah! As for my bracket, I had no choice but to get it done by today because as you may know, Warren Buffett is giving a billion dollars to anyone who correctly predicts the entire contest. That could be me! I think the odds are unbeatable. You’re more likely to hit four holes in one in a single round of golf, or be struck by lightning on the one-year anniversary of the day you were bitten by a shark. But still. Anything can happen right?
It’s hard to admit, but I have also been avoiding this week’s column due to a certain marriage equality fatigue. Since marriage equality is the subject I have pursued relentlessly for nearly two decades, my sense of ennui is significant in some way. We have come so far that even a compulsive analyst of the fight for marriage can no longer wade through federal court briefs, or even track exactly how many cases are pending in federal courts. I think I read this week that five cases were just filed in Indiana alone. In another article, I read that three cases were filed in the Hoosier State. You know what? I’m not checking this out! It’s too much. I can’t give you the attention to detail that you deserve.
In Tennessee, a judge has issued an immediate order to recognize three marriages, just the plaintiffs in one case, but still. In Virginia, where Olson and Boies just won a marriage case at the district level, Lambda and the ACLU have been allowed to intervene in the appeal before the Fourth Circuit. The big gay guns have their own Virginia case and the Team of Rivals had opposed their motion to intervene to no avail. Now, the Fourth Circuit has announced a fast schedule that competes with the Tenth Circuit cases of Utah and Oklahoma. Basically, we will see appellate court arguments on marriage in early April at the Tenth Circuit, and early May at the Fourth Circuit. One or both of those appellate rulings will likely reach the High Court.
There are also two major headlines out of the Ninth Circuit. First, we just learned that the huge ruling in the gay juror case will not be appealed. Not to the full Ninth Circuit, and not to the Supreme Court. That means that sexual orientation discrimination remains presumptively unconstitutional throughout the western United States. This is now binding law, period. Thank you, Abbot Labs, for keeping your powder dry, perhaps with us in mind.
Second, the strange Nevada marriage case now on appeal to the Ninth Circuit has been shelved again, for no clear reason. This case, Sevcik v Sandoval, is the oldest federal marriage case on our community docket. For a time, it was combined with a case against Hawaii, but when the Island State legalized marriage, their case dropped off. The case against Nevada (which we lost in lower court) was put on hold while the Supreme Court considered the Prop 8 and Windsor cases. Then last summer, it resumed its sluggish progress.
In late January, the Ninth Circuit’s aforementioned gay juror ruling reset the legal standards in evaluating antigay bias cases. Shortly thereafter, the state of Nevada admitted it could no longer defend its marriage ban, and it looked as if the Ninth Circuit would move forward towards a big victory for equality. Earlier this month, the court even set up a schedule for April arguments before postponing them “indefinitely” the other day. A procedural problem? Anyone out there know for sure?
Oh, but there’s so much more: a case or two just filed in Florida, a divorce case for two lesbians moving up in Alabama, and a decision expected any day now in the Prop 8-style marriage trial in Michigan. Meanwhile, briefs are flying in both directions all over the country in the run up to a summer of explosive legal headlines.
Keep in mind that all of these lawsuits are either sitting at a federal appellate court, or on their way to one. Unlike the state marriage suits we know and love, these rulings will use the force of federal law like a sledgehammer to smash the constitutional amendments that have barred our unions in over half the states. (Or not, of course, but I think most will.) At any rate, the Supreme Court will not be able to duck the central question of marriage equality once these appellate rulings hit their docket, a historic moment which will come sooner rather than later at this rate.
I Heart SCOTUS
Speaking of the Supreme Court, the justices have decided not to review the “I Heart Boobies” case out of the Third Circuit, a confrontation between a Pennsylvania school district and a bunch of middle school girls who wore the saucy slogan on pink bracelets ostensibly to raise awareness of breast cancer. The school took it all too seriously, banning the bracelets as the sort of provocative disruption that districts are allowed to mitigate without offending the constitutional rights of students. The Third Circuit disagreed, basically ruling that the bracelets weren’t that big of a deal.
We were watching this case due to our communal interest in gay t-shirts and other student statements. We all know that kids do not leave their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate, but those rights are nonetheless diminished to some extent once the students give themselves up to school authority for the day. Just a few years ago, for example, the High Court ruled that a student could be disciplined for carrying a druggie poster (“Bong Hits for Jesus”) to an off campus event. So, can a school make you take off your “Day of Silence” shirt? More interestingly, can the principal ban antigay hate speech? What about a shirt with a quote from Leviticus? It remains murky, but we err on the side of the student as did the High Court last week.
In other gay-related SCOTUS news, the justices are about to hear the Hobby Lobby case that asks to what extent a corporation can skirt the law through a claim of religious freedom. Many observers have now noticed the link between Hobby Lobby (whose owners don’t want to offer insurance that covers contraception) and the sort of antigay business owner who might not want to serve gay customers.
But you heard the comparison here first, months ago when the High Court agreed to take the case. At issue are several questions, one being the constitutional rights of corporations versus individuals. Without diving fully back into the swamp of religious freedom where we have wallowed so often in the past, let me just note that once again, while everyone loves to discuss religious freedom, few are questioning whether and why hostility and prejudice towards gay men and women even qualifies as a legitimate tenet of religious faith in the first place. At any rate, arguments are scheduled for next week so it will be all over the press.
The End of Days for Fred?
So, we heard this week that our old pal Fred Phelps is in poor health, and living in some kind of medical facility. His estranged son Nathan says it’s a hospice and that the 84-year old man is close to death. Nathan also wrote that Phelps has been kicked out of the Westboro Baptist Church, which is hard to believe considering said “church” is nothing more than a collection of Phelps family members living on a compound in one of Topeka’s residential neighborhoods.
Aha! Further research indicates that there was indeed a power struggle within the Phelps family this summer and that Fred lost. Also, in case some of you are hoping to go picket this lunatic’s funeral, his daughter announced that he won’t have one. Really? I bet they do something for the old buzzard.
I noticed while looking into Fred’s status that some in our community are torn about celebrating a man’s death. But you know what? It’s not a zero sum game where you have to either celebrate or maintain some respect. This is a brutal, hateful and mentally deranged individual, who inadvertently advanced gay rights by personifying religious bigotry at its worst. His dying days will bring me a grim satisfaction, and his death will simply mark the end of the weird phenomenon that was Fred Phelps. I hope his “funeral,” or whatever ritual ensues, is a lonely affair. No protestors, no news media, no attention, no care whatsoever.
I have a few hundred words left. Just enough for the two lesbians murdered in Texas by an antigay dad, or maybe a recap of who did or did not march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parades, and which beer companies decided to boycott to show gay support (Guinness and Sam Adams, maybe others).
Instead, how about contrarian gay writer, Brendon Ambrosino, a man who has stood out from the crowds on each side of the gay debate by deliberately taking the road no one else travels?
There’s a reason no one travels these roads. Most gay journalists don’t think being gay is fundamentally a choice, don’t have much sympathy for far right leaders like Jerry Falwell, and don’t believe that gay activists are bullies when they confront discrimination or bigotry. Ambrosino, whose columns inspire sputtering fury from the rest of the gay writing cohort, has just been hired as a gay voice for Vox, a new online venture run by clueless Ezra Klein, who admitted he wasn’t really up to date on Ambrosino’s body of work, but said he liked writers who didn’t say the same thing as everyone else.
You know, everyone likes a fresh viewpoint. But although many aspects of gay civil rights are up for debate, that debate is marked by some bright lines that can’t be crossed by any serious writer. And yet, they can be crossed by someone like Brendon Albrosino! They can be crossed by someone who wants to be noticed on that lonely road to nowhere and who doesn’t have the mental agility to explore the nuanced complexities along the side streets that intersect our common path. There are a lot of people on those side streets and they’re not going to be noticed by conventional editors who are fundamentally unversed in the gay rights movement. Not unless they’re really good, which Brandon Albrosino is not. Ergo, he’s a contrarian—which is almost always a euphemism for a simplistic publicity seeker posing as a thinker.