Marriage opponents in Massachusetts claim to have gathered twice the required number of signatures to begin the process of amending the Bay State constitution. According to the Associated Press, the Marriage Family Institute says it delivered over 120,000 names to election officials on the Nov. 23 deadline. The names will be examined over the coming days, and if 65,825 of them pass muster, the completed petitions will be filed with the Secretary of State on Dec. 7.
The procedure for amending a constitution varies from state to state. In Massachusetts, a citizen-driven initiative like this one must win the support of just 25 percent of the states lawmakers for two sessions in a row before heading to voters.
That low bar is easily met, even in a state with majority support for marriage equality. An attempt by citizens to amend the Massachusetts constitution back in 2002 died after then state senate president Thomas Birmingham used a parliamentary tactic to preempt a legislative vote altogether. But itâ€™s unclear whether such a strategy would be politically feasible under present circumstances. Assuming that the lawmakers take up the amendment in 2006 and in 2007, the language could come before voters in 2008.
The amendment reads: â€śWhen recognizing marriages entered into after the adoption of this amendment by the people, the Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall define marriage only as the union of one man and one woman.â€ť It would not affect the thousands of gay and lesbian couples who have married in Massachusetts, nor those who will have married as of late 2008. That latter group may include same-sex couples from out of state, depending on the outcome of a lawsuit on behalf of nonresidents, now awaiting a decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
But the amendment would close the door to future same-sex marriages in the Commonwealth, a door that may well be open in other states by the time 2008 rolls around. Even though a slight majority of Massachusetts citizens support same-sex marriage, the numbers could shift under the onslaught of a long bitter campaign. Conversely, the intervening two years or so could bolster public opinion in favor of equality.
Meanwhile, the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders announced plans to challenge the amendment in court this January, assuming that the petitions are qualified. The advocates have already made their case against the amendment before the attorney general, urging him unsuccessfully to kill the measure in its infancy on constitutional grounds. Their key objections have not changed. First, GLAD says, the amendment illegally serves to reverse a judicial decision, specifically the opinion legalizing same-sex marriage two years ago. Second, citing the failed amendment of 2002, the lawyers note that the amendment impermissibly revives a question that has recently been rejected.
Finally, in yet another example of the theoretically unexpected consequences of anti-marriage amendments, an Ohio lawmaker has filed suit in state court, arguing that (Ohioâ€™s) Miami University may not offer domestic partner benefits to its staff without violating the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. This is the first such suit in Ohio, but similar litigation is alive elsewhere, particularly in Michigan and Utah.
Once again Iâ€™ve had to delete an entire column and start over on the cusp of my deadline. Why? Because Iâ€™m not in the silly frame of mind that characterized yesterdayâ€™s work product, and thereâ€™s actually quite a bit going on that I should report.
Gone is the item about the money-laundering Nigerian governor who jumped bail and escaped house arrest in London wearing â€śa red dress, sparkling necklace, red womanâ€™s headdress and lipstickâ€ť according to the Vanguard newspaper. Also spiked was a weird scenario out of New York involving a gay male couple who embezzled millions from a Nassau County school district. Oh, donâ€™t ask.
My Favorite Martin
Letâ€™s talk instead about the fall of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, who lost a vote of no confidence on Monday night. Martin, head of the scandal-ridden Liberal Party, dissolved Parliament on Tuesday, and called for elections Jan. 23. His main rival, Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party, promptly announced that he would ask Parliament to revisit the question of same-sex marriage if voters put his party in power.
Donâ€™t worry. Same-sex marriage is safe in Canada, where the majority of provincial high courts have legalized equal marriage rights, where two thirds of the public support it, and where the Canadian Supreme Court has said it conforms with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Parliament jumped on that bandwagon last June by passing marriage rights in a fairly close vote under the whip of Paul Martin and company. Even in the unlikely event that voters give Conservatives a plurality next month, itâ€™s not clear that the 308-member body will reverse itself, and itâ€™s even less clear that such a vote would carry the force of law under the circumstances. At most it would muck everything up and send the question to a definitive ruling by the High Court.
But none of these facts will stop anti-gay politicians from blathering on about same-sex marriage for the next month and a half. Political observers expect the electorate to split between the Liberals (now pulling 35 percent), the Conservatives (at 30 percent), and the left of center New Democratic Party (at 20 percent). Adding to the mix is the separatist Bloc Quebecois, which will sweep its namesake province and guarantee that none of the main groups come close to a majority. Weâ€™ll likely end up with a Liberal plurality, and another coalition between Martinâ€™s party and the New Democrats.
Whatâ€™s in a Name?
On the home front, more states are gearing up for a referendum on marriage next year, including Wisconsin, where hundreds descended on a legislative hearing Tuesday. It looks as if Wisconsin lawmakers will send an amendment to the voters given the number of amendment sponsors this session. Less obvious is the situation in Florida, where petitioners are falling behind their targets.
In Illinois, only the legislature can initiate a constitutional amendment, but that hasnâ€™t stopped a creepy bunch from trying to put a non-binding referendum on the ballot urging lawmakers to take action. With everything else thatâ€™s going on, this quasi-symbolic Illini effort seems the least of our problems, particularly since itâ€™s reportedly not going well. However, one of our enemies in this battle is named Randall Stuffelbeam, a ludicrous detail that screams out for inclusion in this column.
God Save the Queens
In fact, just typing the name Randall Stuffelbeam has shifted my predisposition away from serious GLBT news. I feel myself rejecting the interesting item that Arnold Schwarzenegger is about to appoint lesbian Democrat Susan P. Kennedy as his new chief of staff, and veering instead towards the story of a contingent of Royal Marines based near Plymouth, who were secretly filmed conducting an initiation of some sort involving a fight between two naked soldiers last May. The other men were also naked, and the confrontation was supervised by two superiors, one dressed as a surgeon and the other wearing a schoolgirl outfit.
According to the News of the World, surely a reputable if unfamiliar source, the commandos had just finished 32-weeks of training, and were presumably blowing off a little steam. The article includes a number of quotes from outraged British military and political commentators, who collectively called the incident â€śrepugnant,â€ť â€śwrong and horrific,â€ť and â€śdamaging.â€ť
â€śJust imagine a young man turning up in his unit and being made to wrestle naked in a field while his non-commissioned officers are dressed up in womenâ€™s frillies,â€ť said one. â€śI mean, itâ€™s not very dignified stuff, is it?â€ť
Letâ€™s all pause to consider the image that for a minute. The news about Susan Kennedy is striking, donâ€™t you think? What do you suppose Arnold is up to? Sheâ€™s a former top aide to Gray Davis, for Godâ€™s sake!
Hereâ€™s another mysterious piece of news. The State Department has issued a press release condemning the United Arab Emirates for raiding a gay wedding, arresting a dozen same-sex couples, and indicating that the men will be subjected to forced hormone treatments. Department spokesman Sean McCormack called on the government â€śto immediately stop any ordered hormone and psychological treatment and to comply with the standards of international law.â€ť
Yes, the statement is welcome. But hello? What about the reported executions of gay men in Iran, where at least half a dozen youths have been hung for alleged sex offenses since the new government took power? It seems likely, given the information from the ground, that the executions are not tied to sexual abuse, but are in fact based on consensual sodomy. Indeed, the official Iranian press reported that two young men who were executed a week or so ago were punished for same-sex intercourse involving penetration, a capital crime under strict Islamic law.
Finally, Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ve all heard that the powers that be in the Catholic Church have officially nixed from holy orders, â€śthose who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture.â€ť By my calculation, that leaves all those healthy heterosexual men who have decided to forego sex for the rest of their lives, plus the cohort who transcend sexual orientation by sublimating their warped desires in the body of Christ for as long as they can stand it.
Without further ado, I believe I will conclude by reprinting my famous four-part priest limerick, a masterpiece that stands the test of time as far as commentary on this subject is concerned:
Said the priest, â€śItâ€™s a terrible
Â Â Â Â waste
To force all of us here to be
Â Â Â Â chaste
God gave us desires,
He invented boysâ€™ choirs,
And he taught us our Catholic
Â Â Â Â taste.â€ť
Said another, â€śIâ€™m of the same
Â Â Â Â mind.
And thereâ€™s a boy in a bit of a
Â Â Â bind.
Heâ€™s still tied to the altar
In the Bishopâ€™s best halter,
And we should leave no child
Â Â Â Â behind.â€ť
Said the rest: â€śWeâ€™ll release him
Â Â Â Â en masse,
But we have to watch out for the
Â Â Â Â brass.
The boss doesnâ€™t miss-a-trick,
After all, itâ€™s his bishoprick,
And he can be a pain in the ass.â€ť
Said the Bishop, â€śI heard all the
Â Â Â Â noise,
And I know youâ€™ve been into my
Â Â Â Â toys.
Youâ€™ve used all my lube
So weâ€™ll need a new tube
To separate the men from the
Â Â Â Â boys.â€ť
(Cue: extended drum roll)