On the verge of diving bravely into a number of dense GLBT legal developments, my eye was caught by an AOL headline asking â€śWhatâ€™s More Dangerous? Is your washing machine or your dryer more likely to kill you?â€ť Hmmm.
The answer is a conundrum. According to insurance statistics, washing machines cause more injuries, but dryers cause more deaths. The report did not explain exactly how these fatalities occur, but Iâ€™m guessing electrocution.
Nor did the text specify just exactly how many death by dryer incidents take place each year, so I had to google â€śkilled by clothes dryer.â€ť I didnâ€™t get any numbers, but I did learn that a couple of infants were sent to the Great Beyond by their mothers via the spin cycle, and dryers can cause fires. I then searched for â€śelectrocuted by clothes dryerâ€ť to test my theory and indeed there was some discussion of at least one such victim, along with news of a mouse that suffered the same fate.
The whole inquiry reminds me of the health care debate and politics in general. How do you frame an issue? Are you more likely to be killed by a kitten or a puppy? Is Obama a Nazi or a Communist? Are death panels a good idea or a bad one? And the current faux question now dominating the fight for marriage in Maine: should school kids be taught that same-sex marriage is fine?
Once you start asking and answering questions like these, you become unmoored to realityâ€™s boat post and drift into the sea of ludicrous debates now dominating our political conversation.
The anti-gay side in the Maine marriage referendum is now making the winning argument from last yearâ€™s Prop 8 campaign, insisting that a vote to maintain marriage rights in the Lobster State means that kids will be proactively taught that boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls.
In response, the good guys are transcending the subject. Rather than directly countering the assertion, our ads say nice generic things about Maine Values and so forth. Concerned activists around the country are calling for a tougher counterpunch. After all, itâ€™s clear that this whole school idea helped derail marriage in California.
But a direct rebuttal validates their premise that the school curriculum is related to the question of marriage equality. Further, all current events and social policies find their way into the classroom eventually, and when the topic of marriage does comes up in class, we donâ€™t want kids to get the impression that same-sex couples are abnormal. Nor do we believe that a teacher who assigns a gay positive book to an age-appropriate class is doing anything wrong.
So how do we make that complex point in a campaign that rewards sound bites and black and white positions? Hey, I donâ€™t have the answer. Just the question. Maybe we should embrace the insanity. We can show a little girl coming home to her lesbian parents telling them that her teacher said that â€śGod doesnâ€™t like two Mommies,â€ť with the tagline: â€śKeep hate out of Maine schools!â€ť
Or how about a classroom scene where a student raises her hand and tells the teacher that her two fathers are getting married. â€śThatâ€™s disgusting!â€ť the teacher replies, as the smile fades from the girlâ€™s eyes, her classmates start derisive chants and she starts to cry. The somber voice over asks: â€śIs this what we want in Maine schools?â€ť
Of course, no teacher is going to promote one marriage over another in class. But the other side can hardly complain about the false assumption, can they?
By the way, the latest polls shows marriage losing by two points in Maine, although the poll is within the margin of error.
Obama Defends DOMA Again
Speaking of New England marriage rights, our old friend Scott Simpson at the Justice Department has issued another one of his official administration briefs in defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. Simpson is obviously the go-to guy at Justice for making the argument that Congress had every right to define gay men and lesbians as second class citizens in order to â€śpreserve the status quoâ€ť while America wrestles with the contentious issue of same-sex marriage.
This time, the Obama administration is contesting the married plaintiffs in Massachusetts, who are asking federal courts to apply the Equal Protection Clause to married couples. How can the U.S. government treat Mr. and Mrs. Smith from Boston one way, and turn around and treat their neighbors, Mr. and Mr. Jones less favorably? The case is so straightforward, so to speak, that opponents will have to twist themselves into knots in order to sidestep the blatant constitutional affront to legally married gay couples in the Bay State and elsewhere in the country.
So Mr. Simpson and friends have turned themselves into pretzels, arguing that the court should apply the lowest standard of legal review, and then give Congress credit for an innocent attempt to maintain a uniform national definition of marriage in the midst of a chaotic debate throughout the states.
The Obama administrationâ€™s main point is that the government is not denying these couples the right to marry (which is fundamental under U.S. law).
These couples are indeed legally married already. Instead, the Defense of Marriage Act merely holds back the â€śfederal benefits of marriage,â€ť which are not constitutionally protected.
Actually, these couples are not legally married under federal law.
Actually, the Defense of Marriage Act strips these couples of their marital status as citizens of the United States.
Actually, DOMA denies same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry under federal law and is flatly unconstitutional. But whatever!
So what about the Equal Protection claim? Simpson says that the enactment of DOMA was not an attempt to discriminate against gays, but merely a pragmatic reaction to the pending upheaval in state marriage laws. He also insists that gays and lesbians are not a protected class under federal law, and that no heightened legal review is necessary on that score. (Unfortunately, the federal appellate court that governs this case agrees that discrimination against gays does not require special scrutiny.)
The brief was not unexpected, and it included several positions established in Simpsonâ€™s previous DOMA defense. It acknowledged that the administration opposes DOMA on policy grounds, but claims (erroneously) that the Justice Department is honor bound to defend federal laws, even when it disagrees with those laws on principle. The brief also condemns the anti-gay notion that the state has a vested interest in promoting heterosexual families and parents above all others.
You recall of course, the very first DOMA brief that ripped us to shreds. This is the third DOMA brief, and certainly not the last. And although the administration has toned down its homophobic rhetoric, the very act of fighting for marriage discrimination is disturbing, disappointing and destructive.
In Praise of Bush
Obamaâ€™s indifference to marriage equality kind of reminds me of George Bushâ€™s lackadaisical attitude towards the Federal Marriage Amendment, which he supported in speeches but never pushed politically, much to the anguish of the religious right.
Sure enough, that new book by one of his speechwriters includes a story about how Bush dropped some anti-marriage language from a 2008 commencement speech at Furman University. According to the Huffington Post, the lame duck president reportedly said the slap at gay marriage was too â€ścondemnatory,â€ť adding, â€śIâ€™m not going tell some gay kid in the audience that he canâ€™t get married.â€ť
HuffPo was quoting from Speechless by Matt Latimer, which also described the ex-presidentâ€™s disdain for Sarah Palin. Whoâ€™d a thunk it?
Tangent alert! I just clicked on an email from Whole Foods that includes the suggestion: â€śSave Time With Online Shopping Lists.â€ť The clever tip encourages us to â€śadd ingredients from your favorite recipes to your shopping list, then email it, send it to your phone, or print it.â€ť A link at the end will let you: â€śfind out how to get started.â€ť
If you click, you end up in a complicated system dreamed up by crazy web marketing people with time on their hands who wouldnâ€™t know what to do with pen and pencil if they found them in the cilantro bin. Not that Iâ€™m a Luddite or anything.
As you may be able to tell from the irrelevant diversion above, Iâ€™m not in the mood for GLBT law, even if it concerns an excellent decision handed down by a three-judge court of appeals panel in Tennessee of all places. Oh, OK. Iâ€™ll tell you all about it anyway.
The judges rapped the trial court for forcing a lesbian mother to evict her life partner under a state law that forbids unmarried â€śparamoursâ€ť from sharing a bed with a divorced custodial parent. No matter that these women had been together for a decade before the custody arrangements were reviewed by the trial judge, and that the daughter in question loved her other mother. The women were still forced to separate at night, when the non-bio mom would retreat to the duplex that they once rented out for income.
In their ruling, the appellate judges ordered the lower court to give the best interests of the child precedence over the application of the paramour rule. These family court statutes are not uncommon. But while it makes sense to keep the kids away from the cute guy on the next barstool or the promiscuous co-worker whose husband is out of town, it does not make sense to isolate gay parents from their committed partners. Yet itâ€™s done routinely, so rulings like this one are to be hailed.
Let me go back to Maine for a second, if I may. San Francisco acti-blogger Michael Petrelis just issued a warning, an obvious one once you think about it, to the Maine campaign, telling them to expect a mass mailing featuring a smiling Barack Obama with the quote: â€śIâ€™m not in favor of gay marriage.â€ť
The anti-marriage forces in Maine are the same people who successfully took marriage away from California couples last year, and as mentioned earlier in this column, they are using the same playbook. One of their fear mongering commercials about teaching gay marriage in schools is actually identical to an ad they used in favor of Prop 8.
So itâ€™s reasonable to expect them to use the same flier that blanketed California last year, distorting Obamaâ€™s words to imply that banning marriage carries the Presidential Seal of Approval. In fact, Obama came out strongly against Prop 8, but our side did little to push that point across.
Iâ€™m not sure Obama has said anything about the Maine battle, but since he opposed Prop 8, I assume heâ€™s also against Question One. So letâ€™s get him on the record and preempt an attack that is surely coming our way. I imagine the Maine activists have thought of this themselves, but then again, I thought the No on 8 campaign would make strong use of Obama and they didnâ€™t.
GOP Future Dim, Bay Times Analysts Say
And speaking of bloggers, Andrew Sullivan posted an amazing chart the other day from the Washington Monthlyâ€™s Steve Benen. Benen broke down a recent poll, showing favorable and unfavorable perceptions of the Republican Party across geographical lines. The favorable rating for the GOP was well below 20 percent in three of the four main sectors of the U.S.; the northeast (7 percent), the Midwest (13 percent), and the west (14 percent). Only in the south did the party of Lincoln manage to hit 50 percent support on the nose.
Unfavorable marks for the Republicans in turn were assigned by 87 percent of northeasterners, 78 percent of those in the Midwest and 75 percent of the west. The rest were â€śunsure.â€ť
In general, only 23 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the Republicans, while 41 percent have a good opinion of the Democrats. I guess the other third donâ€™t like either party, so the upshot is not much to celebrate on either side of the aisle. Still, since we have a habit of making Republicans run against Democrats for elected office, the low numbers canâ€™t be good news for Michael Steele and company.
I canâ€™t help but think that the unseemly antics of the tea baggers will reflect badly on the GOP down the road, even as mainstream Republicans embrace them today as populist patriots or whatever. But they are hostile, unattractive, mean, totally uninformed and frightening. Combined with the remnants of the social conservatives, the factions now representing the political right can only improve the chances of the political left.
And before I go, I was proofreading this column and about to send it out when newshound Rex Wockner sent along some interesting news. The activist group Love Honor Cherish will file a Prop 8 repeal initiative with the California Secretary of State tomorrow.
As you know, Equality California has already announced that the best strategy calls for us to work hard for two years and try a repeal in 2012. On the other hand, the Courage Campaign has led the charge for an effort in 2010.
But the Courage Campaign is not on board with this Love Honor Cherish move. Steve Hildebrand, Courage Campaignâ€™s top advisor, told Wockner that his group does not yet have the elements in place to launch an initiative and â€świll not be joiningâ€ť Love Hope Cherish for the moment. So, Wockner rightly asks. Do we have a schism within a schism? The guys at Equality aiming for 2012, the Courage Campaign still putting a foundation in place for a strong 2010 campaign, and the Love Hope Cherish people going off on their own?
I donâ€™t know. But it doesnâ€™t look as if the Golden Stateâ€™s GLBT community is on the same page, does it?