Meandering Analysis on The State of Gay Marriage
My partner Mel and I decided to elope from Austin to southern California this weekend in order to get married on our anniversary, July 15. I say elope, because we have told virtually no one, with the exception of my San Francisco editor, who was furious with me. Oh, not because Iâ€™m goiang to miss two issues. But because we are not organizing a celebration with all our friends and family.
Well, hereâ€™s the deal. I am hopeful that the marriage amendment will fail at the California ballot this November. In fact, newshound Rex Wockner sent out an item from an Internet gambling company that will only give you only one in three odds that it will pass. But thatâ€™s still a chance I donâ€™t want to take, and this is our only window of wedding opportunity this year. Given the need for speed, we didnâ€™t want to oblige far-flung family to scramble for expensive tickets or spend their cash on hotels in Laguna when we will see them anyway a few weeks down the road. And I donâ€™t believe they would have stayed away without a big argument.
Most importantly, I want to get married, not have a party. I want to have a continual party for the rest of the summer, a traveling wedding celebration in which everyone who crosses our path for the next several months is required to buy the Champagne. French Champagne, none of this sparkling wine, Prosecco or whathaveyou. I may accept wine from some of the vineyards now poised to be included in the expanded Champagne appellation, but thatâ€™s just because Iâ€™m a reasonable woman.
My main desire is to have that piece of paper, legally useless as it may be in our home state of Texas, where the voters decided three years ago to put a ban on recognition of marriages like ours in the state constitution.
As Iâ€™ve written before, however, you can ban marriage recognition all you like, but you canâ€™t stop people, Texans and Californians alike, from understanding on a deep level what marriage signifies. It signifies for us, that when weâ€™re together, we think of ourselves as a single unit made up of two people. As I write, she is in Kansas and I am here â€śworkingâ€ť and I think of myself as me, and Mel as Mel. But if we are lounging around making dinner, watching TV, reading, driving, making exotic cocktails, I do not feel as if I am an individual. I feel as if I am half of a couple. This is not something that you can decide to feel or contrive to feel, it either is or it isnâ€™t and it is subconscious.
It is the essence of marriage and although many marriages are contracted without it, it is how most people assume married couples feel. I want that understanding from neighbors and strangers and friends, and I donâ€™t want to be obliged to type out an essay of this sort and present it to everyone I meet. And constitutional amendment or no constitutional amendment, everyone I meet in Texas will â€śrecognizeâ€ť our marriage in this regard.
Of course itâ€™s more complex than that. But you know what? I think weâ€™ve all had enough of self-serving sentiment for one issue. And the reason Iâ€™m busting the secret is that we were going to tell everyone in a couple of days anyway.
Also, I admit, itâ€™s a slow news week. For a columnist, thereâ€™s nothing like personal commentary to eat up your word count. And as a reader, I usually find it tedious. My apologies. (I just cruised through 616 words!)
Pick a Subject, Any Subject
Thereâ€™s nothing exactly â€śnewâ€ť on the marriage front, but we are in the midst of a crucial campaign to preserve marriage in California and a number of continuing debates have recycled through the last several weeks. In the mood for a rehash? Me too!
Hereâ€™s commentator Elizabeth Howton, a former Mercury News editor who just got married herself, and who thinks that the recent words of warning from the nine leading GLBT legal and political organizations were too cautious.
The groups, which I wonâ€™t list, asked new couples to avoid filing marriage recognition lawsuits out of personal activism, but to let the experts pick and chose the best opportunities for court victories. Losses, especially losses in federal court, will burden gay rights lawyers in other cases, while good decisions will ease the road ahead.
â€śTheir memo is well-reasoned, strategically correct - and doomed to failure,â€ť wrote Howton. â€śThe battle for gay marriage has always been an anarchic, guerrilla affair, advancing in fits and starts through ill-advised lawsuits rather than a coordinated strategy.
â€śFrom the Hawaii case that started it all to Gavin Newsomâ€™s San Francisco show, nothing has gone the way the lawyers would like. And yet weâ€™ve come this far.â€ť
Having covered the battle for gay marriage from Hawaii forward like a blanket since 1995, I beg to differ here. Yes, the Hawaii marriage case was not borne of an overarching community strategy. In fact, the success of that case, which surprised the GLBT legal groups, inspired the beginning of a concerted and very coordinated decade of thoughtful legal planning that has indeed brought us far. It has been anything but an â€śanarchic guerrilla affair,â€ť and the sensational California decision came about despite Gavin Newsomâ€™s heroic stand on same-sex marriage in February of 2004, not because of it.
Newsomâ€™s act, in turn, was part of the aftershocks from the Massachusetts marriage case, a carefully executed lawsuit that built on the strategic success of the Vermont case a couple of years earlier. Likewise, gay advocates deliberately selected New Jersey as the site of a freedom to marry case, which resulted in a victory of sorts as the Garden State mandated equality through civil unions or marriage.
Our narrow defeats, in Washington, New York and Maryland, have come in states where our hands were forced by the 2004 backlash, but where legal professionals took the reins of a galloping bandwagon and maximized our possibilities. Arguably, Californiaâ€™s justices took these one-vote majorities into account when scanning the recent judicial history of the fight for marriage and saw those results as split decisions.
Imagine, however, if we had filed marriage suits in Kansas, Mississippi, Utah, Idaho, South Carolina, littering the recent record with unanimous anti-marriage decisions. Worse, imagine if we had lost a direct challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, bolstering the homophobic but untested statute with solid case law in its favor.
Doomed to failure? Advancing in fits and starts? Ill-advised lawsuits? Thatâ€™s not what Iâ€™ve observed, and Iâ€™ve read every case, read every brief, talked to every lawyer over and over again, and done this on a weekly basis for 13 years.
Note: this historical diatribe has been simplified for your reading pleasure.
Jesse, We Knew You Pretty Well
Enough of this. You heard, I assume, that Jesse Helms died on July 4 at 86. I really canâ€™t exult in anyoneâ€™s death, but I would have preferred that Helms would have passed away on the 3rd or the 5th. Thatâ€™s all Iâ€™ll say about it.
And the hills are alive with the echo of gay rumors as McCain appears to have considered putting Florida governor Charlie Crist on his short list for Veep. Crist has operated out of the stained glass closet for years, sighted at menâ€™s bars, allegedly having affairs, and triggering gaydars like car alarms on 7th Avenue. He was married for a year or something like that and now claims to be engaged, an announcement that has been met with more raised eyebrows than glasses.
He seems like a nice guy, at least for a Republican, but if McCain puts him on the ticket Iâ€™ll eat my hat. And Iâ€™m not talking about the darling little â€śchapeauâ€ť of smoked salmon sitting in my refrigerator. Iâ€™m talking about the grungy Boston Redsox baseball cap with the sweat stains around the edge.
Nor do I think McCain will pick Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, the up and coming conservative Rhodes scholar, who is a second generation Indian American (from India).
Among other things, thereâ€™s a widely circulated report that Jindal took part in an exorcism at some point in his youth, which canâ€™t have been that long ago considering heâ€™s only 37. I have the whole lurid account back in my office, where Iâ€™ve been saving it for your delectation. Now, I can only recommend that you google â€śJindal exorcismâ€ť and surf away.
News You Can Lose
As for what passes for hard news this week, there are three offerings that spring to mind. First, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit just heard oral arguments in a big fight over whether the bad guys in Oregon got a fair shake during their failed anti-gay petition drive.
The petition drive, which aimed to put a repeal on the ballot and perhaps reverse a gay rights bill and a domestic partner bill, came up short by a handful of signatures. The process was challenged in court on some basis which I forget, but it had something to do with how state authorities verified the names on the petitions. Anyway, the petitioners lost that case in federal court and appealed up the ladder, hoping to restore their sad little project. Meanwhile, domestic partnerships with all the rights of marriage have been available to Oregonians for months.
In another fascinating petition story, Satanâ€™s minions in Arkansas are trying to put an adoption ban on the ballot following a series of court rulings in favor of gay parents and an ensuing legislative stalemate. I gather the Hog State neâ€™re do wells turned in a bunch of names by the petition deadline, but will probably not qualify enough of them to get on the ballot. They have an additional 30 days to continue the canvas, so we wish them ill luck for the duration.
And in other gay adoption news, maybe you recall Olive Watson, the heiress who adopted her partner in order to create a legal tie, and later broke up the relationship. Well, like many marriage substitutes, this tactic was flawed. Watson happened to be in line for a large fortune, and all the â€śgrandchildrenâ€ť were beneficiaries of her fatherâ€™s hefty trust. When Dad died, up popped the ex-girlfriend cum adopted daughter, Patricia Spado, demanding her piece of the pie since she was technically one of the grandkids.
Naturally, Olive and the rest of the Watson clan frowned on the cash grab, and asked a court in Maine to annul the adoption on the basis that the women did not live in Maine at the time of the adoption, but only vacationed there. Maine law requires that an adopting parent â€śresideâ€ť in the state and the adoptee â€śliveâ€ť Down East, but apparently itâ€™s not crystal clear what these unusual terms suggest.
The concepts were clear enough for a lower court judge, who annulled the adoption in April in a ruling that came to light in appeals filings this week. Spado is taking her claim to the Maine Supreme Court, which distresses me.
Actually, the whole thing distresses me. Partners should not adopt each other any more than they should marry their partnerâ€™s sons in order to provide a legal tie. When Watson and Spado broke up, Watson gave her ex a half million dollars, so itâ€™s not as if Spado was out in the cold. And finally, I doubt Mr. Watson senior, God rest his soul, intended to leave part of his grandkidsâ€™ trust to his daughterâ€™s estranged ex-lover. Thereâ€™s something wrong about angling for it even though Spado may be legally correct. And finally, an adoption should be permanent, period.
Oh. Do you mind if I leave this column short by about 25 words? You do? Really? OK then. Here you are, you greedy bastards.