Marriage is Finally Safe in the Bay State
In an astounding victory, one with a deep impact on the national fight for marriage, the Massachusetts legislature voted 151-45 on Thursday, June 14 to reject an anti-marriage amendment that would have otherwise been placed on the 2008 ballot. The measure needed 50 âyesâ votes to advance, and would have asked the stateâs electorate to roll back marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Would Bay State voters have passed the amendment? Maybe yes, maybe no. Polls show a small majority support marriage rights, and people are generally reluctant to strip their fellow citizens of existing rights. (While the amendment would not have annulled current marriages, it would have prevented same-sex couples from marrying in the future.) At the same time, polls often underestimate the publicâs dark sideâ- the pleasant-sounding person on the telephone may turn mean in the privacy of the voting booth. The phenomenon has been present in almost every marriage amendment election weeâve seen, with final spreads five or even ten points wider than predicted.
But regardless of the outcome, a yes vote last week would have put our entire fight for marriage rights in limbo for over a year. Just imagine if the one state where gay and lesbian couples can marry was suddenly poised to step back in time and restrict the privilege to heterosexuals. How would that effect the Maryland Court of Appeals, where justices are on the verge of issuing a marriage equality ruling? How would that effect the Connecticut Supreme Court, where justices are now considering whether civil unions are âequal enoughâ to marriage? How would it effect the California Supreme Court, where oral arguments in the countryâs most critical marriage case will likely be heard later this year?Â (I know I wrote the same thing in the last issue on the eve of the Massachusetts vote, but I see no reason not to repeat myself.)
And think of the country itself. Support for gay couplesâ rights, whether through marriage or civil unions, has been slowly rising in part because people believe such rights are inevitable. Look, weâve got people marrying in Massachusetts, and contracting for all the rights of marriage in six other states. But what if, suddenly, it wasnât inevitable? What if we could go back to the way things used to be and reserve marriage for a man and a woman? That no-doubt popular notion, and the vicious campaign that would have promoted it for 16 months, would surely have fueled a resurgence of the hostility towards gay couples that roiled the red states in 2004 and 2005.
Look too at the political progress weâve made. A same-sex marriage bill has again passed the California assembly and is heading to the senate. If it passes, it may be vetoed, but its passage would send an unmistakable thumbs up signal to the high court as it deliberates. In New York on Tuesday night, the assembly passed Eliot Spitzerâs marriage bill by a healthy 85-61 margin, a symbolic gesture for a bill that will die without a vote in the GOP-controlled senate. But still, symbolism is important.
In this legislative session we have also passed parallel marriage rights in New Hampshire and Oregon, accomplishments that required no small amount of political acumen, along with a sense that the trends are going our way. And that, finally, is what the Massachusetts vote protected. It protected the momentum weâve been building since the mid-1990s, through our near miss in Hawaii, the creation of civil unions in Vermont, through the domestic partnerships of California that now provide all the benefits of marriage, and through the tremendous progress beyond our borders.Â That momentum could have dried out in a Boston minute last week, and we owe our brothers and sisters in Massachusetts a great debt for the years of laborious activism that delivered the day.
Take That Losers!Not to belabor the subject, but the victory in Massachusetts didnât just protect our momentum, it increased it. I must say, one of the most satisfying aspects of the triumph was that it caught the far right off guard. Most observers thought the vote was close, and gay allies had said they were within a vote or two of beating the measure. But marriage opponents, who won the identical contest last January with 62 âyesâ votes, were busy crowing about how they had all the votes they needed. Not! In fact, relentless lobbying convinced nearly a dozen marriage opponents to switch, while another amendment supporter tripped and fell on the eve of the convention and couldnât attend.
Now, the deflated bastions of the right are complaining that the âpeople are being denied a voteâ and whining about strong arm tactics. As it so happens, the âpeopleâ get a vote if, and only if, one quarter of the state legislature advances a citizensâ petition in two successive sessions. Itâs not easy. Itâs not automatic. And guess what, Kris Mineau? You lost.
Once the confetti settles, Clam State activists are expected to lobby the legislature to repeal the 1913 law that prevents non-resident gay couples from marrying in the state. This, obviously, would be a momentous achievement for same-sex couples throughout the nation, even those who live in one of the 27 states with a constitutional ban on marriage recognition. Hey Mass-activists, letâs get going on this. What have you done for us lately?
Rethinking Grand Theft
I just paused for a cyber surf through AOL news, beginning with the appalling information that our country has been making an effort to deport the wife of one of the two missing soldiers that weâve been searching for over the last couple of months. Apparently, Alex Jimenez married his Dominican wife in 2004, and petitioned for a green card. She had been living here illegally since 2001, so once âauthoritiesâ figured that out, they started deportation hearings. In a burst of sanity, some judge put the proceedings on hold while half the U.S. forces in Iraq continue the search for her husband and another soldier.
Shockingly, AOL has a little voting box next to this story asking if readers agree that she should be deported. Although 76 percent say no, 16 percent agree and 8 percent are ânot sure.â Nasty bastards.
Oh, and I was also reading about the âponytailâ bandit, since she began her crime spree right here in Austin, Texas. She also wears a University of Texas baseball cap (Go Horns!) and she looks pretty cute in the security videos. What struck me about this unconventional bank robber is her modus operandi. Apparently, she walks up to the tellers and asks them for money, either verbally or with a note. She doesnât present a weapon of any sort and sheâs nailed several banks in this lackadaisical fashion.
Itâs not that I would personally rob a bank, but it is interesting to know that itâs easier than one might expect.Â I thought you needed a gorilla mask, a sawed off shotgun and a getaway car, didnât you? If I walked up to a teller and asked for all the cash in the drawer, I would think first of all, he or she would say no. And second, the teller would step on the silent alarm and Iâd walk right into the arms of Austinâs finest. Apparently, thatâs not the case. The teller just gives you a bunch of money and you continue on your merry way. Something to think about.
The bank robbery fantasy reminded me of jail, which reminded me of Paris Hilton, which reminded me that I read that poor Paris is âstaring at the ceilingâ and has nothing to do. Does she not read? What does she do on long plane trips? Stare at the seat back? In 23 days, she could read the complete works of Shakespeare, or a dozen trashy paperbacks.
Dykes To Watch Out For
Letâs move on, shall we?
What do you think of the stiff sentences handed down in the case of four New Jersey lesbians who sent a man to the hospital after he propositioned them? I remember the incident from last summer, when seven women were hanging out in the Village outside the Independent Film Center. According to their testimony, Dwayne Buckle made an advance at one of the women, who rebuffed him and said she was gay. Buckle then proceeded to make loud obnoxious comments at their expense and allegedly threw a cigarette at them. According to one of the women, Buckle also pushed them.
Big mistake. When the girls were done with him, Buckle was in the hospital for five days with knife wounds, a lacerated liver and stomach, cuts, bruises and an eye injury, the Associated Press reports. Buckle told the court he then spent a month recovering in bed.
I must say I got a frisson of pleasure when I covered the story at the time. But now, I have mixed feelings. It seems there was a surveillance tape of the whole fight that apparently showed Buckle walking away from the confrontation. Some of the women went off in running pursuit, caught him and then stabbed him and continued the assault. Judge Edward McLaughlin, who threw the book at the women with prison terms ranging from 3 Â˝ to 11 years, said they would probably have been acquitted had the video not been available. Three other women pled guilty in exchange for six months in jail.Â
I wouldnât want to share a potluck with these characters, but 11 years sounds like a very long time to me. I think one would have sufficed under the circumstances.
So, the Anglicans are back in the news, as the Episcopalians bravely continue to reject the demands of conservative church leaders in other parts of the world. As you know, leaders in Africa and Latin America have threatened to split the Anglican Communion if its U.S. and Canadian members do not renounce gay bishops and same-sex ceremonies. Bishops from Nigeria, Rwanda, and now Kenya, have also moved representatives into U.S. territory to offer pastoral services to conservative Episcopalian congregations, a practice that has really pissed off the Episcopalian powers that be.
According to the New York Times, the executive council of the Episcopal Church met recently in Parsippany, New Jersey, where they voted to defy a Sept. 30 deadline imposed by a majority of the heads of the Anglican churches last February.
âWe strongly affirm this churchâs desire to be in the fullest possible relationship with our Anglican sisters and brothers,â said the council. âBut in truth, the only thing we have to offer in that relationship is who we are.â The Episcopal Church, they continued, âhas always struggled to embrace people who have historically been marginalized.â
The latest faux bishop, compliments of Kenya, is Dallas-based Bill Atwood, who will soon be consecrated by Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi, and sent off to cater to all the homophobes in Texas. âThere is a desperate need for care,â Atwood told the Times, âand the Episcopal Church has been utterly unresponsive.â
A âdesperate need for care?â Yes, that would be those care-less congregations who are simply unable to continue worshiping in a church that reaches out to gay men and lesbians. Poor babies. Fortunately, for all the press they get, these renegade congregations are a tiny fraction of the Episcopal community.
What else? Former New Jersey governor James McGreevey and his ex-wife continue their unbecoming spat. She accused him of lowering her book sales by characterizing her as homophobic. He, in turn, said her book was boring and the outfit she wore on Oprah was âawful,â âinappropriateâ and âill fitting.â Ouch!
Columbiaâs congress has passed a law providing same-sex couples with social security and estate rights. That measure was been voted down four times in the last eight years, but now heads to the desk of President Alvaro Uribe, who will sign it.
And the judge in the long running child custody feud between a Vermont mother and her former partner in Virginia has issued his final decree in the matter. The formal dissolution of the civil union between Janet Jenkins and Lisa Miller has taken years, as the dispute ranged up and down the state court systems in both states. After both Vermont and Virginia agreed that the Maple State had jurisdiction, the judge was finally free to finish his job. I gather than the women are cooperating, but earlier this year, Lisaâs conservative lawyers had threatened to appeal the final order once it was handed down. Weâll see if they follow through.
Inky Pinky âPider, Went Up the Water âPout
Finally, did I mention that I have spent the last three days with a fist-sized tarantula stuck between the screen and the sliding glass door in the hallway of my house? Most of the time, the monster arachnid scrunched itself up and tried to hide at the top. But at night, heâd clamber down into the center of the screen and spread himself out into his most imposing posture, all eight furry legs extended and pincers poised. (Excuse me while I indulge in an internal scream of horror at the memory.)
The tarantula, âTerryâ as I called him, was theoretically free to escape at any time by crawling over to the edge of the screen, which was not fully closed, squeezing through a large gap between the screen and the door, and then going about his business. But day after day and night after night, he stayed, which preoccupied me constantly. I kept checking every hour. At night sometimes, a trick of the light made it seem as if Terry was indoors, rather than outdoors, a spectacle that still makes me shudder. Although I satisfied myself that entry into the house was impossible, I still slept with a shirt under my bedroom door, just in case.
Eventually, I couldnât handle the tension, so I summoned all my courage, went outside and pulled open the screen so that the spider was forced to move onto the door itself. For awhile he hid in the doorâs upper gutter, but by this morning he was gone. Considering his lazy display over the last three days, when he couldnât summon the initiative to take more than a few steps, I fear that he is lingering nearby, and I am now afraid to walk in that part of the yard.
Such is life in Texas, where I also walked into a cactus and drew blood yesterday.