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    The Week in Review

    1-Ann Rostow

    Jason, Jason, He’s Our Man

    Don’t get me wrong. Jason Collins, our Great Gay Hope, seems like a really nice guy. He came out of the closet last week with grace and style. He’s handsome and smart, right out of central casting as the perfect professional gay athlete.

    But still. Does Jason really merit the tens of thousands of news stories he’s managed to generate in the last few days? Peyton Manning, maybe. But Jason Collins? Was it really such a shock to discover the sexual orientation of a veteran journeyman hoopster? A man that no one except serious basketball fans had ever heard of? Well, I guess it was.

    At any rate, the courageous center was rewarded with near universal support. A call from President Obama, an invitation to throw out a pitch at a Red Sox game, a general buzz of pleasure and praise from the media and the blogosphere. He certainly deserves the acclaim, as well as the promised Nike sponsorship that is coming his way. But before we tire of this subject, did any of you notice that Baylor superstar Brittney Griner came out of the closet a week or so earlier and no one said a word? She did, however, get a Nike contract as well, so there’s that.

    Viva La France

    So, the French senate finally passed marriage equality the other day, although we will still have to wait for two more votes. I’m not an expert on political procedures in the Land of Delicious Things to Eat and Drink, but it does seem that they conduct a hell of a lot of votes on the same bill before it passes. Nonetheless, this time the deal appears to be done, and marriage licenses are expected to be available by summer.

    Meanwhile, many American commentators have noticed that the opposition to marriage equality in France seems to take the form of massive marches and protests, the likes of which are not seen in the United States. How is it, they wonder, that a country with such a laissez faire attitude on many other social issues is bent out of shape by gay marriage!

    Actually, the French do not necessarily have an “anything goes” mentality. But more importantly, some 65 percent of the French continually support marriage equality in polls, a higher percentage than we see here in the Homeland. The French are better at organizing street protests in support of fringe viewpoints, that’s all.

    Equality States Hit Double Digits

    You probably read about the good news out of Rhode Island, where the state senate finally got it together to take a vote on marriage equality. Once the bill has been ratified by the house and signed by the governor, Rhode Island will become the 10th state to allow gay unions, and New England will become a solid block of Free States, as I like to call them. It should be a done deal by the time you read this column.

    “It’s bad enough when families break down through divorce or death,” said Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage after the vote. “But it’s unconscionable when a state encourages this through policies that deprive children of the love of both a mother and a father.” You know, quite frankly I wish the Rhode Island legislature had left out the section of the bill that deprives kids of the love of one of their parents. But I guess you can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs, eight?

    Over in Illinois, where the state senate passed a marriage equality bill some time ago, it seems the house will take a vote on the issue by the end of May. The marriage vote in the Illinois house has been too close to call for weeks, which is why the bill has not been brought to a vote. But hey. “Too close to call” is better than “no chance of passage,” so let’s keep our fingers crossed.

    And in Delaware, the state house approved a marriage bill on April 23. As I write, on May 1 if you must know, a senate committee is expected to move the bill to a floor vote. So, yay!

    I know that civil unions seem like a bit of a letdown with all our progress towards equality. But still, there’s reason to celebrate the launch of civil unions in Colorado this month. Couples lined up at the crack of whatever time it was in order to tie their knots. I know they could only tie a loose little bow, but it was better than a kick in the pants.

    Finally, speaking of kicks in the pants, that’s what we got over here in the Lone Star State, where our ultra conservative Attorney General issued a five-page opinion suggesting that cities, counties and school districts do not have the right to recognize domestic partners. Doing so, wrote Greg Abbot, creates a legal status similar to marriage in violation of the Texas constitution.

    Fortunately, it looks as if (Austin’s) Travis County, the Austin school district, and other entities that have partner benefits in place are going to ignore the position paper, which is not binding. But it will no doubt have a chilling effect on the growth of domestic partner programs around the state. And it’s just one more reminder to my wife and me (California 2008) that even though Austin is a fabulous place to live, we may eventually be forced to move.

    ENDA? Not This Again!

    I was disturbed to see that the Employment Nondiscrimination Act has been introduced in the U.S. Senate, yet again. Some of you may recall that I don’t like this bill, which purports to end GLBT workplace discrimination. Why do I hate it so much? Because it carves out a special legal remedy for GLBT people when there already exists a powerful federal law that covers everyone else (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964).

    Back in the 1990s, when ENDA was first introduced, the idea of adding “sexual orientation” to the categories covered in Title VII was impractical. But that was 20 years ago! Why are we still pushing this relic, which could actually harm our community rather than help it? The last version of ENDA that was worked over by Congress a few years back had a limited or nonexistent right to file a lawsuit. It was a Swiss cheese bill, filled with loopholes that would have forced courts to evaluate cases of gay bias under a very low bar. Why would we want such a mechanism when the rest of the country operates under a tough statute that is backed by half a century of case law and includes the right to sue for damages? (The current ENDA, as far as I can tell, caps damages at $100,000 to $300,000.)

    In the absence of ENDA, many courts have chosen to interpret Title VII to cover trans bias, as well as cases of antigay discrimination that involve sexual stereotypes. A male worker who is harassed for his effeminate style, for example, could bring suit under Title VII. (Sexual stereotyping is considered a form of impermissible sex discrimination under current law.)  If we pass ENDA, however, courts will have to take direction from the new law, which as I mentioned is a pale shadow of Title VII. Plus, it reinforces a second-class status for GLBT workers, who will be formally relegated to an inferior level of protection.

    If you’re old enough, you might remember that California once banned gay bias in the workplace under a section of the Labor Code rather than under the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The compromise was a useless disaster, later rectified by the state legislature. So why are we engaged in this “baby steps” exercise in the U.S. Congress? Someone please tell me.

    Crazy Cats Down Under

    I just took another tour through a “gay” search of Google news, where I was still finding news about Jason Collins and gay men in sports even up into screens 50 and 60. Amazing. Persevering towards news on other topics, I discovered that a trio of women who call themselves “Australian Cat Women” have managed to buy the domain name for the country’s leading antigay conservative group, the “Australian Christian Lobby.”

    The Cat Women paid something like 19 Australian dollars for the rights, which I’m guessing the people at Christian Lobby failed to renew. They immediately posted their logo, a cat under a rainbow, and when word of the coup began to spread, they found themselves with hundreds of thousands of viewers. The women are not sure how to capitalize on their new platform. The whole thing was supposed to be a joke, but now the possibilities abound. The Australian Christian Lobby had not responded to media inquiries as of April 29.

    Cute story, don’t you think? My impression is that Australia doesn’t have a strong conservative religious faction. I think their Prime Minister is an official atheist. But it’s still fun to mess with these bozos, wherever and whenever we have the chance.

    Binational Gays Should Probably Wait

    I suppose I should write about the Immigration Bill. Gay activists have been annoyed that the proposals emerging from the Gang of Eight do not include sponsoring citizenship for foreign gay spouses, and Patrick Leahy has indicated he may add an amendment recognizing gay partners when the now-massive bill arrives at the Senate Judiciary Committee. But according to Marco Rubio, such an amendment would doom the entire legislation.

    What’s an activist to do?

    Well, what we probably should do is give up this particular fight. We will likely prevail in just a few months, when the High Court is expected to strike the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. With DOMA out of the way, the federal government will treat a gay spouse like any other spouse. Meanwhile, the Immigration Bill, if passed, will improve the lives of maybe 250,000 undocumented LGBT residents. Do we really want to stand on principle with so much at stake for so many people, gay and straight, who live in the shadows?

    But what if DOMA is upheld? We’ll just keep fighting of course. But let’s not scuttle immigration reform in the process. Plus, you know DOMA is doomed.

    By the way, have you noticed a lot of elephants in TV commercials these days? Aren’t they adorable? There’s the elephant that goes to the hotel. Then there’s the one who makes it hard for people with COPD to breathe. And there’s a car insurance elephant too. For the record, I’m pleased that someone decided to rename the scary sounding “emphysema.” COPD seems much more manageable. Particularly when you take the drug that gets the elephant to get off your chest and walk beside you in companionable silence.

    Cocktails All Around!

    Yes, I know that had nothing to do with GLBT news, but what else do you want to talk about? The Day of Silence? That came and went successfully for the ten zillionth year in a row. Want more stories about mean florists and photographers who don’t want to participate in our weddings? I thought not. Too depressing. Oh, I think I should tell you about our out lesbian District Attorney here in Austin, who got nailed for a DWI the other day.

    I know, I know. It could happen to any of us, right? (Well, some of us at least.) But Rosemary Lehmberg had a blood count of around .23 and an empty vodka bottle on the passenger seat, taking Driving While Intoxicated into the entirely new category of Driving While Out Of Your Mind Drunk. At least she lived up to our municipal motto, “Keep Austin Weird,” because nothing says “weird” like getting behind the wheel when you are nearly comatose from alcohol consumption.

    arostow@aol.com