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    Ann Rostow: Lunch at Tiffany’s

    By Ann Rostow–

    Lunch at Tiffany’s–

    This has nothing to do with GLBT news, but do you remember the zillion dollar no-bid contract for repair of the Puerto Rican electrical grid that went to a one-man shop from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s small home town? Well, I guess that was not an anomaly, because now I’m reading (in The New York Times) about a $156 million FEMA contract for 30 million ready-to-eat meals that went to a scam artist from Atlanta named Tiffany Brown. Brown, who had already had several previous government contracts cancelled, managed to produce just 50,000 meals, none of which were actually edible because they required heating.

    As for Trump, I’m not sure I can comment anymore. The man has traveled too far away from my frames of reference. He’s surreal. Something out of a strange dream. I saw him babbling about something unintelligible the other day. “We caught them! … ohhhh we caught them good!” I think he was talking about the trysting FBI agents, or maybe the Democrats in general. I don’t know. I’m starting not to care. It’s like when you get sick. First you fight it. You take something. You struggle to your feet, stagger into work. Then you rest. But it doesn’t get better, and at some point you put the covers over your head and retreat from the world until it goes away.  

    Politically, that’s where I am. Mel and I have cut our cable news habit down to the bone. Maybe someone can just wake us up when it’s all over. Maybe with a nice cup of tea and some toast.

    Keep It Down, Guys

    By the way, I was just reading that hot tea is linked to throat cancer and also that “everyday noises” increase your risk for heart disease. I was reminded of my short stint as a health news writer, when I had to read raw material from Reuters on the subject of medical and pharmaceutical experiments. Some graduate student would notice that one mouse in twenty lost an extra milligram after eating anise flakes in some trial and I could produce a headline like: “Miracle Licorice Diet: Can Candy Make You Thin?” 

    Keep in mind that I smoked two packs of cigarettes at that time and generally had my first glass of wine around lunchtime. My boss was just as bad, and he also wrote a column on healthy living while pretending to be a fit young housewife. We loved coming up with lists of “five ways to lose weight” or “ten ways to get into the best shape of your life!” We advised readers to park an extra block from their office or take the stairs, choking with laughter on our Winston Lights with every trite suggestion. Ah, those were the days! Fun times. Regular presidents.

    What? You wanted some gay news? This is a GLBT news column? Sorry, I forgot for a minute, and just as I was about to tell you what I thought of Phantom Thread and the Super Bowl ads!

    So, speaking of the Super Bowl and GLBT news, I guess a bunch of heterosexual Philadelphia fans in Minneapolis made their way to the Eagle Bolt Bar under the mistaken impression that this gay men’s bar was actually named for Pennsylvania’s pro football team. You know, I read this cute story several times, and I’m not buying it. 

    Minneapolis is half a continent away from Philadelphia, and “Eagle” is a generic bar name. So, no. The bar was not named for the Eagles football team and I can’t imagine anyone thought that might be the case. Further, from all accounts, the straight out-of-towners had a great time at the Eagle Bolt, where signs in the window indicated Super Bowl fans would be welcome. And by the way, why would a Philadelphia fan fly to Minneapolis to watch the game on TV in a bar? Were these TV viewers Minnesota-based Eagles fans who lived in Minneapolis in the first place? In that case, they should recognize their local bars and/or watch the game from home. Something doesn’t add up!

    I hated Phantom Thread. Is something wrong with me? I also thought Darkest Hour was just okay.

    Title VII Victory in New England

    Let’s get serious now! Recently, it was the turn of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit to rule in favor of a gay or lesbian sex discrimination plaintiff under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As you know, Title VII is the federal law that protects workers against discrimination based on race, sex, national origin and religion. And as you probably recall, one of the key issues in the modern fight for gay civil rights is whether or not laws that outlaw sex discrimination inherently outlaw gay discrimination as well. Put another way, is antigay discrimination a form of impermissible sex discrimination?

    In making our Title VII case, one of our main problems is that this question has already been settled throughout the federal appellate courts as of decades ago, and as you might imagine, it has not been settled in our favor. So now, we don’t simply have to convince three-judge panels, but we basically have to convince full courts of appeal, sets of six or ten judges at a time, and we must convince them to reverse their prior antigay decisions.

    So far, we’ve been successful before the full court of appeals for the Seventh Circuit (in the Hively case last year), and we are waiting for a Title VII ruling from the full court of appeals for the Second Circuit in the Zarda case (dead sky diver, remember?). The Zarda case was argued in September, so we should get a ruling shortly.

    The recent First Circuit case, involving a Providence, New Hampshire, fire fighter, may or may not be appealed to the full bench or the High Court. The High Court, however, recently declined to hear the appeal of one of our losing Title VII efforts, the case of a lesbian security guard at an Atlanta hospital. In that case, we lost before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the full court declined to review the matter. Petitioned to the High Court, the justices said no a few weeks ago.

    Without descending into the legal arguments in favor of our cause, one worrisome aspect of our situation is that Justice Kennedy has had ample opportunity to come down in favor of full equality for gay and lesbian Americans, and arguably he has resisted. It’s strange to say, considering this is the champion of gay rights on the Court, the man who has written our four biggest opinions, the man who ended sodomy laws and heralded marriage rights. 

    But Kennedy has never really articulated the case for gays under the Equal Protection Clause. He’s never argued, like the Obama Justice Department, that gays are a beleaguered minority, and that discriminatory laws should therefore be evaluated with the suspicion that prejudice might be involved. Kennedy has never maintained that sexual orientation belongs in the parade of characteristics protected against bias under federal law. Instead, he has more or less argued, under the Due Process Clause, that gays should not be harmed, that we don’t deserve a second-class status, and that we deserve respect. 

    Make no mistake, that’s not the same as saying we deserve equality, which is why it is scary to be asking this Court to take an absolute stand on gay rights. Are we equal or not, we want to know? And before the Court will even answer that question, it will tell us whether or not a business owner can ignore civil rights law where gays are concerned. The answer to that question will illuminate our near-term future.

    What Happens in Bakersfield Stays in Bakersfield

    Speaking of whether or not someone can ignore public accommodation protections, you may have noticed an ominous decision out of superior court in Bakersfield, where a judge ruled that it was just fine and dandy for a Christian baker to give the back of her hand to two lesbians who were shopping for a wedding cake.

    In this case, the court ducked any question of religious freedom, ruling instead that Cathy Miller of Tastries Bakery had every right to decline the business because designing a wedding cake is a form of speech, protected by the First Amendment. You may remember this line of thinking from the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which is mainly grounded—not on religion—but on freedom of speech. 

    Judge David Lampe based his decision on the fact that Cathy Miller was not asked to pull a cake off the rack, but she was asked to design a special cake, based on the examples she had on display. (In the Masterpiece case, by contrast, baker Jack Philips declined to work with two gay men before the details of a cake were even discussed.)

    Second, Miller apparently had some kind of deal going with another baker, explaining to the court that she had an arrangement to send gay clients over to her tolerant competitor. You know, dear readers, we don’t have to be lawyers to recognize that you cannot avoid anti-discrimination law by agreeing in advance to send your inferior Black customers across the street to that nice lady who believes everyone is equal. Nonetheless, Judge Lampe seemed to think Ms. Miller’s solution was more than adequate to atone for any hurt feelings that might have resulted from her antipathy towards same-sex unions. 

    Most importantly, Judge Lampe made an assumption that baking a cake is a form of speech without producing any explanation for this flawed conclusion. As we’ve pointed out in discussing Masterpiece Cakeshop, if baking a cake is speech, then so is preparing food for the buffet and arranging flowers for the wedding reception. And as for forced participation in a gay wedding, isn’t the guy who sets up the chairs being forced into an unwelcome show of support for gay unions? Why should the antigay taxi driver have to take the guests to the door? And what if it’s not gay weddings you object to as a business owner, but interracial weddings or women drivers? You get the picture, and we hope at least five members of the Supreme Court see it as well.

    Rankin Agonistes

    As far as I know, the governor of Bermuda has not yet signed the nefarious bill that revokes the court-ordered right to marry for gay couples and replaces it with domestic partnerships. It’s not even clear that Governor John Rankin has the power to veto the legislation, although there’s a lot of support for anything that might preempt the tourism-killing provision. Meanwhile, British lawmakers are wringing their hands over the bad publicity, but there’s nothing they can do. Yes, Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory. But long gone are the days when the U.K. will stick its nose into the political affairs of its satellites. 

    I’m not sure why I’m focusing on Bermuda, when there is marriage news all over the world that I choose to ignore. I think it’s because I can’t possibly cover all the news from Panama and Costa Rica and El Salvador and Indonesia and Russia. But I can stretch out my arms figuratively and embrace that lonely little British island just sitting there in the middle of the Atlantic with its pink stucco cabanas and tiny motorbikes and perfect beaches. Why, Bermuda? Tell us why? 

    By the way, some rubber stampers in Russia accidentally ratified a same-sex marriage contracted by two gay Russian men in Denmark when they returned to Mother Russia with revised paperwork in hand. Don’t ask me what exactly happened, but it was enough to generate several days of faux headlines about how Russia had recognized a gay marriage. Not only was that not the case, but the official involved in the incident was fired and the two men snuck back out of the homophobic country with no plans to return.