I‚Äôm getting a late start this week thanks to a long night and a certain ennui that threatens to undermine my capacity to focus on the trials and tribulations of our valiant GLBT community. I‚Äôve just wasted an hour on ‚Äúresearch,‚ÄĚ during which I watched several videos (including ‚Äúhero lifeguard dog saves puppy from drowning in pool‚ÄĚ) and scanned about two dozen photos on the ‚ÄúTexting With Hillary‚ÄĚ website (Hil Rox!).
May I just note for the record that it looked as if the puppy in the pool might actually have drowned were it not for the hero lifeguard dog. So what, pray tell, was going on in the mind of the person who filmed the potentially tragic incident?
Moving on. Back in March of 2009, after years and years of steering clear of the federal courts, the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) filed the first serious federal gay rights lawsuit, specifically the challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act on behalf of several married gay couples from Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley filed her own DOMA challenge on behalf of her state. Bear with me, I am planning to make a point somewhere down the line.
The following May, the Perry plaintiffs filed suit against California‚Äôs Prop 8 in federal court in San Francisco.
Then in January of 2010, Lambda Legal filed suit against the United States on behalf of federal attorney Karen Golinski, who was seeking spousal benefits at work. So far, so good. Back then I could track four federal lawsuits.
But later that year, several married gay state employees in California sued for longterm care insurance, a benefit that California claimed was blocked by DOMA. Okay, fine. Another federal case. And then, in November, two more DOMA challenges hit the dockets in New York and Connecticut; the ACLU filed suit on behalf of widow Edith Windsor, and GLAD came back with another claim for marriage recognition from more New England couples.
I think that made seven. And meanwhile, I would sometimes encounter cases in bankruptcy court, where same-sex couples were trying to file jointly, or I‚Äôd read about bi-national couples fighting against deportation in immigration court.
That was over a year ago, but even in that chaos, I still had a handle on our federal gay rights litigation. Now I think I‚Äôve lost it. Since the end of Don‚Äôt Ask Don‚Äôt Tell, one married lesbian has sued for benefits before some military veterans court that I don‚Äôt even recognize. Another federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of married gay soldiers as a class. Recently, Immigration Equality filed a federal suit on behalf of bi-national couples. And this week, Lambda Legal just sued the state of Nevada in federal court, charging that the Sin State‚Äôs unequal treatment of gay and straight couples mirrors the constitutional violations of Prop 8.
It‚Äôs all too much. I am now reduced to hazy terminology, unbecoming to a journalist perhaps, but necessary. Instead of ‚Äú12 federal challenges to DOMA,‚ÄĚ I will have to write about ‚Äúseveral challenges to DOMA in federal court.‚ÄĚ I don‚Äôt know how many cases are out there. At this point, I‚Äôve probably missed a few, an oversight easily rectified by referring to ‚Äúmajor federal cases‚ÄĚ on the assumption that the ones I‚Äôve missed must be minor. It goes without saying that I have entirely lost any sense of the litigation schedules, although I have the vague impression that we can expect rulings soon out of the Connecticut and New York courts.
I almost feel sorry for the House Republicans, who were left holding the bag in defense of DOMA when the Obama administration switched to our side a year ago February. They have already given up on bankruptcy cases, and as a result we are now allowed to file jointly on clear accounting highways rather than blaze our own trails through the financial wilderness. Over in the world of immigration, many deportations of gay foreign spouses have been put on hold, leaving couples in limbo but still intact.
Led by appellate lawyer par excellence, Paul Clement, the House Republicans are picking their battles. But it could be that the battles are too numerous to wage. Hey, we‚Äôve got Lambda here, the ACLU there, here a GLAD, there an NCLR, a Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an Immigration Equality, Martha Coakley--- too many champions to name. On the other side, there‚Äôs poor Paul Clement, who‚Äôs also had his hands full in the meantime trying to overturn Obamacare.
Does it sound to you as if we‚Äôre going to prevail when all is said and done? That depends. Nothing really counts until you get to the appellate level, and there, so far, we have a Ninth Circuit victory on Prop 8. We also have a related win in the Ninth Circuit, where a three-judge panel restored partner benefits to gay state employees in Arizona (in another case that I kept forgetting about until it was over). Next up will be a decision on the Massachusetts cases from a First Circuit panel, probably this summer.
After that, the several other major cases will gradually make their way up the court ladder. If we end up with split decisions, the High Court will have free rein to make national policy on marriage and gay couples rights one way or another. If, however, we win throughout the federal appellate system, it will be much more difficult for the nine justices to reverse the lower courts. The bottom line is that, while it‚Äôs nice to have scads of lawsuits in the pipeline, we have to win them all, or maybe all but one. A couple of defeats and all bets are off.
Protesting Too Much
There‚Äôs a study out that says people who are passionately and vocally homophobic may be struggling with their own sexual orientation. Well, it said something like that, and it‚Äôs not the first time some scientist came to that conclusion. A similar report came out a few years back, and plus, this is one of those studies that all of us could have predicted without bothering with the experiments and the statistics and the peer reviewed papers.
It‚Äôs not just the married conservative Christians who get caught with rent boys and escorts or little stamps from ‚ÄúDicks‚ÄĚ on the backs of their hands. It‚Äôs also the antigay activists who screen graphic gay porn to ‚Äúmake a point‚ÄĚ or go on under cover trips to sex clubs in order to expose the depraved underbelly of the gay community. And of course we can‚Äôt forget the insecure twenty-something men who beat up gay bar patrons or the teenaged bullies who patrol the playground.
Ninety percent of us, gay and straight, do not care about other people‚Äôs sexual orientation. But the ones who obsess about it are more than a little bit twisted. By the way, that‚Äôs why almost all the men who get caught in the park with their pants around their ankles are ‚Äústraight‚ÄĚ and married. Normal gay guys spend their quality time, well I‚Äôm not sure exactly. Maybe at the sex club with Peter LaBarbera and his friends from Americans for Truth.
Spitzer to Gays: Never Mind!
Oh, and speaking of being obsessed with sexual orientation, you‚Äôll probably agree that the you-can-change crowd holds a lofty spot in the hierarchy of hostile activists. As I‚Äôve said before, I assume that some people can ‚Äúchange‚ÄĚ if they like, just as some people can put underpants on their heads and eat nothing but green peas all day long. However, most people decry the notion that giving into self-hatred through a torturous program of celibacy and anguish is a healthy practice
That said, both sides are guilty of turning human complexity into sound bites during this debate, with gays insisting that no one can ever change and that sexual orientation is fixed at birth, and conservatives insisting that being gay is like a bad addiction to be corrected by simple discipline.
Into this needless contention came Robert Spitzer, a contrarian social scientist who helped remove homosexuality from the list of psychiatric disorders back in the day. Then, in 2001, Spitzer conducted a study of ‚Äėex-gays‚ÄĚ and found that some of them seemed to have successfully changed from gay to straight through dogged efforts.
Outrage thundered down from our community, while our adversaries played the ‚ÄúI told you so‚ÄĚ game to their heart‚Äôs content. Spitzer tried to downplay the study, noting that all he had done was to interview people who already had a stake in the idea that change was possible, and that his conclusions could not be generalized. But no one paid attention.
Now, Spitzer has officially repudiated his 2001 report, agreeing with critics that the effort was simplistic and that it could disguise the damaging impact of so-called reparative therapy. So, um, I guess it‚Äôs all good.
But you know, Spitzer‚Äôs study was as obvious as the one about how homophobes might have some of their own problems. Of course if you interview a bunch of ex-gays, they‚Äôre going to tell you that they‚Äôve changed. And so what? Their pursuit of happiness, ill fated or not, has zero bearing on the rest of us, nor does it dilute the notion that one should not have to change one‚Äôs sexual orientation in order to access equal rights. The whole controversy is a straw man, period.
Some Politics Are Local
Last week, I mentioned that Freedom To Marry Ohio is planning to petition for a ballot measure to overturn the state‚Äôs anti-marriage constitutional amendment. I did say I thought it was odd, considering that polls suggest this would be an uphill fight. Why the premature campaign?
Still, I assumed that the Buckeyes knew what they were doing and that I was unaware of the situation on the ground. Now, I notice that Equality Ohio agrees that a marriage campaign is bad strategy. This is just to point out, um, that I was right! Or at least I wasn‚Äôt totally off the mark.
Meanwhile, some poll in Maine says a majority of the state‚Äôs voters will pull the lever in favor of marriage equality next November. And we‚Äôre still gearing up for fall fights in Maryland and Washington, where bills legalizing same-sex marriage will likely be put to the electorate.
We‚Äôre on the defense in Minnesota, fighting an antigay constitutional amendment in the fall election. But our most pressing engagement is right around the corner in North Carolina, where primary voters will consider an antigay amendment next month. I‚Äôm not optimistic about our chances in the Tobacco State, but since I am so often wrong in my predictions, that could be a good sign.
Elephants on Mars!
Breaking news! Charles Manson will not be paroled. Really? And here‚Äôs some actual news, compliments of Chris Geidner at Metroweekly, who tells us that about eight top GLBT leaders had a meeting with senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrett on Wednesday afternoon. We know that a similar conclave was held last January, when activists asked the administration to amend an executive order to mandate that federal contractors protect their GLBT workers against discrimination.
According to Geidner, the proposal has the support of the Labor Department and the Department of Justice. As Geidner notes, government contractors employ about 22 percent of the nation‚Äôs workforce, so an executive order of this sort would have a major impact on gay employees.
These discussions also make clear, in my view, that we may have finally given up on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act as a vehicle for protecting gays against bias in the workplace. Conceived in another era, this anachronistic stand-alone bill has gone nowhere in 20 years and, at this stage, could actually do more harm than good. But having railed against ENDA many times in this column, I will spare faithful readers the rest of my traditional rant.
Oh, and the scroll under MSNBC says that there‚Äôs life on Mars! I have the sound off, but it looks as if someone has carved the head of an elephant into the planet‚Äôs surface. I‚Äôm guessing ancient aliens.
Ann‚Äôs column is available every week at sfbaytimes.com. You can reach her at email@example.com