I usually keep cable news on in the background while I write this column, and listen with half an ear for snarky political gossip. But today itâ€™s distracting.
Lions and tigers roaming around schools in Ohio? Say what? Iâ€™m slightly upset that law enforcement has been killing these predators instead of hitting them with darts. But then again, I suppose the most important objective is to avoid the consumption of small children by carnivorous jungle cats.
And speaking of small children, now theyâ€™re talking about baby Lisa or whatever her name is, the latest mystery victim that Iâ€™m guessing will overrun our public debate for the next several months. If Michael Jacksonâ€™s doctor hits the screen, Iâ€™m turning it off.
Ah, silence. I had been hoping for reaction to last nightâ€™s GOP debate, definitely the most interesting of these colloquies to date. Mel and I make dinner, get a glass of wine, and settle down to watch these events like the crowd at a NASCAR race, waiting and hoping for an explosive crash.
They are the Seinfeld dwarves, talking about nothing for hours at a time, saying things like â€śI know how to create jobs,â€ť â€śI will scrap the entire tax code,â€ť or â€śwe have to get government out of health care.â€ť
Get government out of health care? Unless disease and calamity are eradicated, that means â€śput the entire cost of health care on the shoulders of the American public.â€ť And yet no one blinks an eye. The same people who cheer for tax breaks think adding a massive financial burden to every family in this country is a great idea. Or perhaps they believe the health insurance industry will suddenly decide to offer affordable plans that cover the costs of long term disability, nursing homes or extended stays in the ICU.
I have to stop or else Iâ€™ll spend this entire column spewing my disgust at the Republican field onto these pages.
Anonymous No More
Letâ€™s talk instead about the ruling out of a federal court in Washington State, where a judge ruled that the people who supported a repeal vote on a domestic partner law cannot remain anonymous. State officials instantly posted all their names, over 100,000 of the petitioners, and gay activists in the Starbucks State are now free to torment these individuals with hate mail, rocks through their windows and attempts to run them off the road on dark country lanes at night.
You may recall that this case went to the Supreme Court, where justices said that transparency is the rule unless the petitioners could prove that they legitimately feared for their safety if their names were released. The case went back to lower court, where it became clear that no one had any valid grounds for believing that an angry gay community would retaliate.
And no, it doesnâ€™t count when we boycott their businesses. Thatâ€™s the price they pay for taking a public political stand against equality, and the note has come due. As for actual harassment, thatâ€™s not our style. By the way, the repeal effort lost, in case you forgot.
These cases, attempts by antigay organizations to hide the names of donors or petitioners, have continually failed. They are part of the insidious effort to position the traditional values contingent as victims of an aggressive attempt to shut down their speech and violate their right to religious freedom. That effort goes on, but at least one avenue is closed.
New Jersey Sore
Speaking of free speech, what do you think of the New Jersey teacher, Viki Knox, who told her Facebook friends that gays were sick perverts and homosexuality was a sin that breeds like cancer? Itâ€™s kind of like the Florida teacher, earlier this year, who was suspended for a few weeks for the same thing, writing antigay comments on Facebook. And a while back, there was an elected school board member who had to resign for the same offense. I forget his name and location.
Now, donâ€™t react off the top of your head, because itâ€™s a tricky issue and we donâ€™t punish hate speech in this country. On the other hand, how can you let a public school teacher go on record with unalloyed bigotry that affects both gay and straight students alike? Could a teacher survive posting racist or Nazi screeds on Facebook? I donâ€™t think so.
New Jersey has a particularly strict anti-bullying law that may come into play in this case. At any rate, Knoxâ€™s school board had a meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the matter, and I donâ€™t know exactly what transpired, other than dueling protests.
Knox, a conservative Christian, has been taken out of the classroom while the brew ha ha ferments. And Governor Christie has called the incident â€śdisturbing.â€ť Meanwhile, Knoxâ€™s supporters in the Christian community are (surprise!) up in arms over the idea that her religious freedom is under attack since she was just expressing â€śBiblical views.â€ť
You remember, of course, that the Bible teaches us that homosexuality is a sick perversion that breeds like cancer. I think itâ€™s in Luke.
While weâ€™re on the subject of Facebook and free speech, the High Court is still considering whether to take on one or more cases of student posters, including one who attacked a classmate online, and another who called her Principal a â€śdouche bag.â€ť
Public schools have the right to restrict speech and behavior that can truly disrupt the educational environment. But does that right extend to social networks? And if so, to what extent does the speech in question disrupt the school itself?
Iâ€™d say online bullying should be constrained. Thereâ€™s another dead gay teen in Canada this week, a bullied boy who committed suicide. And the death toll rises all the time.
On the other hand, I think calling the Principal names falls under the Constitutional bar. I canâ€™t remember the third case under consideration, but I think it was one that targeted teachers, not classmates.
While weâ€™re at it, you should know that the Court will probably be asked to review the status of the Mount Soledad cross in San Diego, a 30-foot structure that was deemed unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit. Last week, the full Ninth Circuit declined to review that decision, so the Justices will make up the court of last review if they so choose.
Iâ€™m confused, because the High Court already let stand the giant cross that sits in the Mohave Desert, writing that the Constitution â€śdoes not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religionâ€™s role in society.â€ť Maybe the difference in the cases is because the desert cross was in the middle of nowhere, while Mount Soledad is impossible to ignore.
And before we depart this fascinating topic, recall that the Supreme Court is still mulling whether to take the case of the large roadside crosses in Utah that commemorate fallen Highway Patrol officers.
Why all this First Amendment coverage that has nothing to do with GLBT news, you ask? Obviously, itâ€™s all entwined with our desire that religion stays out of the public sphere and that First Amendment principles cease to provide cover for antigay behavior.
Gay Soldiers Take Aim at DOMA
So, we have a big new challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act around the corner, and thatâ€™s a lawsuit scheduled to be filed on behalf of military families by the end of October.
Weâ€™ve already seen one gay servicemember file such a challenge in the last couple of weeks, a disabled lesbian Navy veteran who is suing for spousal benefits at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Affairs. Now, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund has announced a major lawsuit of its own.
As you know, the end of Donâ€™t Ask did not usher in anything close to equality for gay soldiers. Yes, it got rid of the harshest features of discrimination, but it left in place the federal prohibition on recognizing same-sex marriage, and all the invidious side effects of that policy.
Just this week, for example, a lesbian member of the New Hampshire National Guard was forbidden to bring her civil union partner to a mandatory â€śyellow ribbon reintegrationâ€ť event where other guards were encouraged to bring their families. Forbidden! I mean, this isnâ€™t an attempt to transfer a pension or something (not that any such benefit should be denied). Itâ€™s an obligatory orientation program for retiring guards and their families.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen wrote an angry letter to the Secretary of Defense on behalf of her constituent, Charlie Morgan, pointing out that the Defense of Marriage Act does not require the military to ban partners from general functions or parties. But the point is that DOMA slithers its ugly tentacles into all kinds of situations. With the repeal of Donâ€™t Ask, we will now encounter hundreds of examples of unfair treatment in the military thanks to DOMA, which although unfortunate, can only increase the pressure to dispense with this grotesque law.
Meanwhile, the other DOMA challenges continue apace. The House Republicans filed their antigay brief in the Golinski case, the San Francisco-based suit for spousal health insurance filed by federal attorney Karen Golinski. And as far as I know, the other five major DOMA challenges remain on track.
In Congress, friendly lawmakers have announced that they will mark up the bill to repeal DOMA in the Senate next month. That apparently means the Respect for Marriage Act will get a floor vote.
Finally, thereâ€™s a small squirrel balancing on the edge of my plastic swimming pool, an eyesore that we bought for $30 at Academy to relieve the unending weeks of triple digit temperatures that scorched relentlessly through the Texas summer. I donâ€™t want the creature to drown, so Iâ€™ll be right back.
The Iowa Crisis
The squirrel is safe! So where were we? My email is filling up this week with warnings about the special election next month in Iowa, a worrisome contest that I brought to your attention several weeks ago in my usual perspicacious fashion.
But it bears repeating.
Iowa is the only fly-over state that offers equal marriage rights, a shining beacon to the rest of mid-America that particularly stands out in a conservative part of the country.
Right now, Iowaâ€™s court-ordered same-sex marriage rights are hanging by a thread, a two-vote margin of Democratic control in the state senate. There, the heroic majority leader, Michael Gronstal, has staunchly blocked an effort to put marriage on the ballot despite all kinds of exhortations from the anti-gay right.
But on Nov. 8, just three weeks from now, that thread might snap. Republican governor Terry Branstad appointed one of the Democratic senators to a utility board or something like that, putting control of the senate in the hands of voters. If the GOP candidate wins, the upper chamber will be tied 25-25, and some kind of power sharing deal will have to be arranged. Iâ€™m no expert in Iowa politics, but I find it hard to believe that a marriage amendment would not wind up on the senate floor if we lose this election.
The good news is that constitutional amendments must pass two Iowa legislatures. Since lawmakers are elected for two years, an amendment would not emerge until the 2013 or 2014 session at the earliest. After that, of course, the voters must agree, so we could theoretically see an amendment on the 2014 ballot.
Sure, we can hope that Iowans grow less hostile to the idea of same-sex marriage as time goes by. But these are the same voters who easily ousted the three state supreme court justices who were up for an unopposed confirmation vote last year. The justices were targeted for their role in the unanimous 2009 ruling that brought marriage equality to the state.
Letâ€™s just say that the easiest solution would be to win the damned special election and avoid the looming disaster in the first place. If you have an extra buck or two, you can send some cash to One Iowa.
- Annâ€™s column appears every week at sfbaytimes.com. She can be reached at email@example.com