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    Ann Rostow: Black Like Those Other Guys

    1-Ann RostowBy Ann Rostow

    Black Like Those Other Guys

    Let’s see. It’s hard to focus on GLBT news when my mind is filled with Ferguson. It’s not just the fact that cops kill Black men and kids. It’s also the fact that cops kill them for the slightest reason. They thought they saw a gun. They were afraid. Someone was bigger than they were, or acting unpredictably. These officers are supposed to be trained to deal with ambiguous situations without simply shooting someone dead. And yet every time this happens, we find ourselves satisfied with the slightest excuse. Because, it seems, ambiguity is lost when the people involved aren’t white.

    They just shot a 12-year-old kid the other day. In cold blood for playing with a fake gun. Hell, you don’t even have to be a cop to get away with killing a Black youth, although I suppose the system draws the line at firing at kids at a gas station because you don’t like their music. Barely.

    Why is there no middle ground between flat out murder and complete exoneration? Why can’t cops be held accountable for rashness, manslaughter, negligence? Why can’t they be fired, fined, sanctioned? And more importantly, how have we allowed race relations to stagnate for decades? When did the gap between us get so wide?  When did the arc of history lose its bend?

    Brownback’s the Matter with Kansas

    OK. Marriage equality. I have a lot of bits and pieces of marriage equality news this week, including a mess out of Kansas, where only certain counties are licensing same-sex marriages even though a federal court struck the state’s antigay amendment and even though Kansas is under the jurisdiction of the pro-equality Tenth Circuit.

    I mean really! My wife is Kansan, so I have a stake in the state. At this very moment, I am typing in a pair of Jayhawk blue sweatpants, complete with cartoon Jayhawk mascot. And as you can see, I capitalize Jayhawk, even as my spellcheck advises against it. So what the hell? The bottom line is that Governor Sam Brownback and a handful of conservative politicians are holding back the tide, forcing gay activists to file ever more legal motions in order to whip the entire state into line. Which they will do eventually.

    The red state blues continue in our home state of Texas, where our side has filed a motion asking for the federal courts to lift a stay on a pro-equality ruling that is now on appeal to the Fifth Circuit. Not sure if that will happen anytime soon, but I like it. The Texas case is linked to another appeal out of Louisiana, where Lambda Legal has asked the Supreme Court to step in and review one of our few antigay rulings without waiting for the Fifth Circuit to do its thing.

    Once Again, All Eyes on

    Anything’s possible, I suppose. But the real suspense now lies in the timing of the High Court. As you know, a few weeks ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed equality rulings out of Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky. Since then, our gay rights advocates have snapped into action, filing immediate petitions for review before the justices.

    Normally, the other side has several weeks to reply, and then our side would have more time to reply to the reply. Tick tock tick tock. If these weeks slip by, so will our opportunity to have the High Court settle the issue of marriage equality during its current term.

    Happily however, the state of Michigan has hopped on the speed bandwagon, filing its own reply in no time at all. Indeed, Michigan has also urged the High Court to take review, even though the Mitten State is technically the “winner” at the appellate court. Assuming our side zips through its reply to the reply, the Michigan case could easily arrive on the Supreme Court’s agenda in time for the 2014/2015 session. Most analysts say that if the Supreme Court accepts one or more marriage cases at their early January conference, they could calendar the oral arguments for next spring and decide by the end of June.

    Or not. Our track record for predicting the next move at the Supreme Court is nothing to brag about.

    Moving On Up

    What other bits and pieces lie on our plate? Well, when all is said and done, marriage is now legal in 35 states (I include Kansas), and we are awaiting a state court ruling out of Arkansas that could make it 36. Missouri might count as a half, since marriages from other locations are recognized if you show them in the Show Me State.

    These new arrivals to the promised land are not unexpected. Indeed, they represent states that fall under jurisdictions cleared by the High Court back in early October. But that hasn’t stopped authorities from making desperate attempts to stall, and we’ve seen both the Ninth Circuit and the Supreme Court reject several wishful motions over recent weeks. The only interesting thing about this process is that Justices Scalia and Thomas have twice gone on record in seeming opposition to marriage equality.

    That’s not a surprise in itself. These weren’t written statements from the justices, only acknowledgements that the Court was not unanimous in rejecting requests for stays and delays. But it makes you wonder why Roberts and Alito declined to add their names to the list. Did they vote in favor of gay couples? Or (more likely) did they just decide to keep their cards close to the vest?

    Onward Pasta Soldiers

    Meanwhile, as marriage equality approaches the status of fait accompli, we are preparing for the next battle, a complicated, and probably lengthy national debate over “religious freedom.” And we’re not debating the straight forward accommodation of, let’s say, kosher meals for a Jewish prisoner, or the right to wear a head scarf at work.

    No, in our current constitutional framework, we seem to be debating the right to claim that any behavior is a manifestation of some sacred vow. As Justice Alito noted in the Hobby Lobby decision (which involved, not the constitution, but federal law) it is not for the courts to presume to judge the legitimacy of a religious belief.

    Say what?

    This is why I recently paid $20 to become an ordained minister in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Funny? Of course. But it’s more than that. The entire religion is contrived to make a serious point about the separation of church and state and the position of faith in the public square. Indeed, a woman in Utah just made headlines for insisting on wearing a pasta strainer in her driver’s license photo. It turns out that Utah doesn’t try to pass judgment on religions and that this woman is one of a dozen others who has donned the Pastafarian symbol for her identity card.

    In Florida, a collision of religious displays in the state capitol rotunda is now the subject of legal action. After authorities allowed a crèche, they were also obliged to welcome other symbols of faith, including a Festivus pole made out of beer cans and a Pastafarian presentation that consisted of some holy noodles and a sign on a red plastic office chair. (They are being sued by a Satanic group that apparently strained the tolerance of the local officials with an installation featuring angels falling into a pit of fire.)

    Poland has just ruled that Pastafarianism is a legitimate religion.

    Absurd? Perhaps. But no more absurd than allowing conservative Christians to insist that providing public accommodation to gay men and women is a violation of faith. No more absurd than allowing a for-profit corporation to pick and choose which secular federal mandates live up to its purported religious standards.

    So why shouldn’t Pastafarians be allowed to pray before town hall meetings, celebrate His Noodley Goodness in the public square, or even refuse to serve unsavory customers? Actually, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster does not discriminate. But what if we did? What if our “faith” demanded it?

    The answer is not to diminish the status of minority religions. It is simply to enforce the principle that general laws, enacted for a secular purpose, may incidentally intrude on faith. And further, to keep the state from getting involved in our spiritual, or non-spiritual, lives to begin with.

    Icons Behaving Badly

    So I just read that a famous GBLT activist, Terry Bean, has been nailed for having sex with a 15-year-old kid he found on Grindr. Bean, 66, helped found the HRC and the Task Force, and gave lots of money to lots of good causes. He and his 25-year-old boyfriend were both accused of assault and the reason I’m writing about it is that apparently the GLBT media has been steering clear of this embarrassing revelation.

    Yes, it’s all “alleged.” But that’s never stopped me from dragging closeted conservatives through the mud whenever they’re accused of naughty shenanigans. According to the press, it seems that the boyfriend was also blackmailing Bean, who (allegedly) used secret cameras to record himself messing around with other men. All in all, an undignified performance from one and all (allegedly) and depending on the 15-year-old, possibly child molestation to boot.

    I must say Bean has nothing on Bill Cosby. I never watched his show, so I never fell under his spell, and in fact, I have long seen him as a pompous ass, lecturing and hectoring African American men for his own self-aggrandizement. In the past several years, his public appearances have included weird ponderous ramblings. The rape charges are nothing new, and, in fact, it’s a disgrace that they were ignored until the critical mass of witnesses toppled the wall of his public image.

    Let’s see. Who else can we bash? How about the Atlanta Fire Chief, Kelvin Cochran, who has been suspended for a month without pay for a book he wrote that included nasty remarks about gays and lesbians. The book, Who Told You That You Were Naked?, is some kind of religious diatribe that did not sit well with Atlanta’s town fathers and mothers. Cochran will also have to undergo sensitivity training.

    See? Faith isn’t an automatic green light for open bigotry in the public workplace. That said, maybe Chief Cochran will file a religious freedom-based lawsuit against the City of Atlanta.

    Moo Howdy!

    I may have mentioned that the foreign minister of Latvia came out of the closet the other day. Or actually, I think I skipped that news last time around. But it’s been a big deal in Latvia. I also forgot to write about a gay bull in Ireland, Benjy, who was going to be butchered due to his lack of interest in the other main line of work that we all expect of bulls, as well as his apparent interest in one of his colleagues in the insemination tent.

    Benjy was saved from the slaughterhouse by Sam Simon, co-creator of The Simpsons, who paid for the disinterested stud to live out his life on a farm. Now we learn that Benjy will be castrated, standard procedure for the animals in his sanctuary, but he will live out his life without further injury. Speaking to The Independent, farmer John Watson said Benjy will be placed in a herd with two friendly cows, Clover and Bramble.