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    Ann Rostow: Let the Sun Shine

    1-Ann RostowBy Ann Rostow

    Let the Sun Shine

    We can now welcome Florida to the Promised Land, bringing the number of marriage equality states to 36 as 2015 begins. The Sunshine State has the distinction of being the only state to legalize marriage through the courts without a ruling from the appellate court, in their case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Instead, in a series of events that led to no small amount of confusion, a lower court marriage victory that was to take effect on January 6 was allowed to stand, even after the state asked both the Eleventh Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court to put a hold on marriages during the appeals.

    In other words, both the Eleventh Circuit and the High Court signaled that they agreed with the lower court even as neither court ruled on the merits of marriage equality. Marriage opponents leapt at the ambiguity, announcing that the original court order only applied to the specific plaintiffs, or maybe only applied to a particular county. As one commentator noted, that’s like saying the right to go to an integrated school only applied to the plaintiffs’ children in Brown v Board of Education.

    As the January 6 deadline approached, the judge in the case made clear that the principles at stake flowed from the U.S. Constitution and that clerks around the state would ignore them at their peril. A law firm that had previously advised Florida’s clerks to resist same-sex couples reversed course and instructed clerks to issue licenses to one and all.

    Pam Bondi, Florida’s conservative Attorney General, then reluctantly announced that clerks could make their own decisions, a bizarre kind of guidance from the state’s top lawyer, but one that basically translated into hands thrown up in defeat. And as the appointed day arrived, the now familiar sight of gay couples rushing to tie the knots was repeated throughout most of the state. A few mean spirited clerks decided not to perform marriages for any couple, gay or straight, but they continued to issue licenses. Those marriages are legal, obviously, with or without the pronouncements of a low level state functionary. That said, I find the gesture churlish.

    Florida is a huge state, so while the number of states only went up from 35 to 36, the percentage of Americans living in marriage states increased significantly. Caught between talking points, former governor Jeb Bush first said that marriage equality should be a “local” decision, but later made some fluffy comments about how everyone on both sides should respect everyone else.

    Day of Reckoning

    The developments in Florida came as the Supreme Court is poised once again to consider whether or not to accept a marriage case this term. On January 9, the justices will evaluate petitions for five cases, four from Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky out of the Sixth Circuit, and another from Louisiana, which is still in litigation at the lower level. The Sixth Circuit, as you know, is the first and only appellate court to rule against marriage plaintiffs in the cases under its jurisdiction. As such, these defeats almost certainly demand Court review. The Louisiana case, in turn, was also a defeat for marriage advocates, and is trying to piggyback on the other losses despite the fact that its appeal is still underway.

    Speaking of that appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will hear oral arguments in the Louisiana case on January 9, as well as arguments in our victories out of Texas and Mississippi. The whole effort may become a moot point if the High Court accepts one or more of the marriage suits on its conference schedule. But it’s nice to know that the three-judge panel is possibly not the worst one we could have drawn from the conservative members of the Fifth Circuit.

    Paging Dear Abby

    Moving on, I was struck by the lesbian who wrote a letter to the Washington Post “Civilities” advice columnist Steven Petrow about her gay nephew’s wedding, the first same-sex marriage in the family. The tee-totaling grooms have decided on a cash bar, even though the affair is a destination wedding that will already cost the guests a pretty penny. Aunt Flo from Kentucky fears that the boys are setting a tacky example for the LGBT community and making a bad impression on the relatives, including some who already have mixed feelings on the subject of gay unions.

    The idea of having to buy a present, fly to somewhere like Aruba and stay at a expensive hotel only to have to dig out cash for a (presumably overpriced) cocktail is— to put it bluntly—appalling. How nice, however, that these are the sorts of issues that now face us in our contemplation of marriage. Indeed, while acknowledging that cash bars are a bad policy at weddings, Mr. Petrow wisely notes that every gay couple cannot be obliged to represent the entire community and that homophobic relatives will likely find something to criticize, if not the bar, maybe the music or the food.

    If you think about it, the whole concept of a “real” gay wedding is quite new. Just a year ago, we had less than 20 marriage states. Two or three years ago it was half that. Five years ago, in mid-November of 2008, we had one, Massachusetts. Lesbians in the 1980s and 1990s were known for hosting ad hoc commitment ceremonies in a meadow somewhere, featuring overly personal vows, holding hands in circles, ribbon waving and an unpleasant dearth of free alcohol. But aside from these forgettable occasions, our partnerships have been launched without the benefit of a formal send-off. How could it have been otherwise, considering that a wedding marks the moment, not when a couple makes a promise, but when that promise is recognized by the state?

    Now we enter a brave new world of gay weddings, complete with groomzillas, bridesmaids who refuse to wear mauve, spats over the cake, fights over the guest list, and battles over the budget. More importantly, we enter a world where at least some gay teens will fantasize about their “perfect day” the same way that straight teens do, no doubt creating impossible standards that will someday turn the run-up to their marriages into a series of chaotic debacles that somehow turn out fine in the end.

    Please kids. No cash bars.

    Your Husband’s In Denial

    I am not quite sure where the last hour went, but in the course of checking one simple fact I went on a whirlwind tour (in no particular order) of the worst celebrity plastic surgeries, an adorable puppy jumping up and down, an in-depth examination of Donatella Versace, a story about the couple with 19 kids who have a reality show, and a piece about a man with two penises that seems to strain credulity.

    The reality show people, the Duggars, are far right Christians on TLC, the same channel that is about to run a controversial special called “My Husband’s Not Gay!” Airing January 11, the show examines four Mormon men who have decided to ignore their attractions to other men and marry women in order to keep the faith. GLBT watchdogs growl that the premise is basically a nod to the discredited notion that sexual orientation is a bad habit that can be overcome by force of will.

    We’ve spoken of this before, you and I. When screwed up gays and lesbians decide to “change” or remain celibate based on some creed, I see no reason to take a stand one way or another. Sexual orientation is not a choice, but you can certainly “choose” to reject it just as you can “choose” to spend your life walking the sidewalks in a banana costume singing the theme to Gilligan’s Island, or just as you can “choose” to spend winter afternoons in a bikini on your front lawn drinking piña coladas.

    Now, if someone forces you or shames you into such behaviors, that’s a problem. But in this day and age, surely even the Mormons on the show recognize that saner options are available. If they want to sacrifice a life of integrity in favor of miserably adhering to religious dogma, that’s their problem. I don’t think hair shirts should be imposed on the public either, but if someone wants to wear one, I say go ahead.

    Gay groups have called for the show to be removed from the schedule, but the proverbial marketplace of ideas usually proves more capable than censors. I can’t imagine many questioning youth will be taking their cues from stressed out Mormons on The Learning Channel.

    I should mention that Donatella Versace could easily get a job in a freak show after what she’s had done to herself in the name of cosmetic surgery. And the Duggars have a gay aunt who is rarely or never mentioned on the show. As for the puppy, he’s so cute that I have the urge to pause in my writing again and spend another half hour watching him bounce up and down in exhilaration as his mistress arrives to pick him up from doggie day care.

    Pride Be Not Proud

    Speaking of censors, have you heard about the British movie Pride that may find itself on the short list of Oscar nominees for best foreign film? The story depicts an endearing collaboration between a group of GLBT activists and some striking mine workers in the mid-1980s. Its promotional images show men and women protesting. In the background, some people are holding a giant banner that reads: “Lesbians and Gays support the Miners.”

    So, the U.S. version of the DVD has just been released, and the banner is airbrushed out of the cover shot. In addition, all references to gays and lesbians are dropped from the description of the film, which refers instead to “a group of London-based activists” who raise money for the strikers in a small Welsh village.

    Speaking to the BBC, the director Matthew Warchus said he thought the revisions were “clumsy,” but that he understood the American promoters were trying to get the movie in the hands of as many people as possible, including those who might be put off by a gay documentary. But, really?

    The movie is about odd bedfellows, gays and mine workers, who learn to respect and appreciate each other through this shared activism. How can you possibly airbrush the gay part out of the description? It’s like taking the horse off the front cover of Seabiscuit and saying the movie is about “an amazing mammal who beats the odds” in order to appeal to a broader audience than just horse lovers. Who were the craven executives at CBS Movies who decided that Americans would shun Pride unless they de-gayed the DVD cover?

    Don’t Rain on Our Parade!

    I was happy to read (in Art Leonard’s blog) that the Rhode Island Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the City of Providence and the municipal authorities who sent a fire engine to participate in the 2001 Pride parade. This matter has been stewing around in the courts for ages, and I was surprised to see it was still in litigation, over a decade after the events in question. But I was particularly pleased to see it resolved in favor of the city considering that the issue at the heart of the case is one that is beginning to erupt into public debate.

    Yes, it’s the so-called “religious freedom” to express gay bigotry, even when it conflicts with state law or, in this case, with your job responsibilities as a public servant. Here, two fire fighters objected to being sent to the Pride parade, and sued the city, insisting that they suffered all kinds of emotional trauma and that their faith was offended. In its ruling, the high court noted that Providence sends fire trucks to all sorts of parades and events, and that it is not up to each individual staff member to approve or disapprove of the event in question. Nor did the fire fighters implicitly endorse gay rights by manning the engine. That was their assignment for the day as employees of the station closest to the parade. I didn’t read the decision, but it seems I could summarize it with three words: get over yourselves.