The extraordinary thing about this week's marriages is the positive media coverage. Mostly gone from newspaper accounts are the reflexive quotes from far right lunatics in an effort to provide "two sides of the story." Television shots of crazy protesters make them look like the obsessed zealots that indeed they are, rather than the religious champions they claim to be.
Oh, by the way, according to San Francisco blogger Michael Petrelis, who sent out an update a minute ago, one of these nutcases was close by when a man in the marriage crowd suffered a heart attack, which looked like a fatal one to witnesses at the scene.
Among those witnesses was reporter Storm Bear from BilericoProject.com. Bear wrote that a Christian protester was chanting at the man's body - "Satan Got You!" "What is the Devil whispering in your ear about now?"
Storm yelled at the guy: "If you are such a Christian, why aren't you praying for the guy dying on the concrete?" to which the man replied: "God killed him for loving fags!!"
Can you believe these people? The heart attack victim survived, Petrelis reports.)
At any rate, we're no longer feeling the underlying editorial bias against same-sex marriage that we felt during the coverage of the Massachusetts marriage decision and the 2004 elections. "Editorial bias" is probably an overstatement. It was more a sense that the national news machine was sending a subliminal message that gay unions were unpopular, controversial and marginal. Today, the vibration feels quite different. Between the lines and resonating from the anchor desks is the message that gay unions are accepted, morally just and inevitable. The phenomenon simultaneously reflects and cements the deep gains we're making in the long war against social prejudice.
Earth to Robin!
I'm sure you don't need a rehash of the sights and sounds of the last several days around the Golden State. And actually, there's quite a bit of non-marriage news for us to enjoy this week. But before I drop the subject, I have to mention an Advocate article by Robin Tyler, the sixty-something activist who married her partner in LA with appropriate fanfare.
I don't begrudge anyone the hoopla surrounding our historic first marriages. But were I to pick someone to begrudge same, it would be Tyler, who has consistently been one of the more publicity hungry individuals in our larger activist circle.
Back in 2004, Tyler filed a marriage lawsuit against the state of California along with Troy Perry, the founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, who is no shrinking violet himself when the spotlight swings his way. And the spotlight was guaranteed by the presence of their celebrity lawyer, Gloria Allred, who for all her talents was not an expert in this specific area of litigation.
"We did this," Tyler writes this week, "against the advice of gay attorneys and the organizations who warned us we would not win because it was a Republican appointed court and 'How could we [win] without consulting these attorneys?' Well. We won, and many still haven't forgiven us for filing the suit."
Is she serious?
What actually happened was that Tyler's suit was combined with several other lawsuits. The main suit was brought on behalf of a number of hand-picked plaintiffs by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, along with the other major gay legal groups, and managed by a team headed by the NCLR's Shannon Minter. The other key suit was brought by the City of San Francisco, whose lawyers worked hand in hand with Minter, et al, to develop the coordinated case. The court immediately folded other active marriage suits, including Tyler's, into a collection of cases under one umbrella.
The arguments in the litigation, known as "in re marriage cases," were led by Minter and his San Francisco City Attorney's office counterpart, Therese Stewart.
Minter, the NCLR, Lambda, San Francisco, the ACLU and all their allies "won" the case, and they did so after an incredibly laborious and professional four-year run through the California court system. But while those advocates praised everyone involved once the opinion came down, it was Tyler who issued a press release announcing her own victory as if she herself had personally constructed and delivered the winning arguments. I rolled my eyes but wrote nothing when I read her self serving press release after the high court decision was announced, but here she is again, and now she has the nerve to describe the true authors of the victory as petulant nay-sayers who were proved wrong!
Tyler goes on to undermine a recent call for legal discipline in the months ahead that was sounded last week by nine major LGBT legal and political groups. The joint strategy statement explained why newly married couples could harm the future fight for national marriage recognition by filing slapdash lawsuits in conservative states.
"You cannot control 30 million people," writes Tyler, "especially lesbians and gays. In the states where they have passed initiatives or illegal constitutional amendments there is frustration beyond the boiling point.
"â€¦And they will sue. Win or lose, they will sue. Right or wrong, they will sue. Whether you or I agree with it, they will sue. Rage is impossible to control. It's a volcano. It finally explodes and so the organizations must not be surprised if [gay couples] go back and tie up the court system all over this country. If this happens (and I am not encouraging it, merely saying the tail wags the dog) we must go to plan B. If these lawsuits happen and these plaintiffs lose, let us begin to organize thousands to turn out on the streets on any day there is a negative ruling against our community.
"â€¦Let us show them, as the civil rights movement did in the 1960s and the AIDS movement did in the '80s that we will not take this passivelyâ€¦. Power is never given, it is taken. And that's what being a movement means; to move."
Someone give this woman a Valium. That said, she and her wife are to be congratulated, and their wedding photographs looked terrific. Perhaps it's time for an extended honeymoon.
What About Norway!
Few people noticed that as California couples began to celebrate their legal unions, the Norwegian legislature equalized marriage law, making the Nordic country the sixth to offer same-sex couples the status of marriage. Let's see. Those would include the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and South Africa. And I also think Israel, like New York, recognizes marriages contracted outside the country.
As everyone said in 2003 after the High Court struck sodomy laws and the Bay State legalized marriage, we have reached a "tipping point." We didn't "tip" five years ago. We teetered. But now I feel like I'm tipping. (Cue: Sound of Travelocity gnome falling off cliff.)
Perhaps I can legitimately revisit the other bromide of that period: "The toothpaste is out of the tube!"
What's in a Name?In related news, the bad guys in Oregon have reportedly failed to collect enough signatures to arrange a repeal vote on two recently enacted laws. Last session, the Beaver State legislators created a domestic partner registry that offers all the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. They also passed a sweeping gay rights bill. Both achievements were signed into law, at which point our desperate foes organized a signature drive to put the gay agenda to a vote. No dice.
And in the better-than-nothing department, Pittsburgh's city council has set up a registry that will qualify participating city workers for partner perks and signal to private employers that an employee is formally part of a couple. But what kind of couple? The program is apparently available to siblings, buddies, or maybe even the handsome stranger sitting across from you in the City of Pittsburgh Clerk's Office waiting room.
Indeed, part of our communal problem lies in the confusing array of quasi legal relationships now spreading across the country like warm butter on toast. A "domestic partner" in Pittsburgh could be a policeman collecting workplace insurance for his mother. In Oregon, it's a life partner in a same-sex relationship who has every state right accorded married heterosexuals. A "civil union" in Connecticut, Vermont or New Jersey, is the same as a "domestic partnership" in Oregon. But a "domestic partnership" in Washington or Maine carries far fewer benefits. As for a "reciprocal beneficiary" in Hawaii, I'm not sure exactly what that means, and I don't want to know.
These variations on the theme are going to trigger more lawsuits in the short term than the problems of married couples butting up against red state restrictions.
Witness the struggle in Michigan over whether the state's anti-gay constitutional amendment outlaws domestic partner benefits by public employers.
The answer, said the Mitten State justices, is yes.) Then there's the dilemma that pitted Vermont's civil union status against the harsh laws of Virginia, where as far as gay couples are concerned, no legal ties are acknowledged whatsoever. (The Virginia justices ruled that the Vermont governed the custody case of two lesbian civil union partners.)
And this week, we have a fascinating opinion from the Department of Justice, where Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven A. Engel was asked whether the non-biological child of a disabled lesbian parent in a Vermont civil union was eligible for social security benefits.
Although you'd expect an official in the Bush administration to deny the claim based on the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Engel wrote that the child's insurance benefit available to a parent on disability was determined by state law. Since the mother was a legal parent in Vermont, she was a legal parent as far as the Social Security Administration was concerned, DOMA or no DOMA. So start cutting those checks.
The fact is, married life and parenthood is complicated to begin with. Throw in conflicting laws and a host of distinct legal structures and you're going to try the patience of the American courts, literally, until the nation finally throws up its hands and says "Enough! Just get married for God's sake."
Here's a change of topic at long last!
In Reading, Pennsylvania, a 61-year-old grandmother discovered her teenaged granddaughter in bed with another girl last Thursday, and did what any thoughtful parental figure would do - she beat her up with a cane until the cane broke. The other girl fled during the discipline session, so Granny grabbed her 16-year-old granddaughter and dragged her limping over to the other girl's house, where she told the neighboring Mom just exactly what kind of sick shenanigans had transpired in the upstairs bedroom. Then, according to the Reading Eagle, she brought her granddaughter back home and continued the assault with a belt.
Someone called the authorities, and Joyce Beddell was arrested for aggravated and simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and endangering the welfare of a child. The battered young lady, in turn, was taken to the hospital with severe bruises on her legs.
Beddell, who told police she had every right to punish the errant child as she saw fit, wound up in prison in lieu of a $10,000 bail.
Now this is a horrible story of course, and we never want to blame the victim. But hello? Honey? If you're having a hot tryst with the girl next door, can you not find a better spot to get it on than the upstairs bedroom of the house you share with your obviously tyrannical and possibly deranged grandmother? I do hope, however, that you and your "friend" take full advantage of the house while Gram's in the pokey. Upstairs and downstairs!