Commentary on LGBTQ issues

Some of this material was published in comments sections of various articles in The New York Times.  In some places, I was responding to material written by other commenters.  This is by no means comprehensive; it's random thoughts on a few of the many important issues involved in the fight for full equality under the law for LGBTQ citizens.  In some cases, these comments were written in response to different articles, so there is some repetition.

 

 — Marc Sophos
Founder and Executive Director, MFPG and WDFH
Executive Producer, OutCasting

 


 

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The massacre in Orlando

We at OutCasting join everyone who condemns the Orlando shooting.  We wish we could say that we join the rest of the nation in condemning the massacre, but there are too many who, because of their own homo-trans-LGBTQ-phobia or because of their opposition to any reasonable gun controls, bear real responsibility for this latest horror.

Thanks to the courageous leaders who have rightfully condemned the Orlando shooting and called for action.  Unfortunately, there are many who oppose LGBTQ equality and reasonable gun regulation, and for the most part, they're offering "thoughts and prayers."  Enough of that.  Offering "thoughts and prayers" while refusing to do the real work necessary to stop these shootings is truly meaningless, so thank you for nothing.

To elected officials and others who are anti-LGBTQ, and to anti-LGBTQ religious leaders, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, the National Organization for Marriage, and other hate groups:  You own a piece of this.  Your rhetoric about LGBTQ people being less than fully human and deserving of the equal protection of the laws and equal recognition of our fully human status has contributed heavily to the creation of an environment in which this imbecile with a gun thought it justified to invade a gay club and murder masses of people, or in which those imbeciles in Wyoming considered it acceptable to murder Matthew Shepard, or set fire to the UpStairs bar in New Orleans in 1973, or committed any number of other atrocities against LGBTQ people.  Please carefully consider that fact, do some honest introspection, and let it guide you to a more accepting attitude in which we live up to our so-called American ideals of equality and justice.  If you don't, shame on you. And if you're not going to be part of the solution, if you contribute to this environment that enables the more violent among you and makes them feel justified in doing violence against us, your "thoughts and prayers" are meaningless and hypocritical, and you should just keep them yourself.

We talk about this in our series on the backlash against the LGBTQ community, featuring interviews with Michelangelo Signorile.

 

Another partial step toward equality by the Boy Scouts

(July 27, 2015)  The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has taken another partial step toward equality.  The New York Times reports that BSA has now lifted the ban on gay adults — sort of.  Under the new policy, BSA no longer has an outright national ban on gay adult leaders, but it will continue to allow individual troop sponsors to continue the ban, essentially creating a "religious liberty" exemption to a policy that is otherwise generally applicable.  This is the same kind of policy that has recently caused so much controversy in the context of marriage equality.  BSA was facing an investigation by New York's Attorney General into whether it was violating the state's anti-discrimination laws; with this move, BSA appears to have averted that investigation.

In 2013, as reported by OutCasting, BSA partially lifted the ban on gay people in scouting by ending the ban on openly gay youth under 18.  This was due in part to losses in funding BSA faced when corporations and other funding organizations found it increasingly unpalatable to continue to support a discriminatory organization.

Yet this partial move created controversy: if it was okay for BSA to allow openly gay youth under 18, what plausible reason was there for ejecting gay people from scouting on their 18th birthdays?  Homosexuality and pedophilia are two entirely separate things, and the BSA didn't claim that the continuing ban on gay adult leaders was based on fear of sexual predation.  So what was the reason?

As detailed in OutCasting #17, a structural shift occurred in scouting when the gay ban started to be enforced: many troop sponsors, not wanting to be associated with a discriminatory organization, withdrew.  Many anti-gay churches and other religious organizations stepped in.  This made scouting more entrenched in its bigotry against gay people.  

This latest change is also likely to cause dissension.  NPR reports (August 2, 2015) that the Mormon Church, even with the "religious exemption," is considering separating itself from scouting anyway. 

While steps toward equality are to be commended, this new policy, like the 2013 change, is a compromise that will continue to cast BSA as an organization that considers anti-gay discrimination to be acceptable.

In an upcoming episode, OutCasting will examine the "religious liberty" bills that seek to allow "religious liberty" to overrule civil law in the context of the Supreme Court's landmark decision in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges (June 2015), which finally made marriage equality the law of the land.

Transgender women of color

(July 2015)  What is going on with the spate of murderous attacks on transgender women of color?  See also this essay in The New York Times (August 22, 2015).

OutCasting interview on Michigan Business Network

(July 3, 2015)  OutCasting's founder and executive producer, Marc Sophos, was interviewed on Show Biz Weekly, hosted by Taylor Kelsaw on the Michigan Business Network.  Listen »

Episcopalians overwhelmingly vote to allow church weddings for same sex couples

(July 2, 2015)  As members of the religious right are apparently becoming unhinged in the wake of the Supreme Court's landmark decision (see, for example, GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who seems to be saying that marriage equality has destructively changed the definition of love itself, thus undermining the institution of marriage — see Advocate article), we see some religious progress, for a change.  "Episcopalians voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to allow religious weddings for same-sex couples, solidifying the church's embrace of gay rights that began more than a decade ago with the pioneering election of the first openly gay bishop."  That's a reference to Bishop Gene Robinson, who was our guest on OutCasting #14.  Listen »
 
Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality

(June 26, 2015)  We at OutCasting celebrate the Supreme Court's June 26 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges [pdf] and three related cases legalizing marriage equality nationwide.  This is another huge landmark in the march for full equality for LGBTQ people.  This would not have been possible without the unrelenting work of those who fought in the courts, those who worked through the political system, and those who worked to educate the American public on these issues through the media and other channels.

But we are also mindful that there is much work still to be done.  It is still completely legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in public accommodations, credit, housing, and employment in much of the United States.  The transgender rights movement lags woefully behind the LGB rights movement.  LGBTQ kids are continuing to kill themselves and are still subject to terrible bullying just for being who the are.  Let's celebrate our victory in marriage equality as we keep fighting for equality in all areas. 

Further reading:

      • Opinion piece written by Evan Wolfson, a key architect of the global marriage equality movement and president of the organization Freedom to Marry, published in the June 27 edition of The New York Times.  Evan shared his thoughts on marriage equality following the Windsor decision in 2013 in OutCasting episodes 19 and 20.  (He also played an important role in litigation over the Boy Scouts' exclusion of gay Scouts, and was featured in OutCasting episode 17.)
      • It's Not Over, a new book by the activist, author, and journalist Michelangelo Signorile that covers in detail the many areas in which LGBTQ people still lack legal equality under the law.  Mike interviewed us last June on the Michelangelo Signorile Show on SiriusXM last June; have a listen on our Press page.

In the near future, OutCasting will explore continuing opposition to marriage equality coming from those who believe that religious beliefs should override equality.

In the direct sense, of course, OutCasting is part of the movement advocating for full equality for LGBTQ people.  But the bigger picture is that our nation will never live up to its ideals until we are all free and equal, and our celebration is tempered by the recent shootings in Charleston.  Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those whose lives were lost.  And those of the shooting before that, and the one before that, and on, and on.   It's nice that in the wake of this most recent act of violence, some southern states have recognized the meaning that the Confederate flag has for so many and are removing it from state grounds.  But flags are mere symbols, and removing the flags is a far cry from confronting the guns issue and racism that permeates large paarts of our nation.

So let's celebrate today and wake up tomorrow with renewed energy to continue the fight.  Happy Pride!

Boy Scouts of America president favors policy to allow gay adult leaders, but...

(May 21, 2015)  According to a New York Times report on May 21, Robert Gates, the president of the Boy Scouts of America, has called for the organization to end its exclusion of gay adult leaders.  But has he really?

The report states that his proposal would allow churches that sponsor troops to set their own standards based on their religious beliefs — in other words, to continue to discriminate against LGBTQ people.  He said, “We must, at all costs, preserve the religious freedom of our church partners" to set leadership standards according to their faith.

As the BSA became known as an organization that litigated all the way to the Supreme Court to defend its right to discriminate, many of its existing troop sponsors withdrew, saying that they could no longer be associated with a discriminatory organization.  Conservative churches stepped into the void, as described in OutCasting #17, and according to the Times report, now constitute some 70% of troop-sponsoring organizations.  Apparently, these conservative churches didn't have a problem being associated with BSA, and as explained in OC17, this created a major antigay shift in the makeup of the BSA.  It also caused corporate funders to withdraw.

Some troops led by LGBTQ-supportive organizations have allowed gay adult leaders, and this policy, if enacted, would mean that BSA wouldn't take action against them, but it would still allow conservative-led troops to continue discriminating.

In view of the panicky reaction among the religious right, which is trying in many states to enshrine discrimination against LGBTQ people in the law in anticipation of the coming marriage equality decision from the Supreme Court (see, most recently, Indiana and Louisiana's Bobby Jindal), can we expect the conservative religious organizations that sponsor troops to do anything other than continue to discriminate?  And if this happens, is the proposed new policy likely to have much effect?

Mr. Gates should be applauded for bringing this issue up, but it's hard to see how his proposal, if ultimately adopted, will really resolve the issue.

Series on transgender lives in The New York Times

(May 2014) We congratulate The New York Times for shining an important light on transgender issues

OutCasting featured in The Advocate
(November 2014)  Read about OutCasting in The Advocate "In-depth, well researched, and punchy in the right ways... NPR-level production values....  What makes all this remarkable is that most of the people working on the show... are barely old enough to drive."

Suicide of trans teen from Ohio
(December 31, 2014)  OutCasting executive producer Marc Sophos comments on the December 2014 suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager from Ohio.

Olympic committee adds sexual orientation protection
(December 8, 2014)  In an issue covered in OutCasting #21 — whether it was appropriate to hold the Olympics in Russia, a country in which the climate for LGBTQ people is extremely hostile — The Chicago Tribune reports that the International Olympic Committee has added language to the Olympic Charter prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  This will presumably reduce the chance that the Olympics will be held in countries with oppressive attitutes toward LGB people.  It may be hard to enforce but it's a good start — but what about our transgender friends, who always seem to get left behind when we see these advances?

 

Comment on the December 2014 suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager from Ohio:

 

On the weekend between Christmas and New Year's, a 17 year old girl from Ohio, Leelah Alcorn, left her home in the middle of the night, deliberately put herself into the path of an oncoming tractor trailer on an interstate, and was smashed to death.  The physical pain she experienced in those violent moments must have been extreme.  We can only hope that it was of very short duration.

But her emotional pain had gone on for years.  Leelah was born Joshua and was struggling with being transgender.  When she was 14, she discovered what "transgender" was, and at last she had a name for how she felt.  It was they key to her future happiness.

Her Christian parents refused to acknowledge her transgender identity, sending her to "conversion therapy" to try to force her into an identity that she knew, at the deepest levels of her soul, did not match who she really was.  According to her suicide note, automatically published on Tumblr after her death, her parents isolated her from her friends.  Since her death, her parents have continued to refer to her as a boy.  Her suicide note left no doubt about why she killed herself.

The list goes on.  Leelah is just the most recent highly visible example of transgender and gay children who have jumped off bridges, shot or hanged themselves, overdosed on drugs, or otherwise destroyed their young lives.  We see the TV news reports showing the candlelight vigils, the shocked family and friends.  But what do we know about these children's lives?  And how does what we don't know, and in some cases deliberately refuse to know, contribute to their suicides?

No matter where you live, no matter where your political or religious beliefs lie, you are surrounded by innocent children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning, or who for some other reason don't fall into the category of cisgender (non-transgender) and heterosexual -- in shorthand, LGBTQ*.  You may not know it.  Even they may not know it, especially at younger ages when they don't understand it.  But be assured that many if not most of them feel their differentness, sometimes at the very early ages of three and four.  Many of them also realize that their differentness is widely condemned and try to suppress it.  Out of fear of rejection and persecution and feelings of hopelessness -- and many times in the face of actual rejection and persecution at home, at school, in church, and elsewhere -- some of these children seek to destroy themselves.  Too many succeed.

Coming to the discovery that they are LGBTQ* doesn't make these children any less "innocent" than heterosexual, cisgender children.  Being LGBTQ* is no more a "guilty" choice than being heterosexual or cisgender.  It is simply a core part of people's identities.  It can't be "repaired" and no one -- certainly no child -- should be expected to suppress it.

For decades, we have been inching closer to the ideal of an America in which we are all equal.  The recent developments in marriage equality have come faster than many of us could have hoped.  Nonprofits like the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, Freedom to Marry, Lambda Legal, Athlete Ally, and the ACLU are working to advance equality in a number of contexts.  The Hetrick-Martin Institute in New York City provides direct services to LGBTQ* youth.  GLSEN -- the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network -- assists school-based Gay-Straight Alliances.  GLAAD challenges anti-LGBTQ* stereotypes in the media.  The It Gets Better Project provides a forum for LGBTQ* people and their allies to share messages of hope.  P-FLAG enables parents, friends and families of LGBTQ* people to support each other.  The Trevor Project and Trans Lifeline provide anti-suicide hotlines.  An increasing number of religious groups are breaking through the stereotype that religion monolithically condemns LGBTQ* people.

But much remains to be done.  As LGBTQ* people come closer to achieving legal equality, there is a rising backlash: desperate and mean-spirited measures are popping up in a number of states to explicitly permit discrimination in public accommodations, employment, housing, and elsewhere based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  Even people of goodwill may not be aware than in many parts of the country, this invidious discrimination is, even without these new measures, still completely legal.  Some religions continue to condemn LGBTQ* people as intrinsically disordered, or worse -- and in many cases much worse.

The effects that all of this has on LGBTQ* people of all ages, but especially children, cannot be ignored or denied: it blots out any hope that life will get better.  In her suicide note, Leelah wrote, "People say 'it gets better' but that isn’t true in my case.  It gets worse.  Each day I get worse....  My death needs to mean something."

It is past time for all of the United States to be places of full equality for LGBTQ* people.  Religious beliefs cannot override the right of all children to be free of persecution.  Bringing people under the coverage of our existing civil rights laws based on both gender identity and sexual orientation must be a priority.  Hate crimes laws must be vigorously enforced.  The institutions of our society must be beacons of hope, especially for those who are most at risk.  All of us must raise our voices of love and hope for our next generation, however we can, in the face of the intolerance and hate that motivate the worst, most anti-LGBTQ* people in our governments, our religious institutions, and other centers of power.  We must challenge our media to vigorously cover issues that expose the hypocrisy of those who are antagonistic toward LGBTQ* people.  If we fail, more innocent children will kill themselves.  It is inevitable.

Can't we be a better society than that?  Can't we take steps to ensure that the deaths of Leelah and all of the other LGBTQ* children who have committed suicide or suffered in silence ultimately mean something?

Marc Sophos
New York City, December 31, 2014

 


 

Earlier comments:

  1. Gay people do not choose to be gay any more than straight people choose to be straight.  If you are straight, did you choose it?  If not, what is your basis for saying that people "choose" to be gay?  Homosexuality is a naturally occurring variant in the spectrum of sexuality, shown by many studies to be a relatively constant percentage of populations across different cultures, across history, and even across species.  There are many cultures, including some Native American tribes, in which gay people have special, exalted roles.  While we may not understand it, there must be a reason that benefits our species (and others) explaining why it wasn't "naturally selected" out of existence.  Perhaps it’s a part of a natural system to reduce overpopulation.
  2. Most everyone’s sexual orientation falls somewhere along a spectrum.  While it is not known exactly what determines exactly where on that spectrum a particular person's sexual orientation falls, there is plenty of science showing that sexual orientation is strongly influenced by genetics and by biological factors (such as the balance of hormones in the womb).  There is no respected science that indicates that it is simply a "choice."  (By the way, religion is a choice.)  Sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic in the same way skin color and eye color are.  It's an orientation, not a preference.
  3. There is one element of choice, however: the choice to accept one's homosexuality and act on it, meaning adopt a more or less open gay identity and form honest friendships and relationships.  This is not to be belittled; having to lie about a core element of one's identity is excruciatingly painful.  Gay children (and they are everywhere — probably somewhere in your own family) are at greatly heightened risk of suicide because they often fear rejection by their families, friends, and society at large.  This fear is stoked by homophobic pronouncements from church and state and uneducated and unenlightened parents, other family members, and friends.  The only immorality involved is the "choice," such as it is, to deny an essential element of yourself, and to live a life that is at odds with who you are.  The peace and harmony that occur when you can be honest with others and not have to constantly be on guard and edit everything you say, every reaction you have, is a wonderful thing.  Seeing yourself as you are, reflected in those close and honest friendships and relationships, is tremendously important in getting to know yourself.
  4. Most of the people who deny these facts have never had to deal with them directly.  The most direct and reliable evidence on the issue of whether being gay is a choice is the experience of gay people themselves.  There is plenty of documentation on this issue.
  5. Marriage is not merely a private contract.  There are over 1100 state and federal rights that are automatically activated when a couple marries.  In some instances, these rights are between the two people, and in these instances it is theoretically possible for a gay couple to privately enter into a contract giving them those powers with respect to each other.  But because in most of the country the law does not allow gay people to get married to the person of their choice, there is a disparity in that straight couples can get those rights automatically for the minimal cost of a marriage license, while gay couples must hire a lawyer to draw up the contract; this can cost thousands of dollars.  This is an example of how the law imposes different burdens on gay couples compared to straight couples.
  6. In marriage, there are other state and federal rights bestowed on the couple that are enforceable outside of the relationship.  Such rights include a right to visit an ill loved one in the hospital (hospitals allow spouses but nothing forces them to allow gay partners who are not "married"), and the right to file income taxes jointly.  There are many others.  Regardless of whether a gay couple enters into a private contract, without legal marriage, they have no power to enforce the reality of their relationship against outside parties, and this is another disparity.
  7. Nor is marriage merely a religious union.  Religious organizations have the right to recognize — and the right not to recognize — any relationships they choose.  I don't believe anyone is seeking to force any religious organization to perform marriages that go against their beliefs.  The truth is that while many religious organizations do not wish to "sanctify" gay unions, many others do and have been doing so for years.  But absent the words "by the power vested in me by the State," no religious marriage has legal consequences in secular society.  When straight couples marry in a church, I have yet to see anybody seek only a religious recognition of their union: they are there at least as much to get the legal benefits.
  8. "Marriage" is a term that has meaning in both religious and civil contexts.  It has a depth of meaning even in the civil context such that the term "civil union" is second class — in other words, separate but equal, a doctrine that has long been rejected in our country.
  9. The "sanctity" of marriage is no business of the government, unless one does not believe in the United States constitution.  What is being advocated is for marriages between couples of the same sex to have the same legal recognition as marriages between couples of the opposite sex.
  10. Stated simply, the equal protection clause of the constitution prohibits the federal government and the states from treating groups of people differently if they are similarly situated unless there is ample justification for the different treatment.  There has been plenty of analysis by many courts and scholars showing that gay people are singled out for different treatment under the law because they are gay, not because they are in some other way dissimilarly situated.  The denial of equal rights, including marriage rights, based on the immutable characteristic of sexual orientation is an unconstitutional denial of equal protection in violation of the U.S. constitution.
  11. Disregarding the sanctity issues for a moment, it is true that marriage is under assault, but that assault is coming from high divorce rates and instant drive-through Las Vegas weddings.  Expanding legal (civil) rights to gay couples does not in any way devalue the rights already given to straight couples.  Our history has been about expanding rights, not restricting them, and where the law has grown to give these fundamental rights to gay people, straight marriages have not suffered as a result.  The sun still rises in the east and sets in the west, and society isn't crumbling.
  12. It's not just about children.  If the sole purpose of marriage were to provide a stable home for children, then rightfully the law should allow only couples capable of producing children to marry, and only during the time that they actually need the legal protections, from conception to the age of 18.  Then, according to this line of thought, once the kids hit 18, the parents would no longer require those protections and the marriage should be dissolved.  Infertile couples should not be allowed to become or remain married.  Women past menopause should not allowed to become or remain married.  People who do not wish to have children should not be allowed to become or remain married.  Married parents of children should never, under any circumstances, be allowed to separate or divorce.  These are just some of the many ways to poke holes in the argument about marriage being for the protection of children.
  13. When gay couples have children, through adoption or artificial (or sometimes even natural) insemination, it is because they really, truly want to have children and have taken very concrete steps to prepare.  With straight couples, pregnancy is often an accident.  There is no evidence that gay couples are worse parents than straight couples and plenty of evidence that they are at least as good.  There is also no evidence that the children of gay couples are any more likely to be gay (even if that were bad) than children of straight couples.  In many cases, gay couples may be better parents because they don't have kids by accident.  On the issue of the sexual orientation of the parents influencing the sexual orientation of their children, it's worth noting that most gay people grow up in families headed by straight parents.
  14. This is not a "lifestyle" issue, any more than being straight is a "lifestyle."  That belittles the profound issues involved.  As I mentioned earlier, what's involved in coming out of the closet is a determination to stop lying about who you are, and to start living a life that is true to yourself.  It's an issue of personal integrity and honesty.
  15. Teaching kids about diversity — i.e., the way things are, the truth — is not going to turn them gay.  But for the kids who are gay (and many kids know that there is something "different" about themselves at a very early age — I knew that when I was three, and that's not uncommon among gay kids), intolerance breeds self-loathing and often suicidal tendencies.  If it's about "the children," then it's about the gay children as well as the straight ones.  Teaching them about hate may make bigots feel better but it does untold damage to children.  If the kid is straight, you're teaching him or her to hate others.  If the kid is gay, you're teaching him or her to hate his or her self.  Either way, it's child abuse.  Can you be a part of what it takes to break this ugly cycle?
  16. Tolerance isn't enough.  Do you think it's enough to be "tolerant" of blacks?  Asians?  Jews?  Catholics?  We're a better country than that.  If you don't believe that, perhaps it's time to expect more of yourself.
  17. There is no moral equivalence whatsoever between bigotry and being intolerant of bigotry.  If you are bigoted against gay people, recognize that in yourself and try to make yourself a healthier person; don't think it's equivalent in any way to gay people or anyone else condemning your bigotry.  So many people can find their own happiness only when they have someone to hate.  That's a pretty pathetic way to live.  Can you grow out of that?
  18. Messages of intolerance and even hate coming from church and state empower those who would do us violence.  If you advocate discrimination under the law against gay people, you are saying that we are "less than" straight people, that we are somehow immoral and bad.  If you don't think that Jesse Helms, Lou Dobson, Donald Wildmon, Dick Armey, powerful religious groups, and many others who make their living as anti-gay professionals play a major role in enabling anti-gay violence, such as the murder of Matthew Shepard, I think you have some soul searching to do.
  19. Anti-gay forces have railed against "judicial activism" in the realm of extending equal rights to gays, arguing that these issues should be left to the legislative process.  But the rights of minorities should not exist subject to the whims of the majority; if that had been the case, the entire civil rights movement could never have gotten to where it is today.  (And yes, this is very much part of the larger struggle for civil rights in this country; it is directly analogous to the fight for equal rights for other minorities.)  But since the anti-gay forces have taken a position that the legislative process is the proper place for this issue to be dealt with, I hope they will make a public statement now that when equal marriage rights are extended to gay couples through the legislative process, they will not challenge it in the courts.  (As if.)  Otherwise, they're merely hypocrites.
  20. Some people justify their anti-gay bigotry by resorting religious teachings or the bible.  Two responses: first, religious teachings or doctrine or the bible or whatever should not play a role in determining civil law in the U.S.  That is one of the core values in the constitutional requirement of separation between church and state.  Second, the bible prohibits many things (including touching the skin of a pig and wearing textiles), and unless you are prepared to live by all of the prohibitions or face stoning if you don't, you have no leg to stand on.
  21. It is well documented that many of those who harbor anti-gay prejudice have unresolved issues themselves.  If you are virulently anti-gay, or if you just believe that our government is justified in singling out gay people for lesser protection and fewer rights, you would do well to ask yourself why you feel that way.  Don't turn to external sources to justify bigotry because that's a copout.  Being a moral person means, in significant part, that you take responsibility for making up your own mind.  Even if you don't have unresolved issues with respect to your own sexuality, what in yourself drives you toward these feelings?  Can you work through it to become a better, happier person?  If not, why not?
  22. One commenter says that homosexuality was removed from the DSM because of "political activity."  There's an element of truth here in that gay people were among those pressing to have it removed, along with many presumably straight mental health professionals.  But the basis for including it in the first place was that the psychological/medical/psychiatric evidence was based on gay people who were being treated for mental or emotional issues — focusing on supposed pathologies in a self-selected small sample of gay people who were seeking treatment for their own problems.  In other words, the evidence until then entirely ignored the vast majority of relatively well adjusted gay people who were not in treatment at all.  And in most cases where there are emotional problems, they're not brought on by homosexuality itself; they're brought on by internalizing the hateful lies spewed by society.  Internalized homophobia in gay people is very well documented.
  23. We do not demand the word marriage for the sake of “political correctness.”  The word is written into thousands of laws all over the country.  Using another word to describe same-sex unions would mean that such unions are not covered by all those laws.  As a practical matter, we will never see the day in which all of those laws are re-written to specify “civil union” instead of “marriage.”  To be treated equally under the law, the necessary legal term is marriage.
  24. For all those who say we’re just in it for the financial benefits and legal protections:  If you’re so quick to dismiss the importance of those benefits and protections, then you should be first in line to give them up yourself.  If you’re married (legally), get a legal divorce and then have a purely religious ceremony.  You will be married in the eyes of your church but not in the eyes of the law.  Is that sufficient for you?  If not, why would you assume it is sufficient for us?
  25. For those who say marriage is necessary to promote procreation, are you seriously contending that giving legal protection to committed relationships that already exist anyway is going to threaten our survival as a species?  Our overpopulated planet is evidence of the silliness of this position.  Really — do you really think that growning acceptance of same-sex marriages will all of a sudden cause all sorts of previously straight people to going to say “let’s try this new thing” in such overwhelming numbers that the species will go extinct?  Are you possibly being serious?
  26. What kind of evidence would you accept that it’s not a choice?  The life experiences of gay people is the most definitive evidence available.  Ask yourself, if you’re straight: could you choose to become gay?  Why not?
  27. Some commenters say that if we allow marriage equality, we’re opening the door to polygamy, incest, and “man-on-dog sex” (thanks, Rick Santorum).  This slippery slope argument is an intellectually dishonest or just plain lazy way to avoid critical analysis.  There may or may not be common issues, but either way, each issue deserves its own debate on its own terms.
  28. Gender identity (the “T” in LGBT) is separate from sexual orientation, though the issues faced by transgender people have a level of commonality with issues faced by LGB people and should be part of the same fight for equality under the law.
  29. The marriage equality movement as it pertains to bisexuals is not to permit bisexuals to be married to two people of different genders at the same time.  That would be called polygamy, and that’s not what the marriage equality movement is about.  For bisexuals, it would mean the freedom to marry a single beloved person of his or her choice without regard to that person’s sex.
  30. “With liberty and justice for all.”  What part of that don’t the anti-LGBT commenters understand?  And how can any of these anti-LGBTQ arguments possibly be consistent with the concept of "small government," if you're one of the people who buy into that concept?
  31. As for "states' rights" (the argument put forth by many who oppose marriage equality, to the effect that the states should be free to define marriage themselves without the federal government's intervention):  The federal constitution establishes standards of fairness — due process, right to counsel, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and equal protection, among other things.  States are free to craft their own solutions to issues, but these solutions can't violate the standards of fairness established by the federal constitution.  Before 1967, Virginia law excluded interracial couples from the right to marry.  The Supreme Court rightly determined that that law violated the federal constitution's requirements of fairness, and the law was overturned.  The meaning of simple terms like equal protection as applied to specific situations is what constitutional litigation is all about.  In the end, the states may regulate marriage according to their own policies, but they may not do so in a way that denies people their rights to be treated fairly and equally by the law under the federal constitution.

    In the aptly named Loving case, the Court also stated that marriage was a "fundamental right."  Laws that infringe on fundamental rights are constitutionally suspect under an equal protection analysis.

    Second:  The word "marriage" appears in countless laws at all levels of government all over the U.S.  Even assuming the best of intentions, as a practical matter it would be virtually impossible to amend every one of those laws to use a different term. And we certainly can't assume the best of intentions everywhere.  The word is used in a legal, not religious, context in the law.

    Third:  Marriage isn't simply a contract between two people.  It's a legal status that is enforceable against outside parties.  We can't just create a contract to get the same rights.  Contracts cannot bind outside parties.  Marriage is a legal status conferred on the couple by the state, a status that can bind outside parties.
  32. (Regarding the supposed pro-gay bias of a gay judicial nominee rejected by Virginia's Republican controlled House):  Why don't we ever hear about the biases of heterosexual nominees?  Is it OK for a straight nominee to have a bias but not OK for a gay nominee?  If certain people are going to presume that a gay nominee can't be impartial, how can we trust that a straight one can be?  I think we're all aware that Mr. Justice Scalia and others have quite a bit of antigay bias.  Do we really expect him and his ilk to be "impartial" when a gay marriage case comes before the court?

    Somehow, the issue rarely gets framed that way.
  33. Two wonderful books on some of these issues are:

    God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage, by Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire.  Bishop Robinson was the first openly gay man consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, an event that preceded a split in the church.  He was a guest on WDFH's LGBTQ youth program OutCasting.

    Why Marriage Matters, by Evan Wolfson.  Evan has also been a guest on OutCasting.

    If you're interested in buying these books, please consider buying them from an LGBT bookstore.  These valuable community institutions are disappearing in an age of internet shopping, and a great deal is being lost.  Here's a list.
  34. (In reply to someone who was against marriage equality:)  Some marriage rights can be contracted between the couple — though at much greater expense than a straight couple would incur because the straight couple receives special assistance from the state in the form of a marriage license that neatly sews everything up in one nice package and costs almost nothing.

    But marriage is a contract between a couple and the state.  Many of the legal rights of marriage bind third parties, including the state and federal governments, and these cannot be secured by contract no matter what the couple does or how much they spend. There are horror stories that have resulted because of gay couples' inability to secure these rights.

    There is no argument against marriage equality that hasn't been debunked, at least by those of us who truly value the constitution's mandate of church-state separation and those who are in the reality-based community.  (What a sad commentary on our society that we have to specify that.)

    This denial by the government of equal rights and the lack of any legitimate basis demonstrate a violation of the constitution's guarantee of equal protection.  (Yes, I'm an attorney.)

    This post doesn't even rise to the level of an argument -- it's just an assertion that anyone who thinks for a moment would see is completely wrong.

    I'm constantly fascinated by people who insist on displaying their ignorance.  Do you believe in the constitution?  Is there an asterisk after "with liberty and justice for all"?  America is not the country it wants everyone to think it is.
  35. As for "states' rights":  The federal constitution establishes standards of fairness — due process, right to counsel, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and equal protection. States are free to craft their own solutions to issues, but these solutions can't violate the standards of fairness established by the federal constitution.  Before 1967, Virginia law excluded interracial couples from the right to marry.  The SC rightly determined that that law violated the federal constitution's requirements of fairness, and the law was overturned.  The meaning of simple terms like equal protection as applied to specific situations is what constitutional litigation is all about.  In the end, the states may regulate marriage according to their own policies, but they may not do so in a way that denies people their rights to be treated fairly and equally by the law under the federal constitution.

    Second:  The word "marriage" appears in countless laws at all levels of government all over the US.  Even assuming the best of intentions, as a practical matter it would be virtually impossible to amend every one of those laws to use a different term.  And we certainly can't assume the best of intentions everywhere.  The word is used in a legal, not religious, context in the law.

    Third:  Marriage isn't simply a contract between two people . It's a legal status that is enforceable against outside parties.  We can't just create a contract to get the same rights.
  36. As noted, the first amendment applies to government power, and of course we don't want the government censoring or punishing offensive speech.  But the concept of free speech doesn't mean that people who speak offensively shouldn't face the (nongovernmental) consequences of that offensive speech.  There's nothing wrong with fellow citizens speaking out against the offensive speech, nothing wrong with our refusing to re-elect an official who speaks offensively, nothing wrong with a corporation pulling its sponsorship from a person who speaks offensively.
  37. (In reply to someone arguing against marriage equality:)  Whether LGBTQ citizens are 1% or 2.5% or 10% is irrelevant.  The phrase isn't "With liberty and justice for MOST."  I — gay, in a committed 11 year relationship that is at least as strong and loving as any "traditional" marriage I've ever seen, and planning to be married this summer — am every bit a member of the ALL as you are.

    You shouldn't think of yourself as occupying some superior sphere that gives you rights that I don't have access to.  But in actuality, you do occupy a superior sphere -- and that violates what America stands for.  We LGBT people are demanding our right to full equality under the law.  That's what this is about.

    (1) Marriage to the person of one's choice — the word marriage itself and the legal status and protections it provides — is a fundamental human right.  The Supreme Court has ruled on that.  (2) The government can't infringe on a fundamental right unless there is a very solid, evidence-based reason to do so.  That's what the equal protection clause of the constitution means.  (3) In the case of same sex marriage, there simply is no evidence-based reason.  The anti-equality folks showed that with their pathetic testimony in the federal case tried in California; when pressed, their assertions of how same sex marriage hurt the institution of marriage entirely fell apart.

    Why are you so threatened by the essential concepts of liberty, justice, and equality for ALL?  Do you really not believe in these core values of what America stands for?
  38. A recent NYT article cites a writer describing the new pope's position on accepting civil unions under Argentinian law as a choice of the "lesser evil" compared with the alternative of actual marriage equality.  That hardly makes me feel all warm and fuzzy about this pope and the religious organization he leads.

    It should also remind us all of the dangers that arise when religions inject themselves into public policy discussions.  Our cherished separation of church and state is under attack and we must protect it from all who seek to subvert it.  The IRS should revoke tax-exempt status from religious organizations that cross that line.
  39. I must say that I get very tired of hearing "the gays are only interested in marriage for the legal and financial protections" as if that's a reason to deny us our rights.  One could say exactly the same thing about straight couples and no one would raise an eyebrow.

    I don't see a whole lot of straight couples who get a strictly religious marriage without state recognition and thus deny themselves those important legal and financial protections.  And let's not forget that for a long time, marriage was in significant part about securing property rights.

    I love my "partner" (what a word) very much and look forward to marrying him soon.  Doing so will make a statement to each other and to the world about the seriousness and committedness of our relationship.

    And yes, we are also looking forward to the legal and financial protections that getting married will provide, if only at the state level for now.  Why should we be denied those protections when drunken straight couples get them every day at drive-through Las Vegas weddings?
  40. (In response to someone saying that marriage is a "states' rights" issue:)  It's a state issue only to the point that it doesn't violate the standards of fairness established by the federal constitution.  At that point, it absolutely becomes a federal issue that would overrule a contrary state law.

    By your logic, it's every bit as likely that opposite-sex business partners would marry for economic benefit instead of love.  Do you propose to eliminate that possibility?  If so, how?  Or are you suggesting that straight people marry only for pure love and nothing else but that same-sex couples are motivated by greedier factors?
  41. (In response to someone saying that the Boy Scouts is not a place to "exhibit any preference or sexual behavior:)  Can we please get past this kind of commenting?  Being gay and uncloseted has nothing to do with sexual behavior.  If an adult leader in scouting mentions his or her opposite-sex spouse or significant other, in even the most passing way, a clear message is sent and no one misses it:  "I'm heterosexual."  No one sees any harm in that, nor should they.  But it's all of a sudden a crisis if an adult in scouting mentions his or her same-sex partner in the exact same passing way?  Yes, the message is "I'm gay."  So what?  Unless you truly believe that gay is bad or lesser than straight, there is no reason to see any harm in that.  If you do believe that gay is somehow bad or lesser than straight, you need to educate yourself.
  42. (In response to someone arguing that there's nothing wrong with "separate but equal" with respect to the Boy Scouts:)  Even if we accept that BSA is a private organization and not a public accommodation, so what?  It's a public good to fight bigotry wherever we find it.  If the courts don't seem to feel authorized to address it — as happened in the James Dale Supreme Court case — that doesn't mean we shouldn't use other methods to do so.
  43. (In response to someone asking why "traditional values" need to change:)  "Traditional values" feel really good — unless you're a member of a group excluded and even vilified by those "values."  When those "values" are translated into laws — as they are — then the law becomes a tool of discrimination.  At least under US law, that's not permitted unless there's a very strong reason.
  44. (In response to someone saying that marriage is a "states' rights" issue:)  The "states' rights" argument is old and tired.  In general, states have the authority to make their own policies.  But the federal constitution establishes basic guarantees of fairness and equality.  If a state law or even a state constitutional provision violates those federal guarantees, then it is unconstitutional.

    The court has not yet ruled that states without marriage equality are violating these federal guarantees, but sooner or later it will.  Otherwise, "equality," which we Americans like to think is one of our core values, has no meaning.  But it does and should have meaning, and that's why these discriminatory state laws have to go.  If you consider that to be disrespect of states' rights, then I'm sorry that you don't understand the US constitution.
  45. (In response to someone saying "I can state objectively that the US Constitution does not in any way require legalization of 'gay marriages'" and arguing against the use of the word "marriage" for same-sex unions:)  On what legal authority can you "objectively" make your opening assertion?

    Equal protection requires the use of the word marriage.  Some 1100 federal rights, programs, and benefits turn on whether a couple is "married."  That doesn't include countless state laws that use that word.  As a practical matter, those myriad laws are never going to be amended one by one to conform to "civil union" terminology.  The word marriage is, in this context, a legal term.  The fact that it also has religious significance to some is entirely irrelevant to its legal meaning.

    My 11-year-plus "partner" (what a word!) and I got married in August.  We care very much about the term, and this movement — in the courts, in the legislatures, and before the people — wouldn't be underway if "civil unions" were truly equal.  The US has tried separate but equal before, with well-known results.

    But thanks to the lack of any federal standard, our marriage rights flicker in and out like cellphone service depending on what state we happen to be in (paraphrasing Evan Wolfson).  If we're home in NY?  Fine.  Across into Pennsylvania?  Instantly unmarried and unrelated, and unprotected if something should happen to us.  How would you like to be in that situation?

    And please tell the assembled community here exactly how my marriage has any effect whatsoever on yours.  If you're so concerned about marriage, turn your attention to outlawing divorce.
  46. The states have the right to define marriage but only insofar as their actions don't violate the federal constitution.  The Court in Windsor protected the right of New York to extend legal protections to same sex couples in excess of what the federal government was providing.

    When Utah or some other state comes before the Court, the question will be whether that state's action is protected in providing lesser protection to same sex couples, lesser protection that at least arguably violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment because, as numerous courts have ruled after extensive inquiry, there are no legitimate reasons to deny the legal protections of marriage to same sex couples.
  47. (In response to someone saying that the constitution doesn't define marriage and arguing for "states' rights":)  Marriage doesn't have to be defined in the constitution in order for there to be a constitutional right to marriage.  Once a government extends rights to people, it can't then deny those rights to a "disfavored" group without having a legitimate reason.  That's basic 14th amendment equal protection.

    Every state government grants the right to marry.  Several Supreme Court cases, including Loving v. Virginia, have established that marriage to the person of one's choice is a fundamental right.  When a fundamental right is concerned, the reason a state must posit in order to justify denying that right to a disfavored group has to be a very solid reason.  That's some more basic 14th amendment equal protection.

    Trials are about evidence, and the simple fact is that whenever the purported reasons for states to deny marriage rights to same sex couples are actually examined, they fall apart.  There simply is no evidence that limiting marriage to opposite sex couples serves any legitimate state interest at all.

    Therefore, these restrictions violate a fundamental right of people in same sex relationships.  There is no evidence that there is any legitimate state interest being protected and no evidence that these restrictions advance or protect any such legitimate state interest.

    Therefore, the restrictions fail equal protection analysis and are legitimately declared unconstitutional.

    It's too bad that so many don't understand how our constitution works. Civics should be taught to all.

 


 

This was something I wrote as a blog post right after Matthew Shepard's death.  It came to the attention of one of the organizers of the political funeral for Matthew in New York City in 1998.  One of the event's organizers invited me to read it, but I was unable to attend due to a previous commitment.

Obviously, much has changed since then in many ways; in other ways, not so much.

 

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how prevalent hate is in our society.  Like so many others, I was horrified by the early reports of the incomprehensible brutality inflicted on Matt.  Although I tried to stay as optimistic as I could that he would recover from the grievous injuries inflicted on him, my heart sank as it became increasingly clear over the weekend that the outlook wasn’t good.  Even so, I was stunned and shocked when his death was announced on Monday morning.

This tragedy has left me with a profound sense of loss.  We all know what courage it takes to be yourself when you are different and a member of a minority toward which so much hate is directed.  That commonality is probably a large part of the reason that so many of us feel so deeply affected by what happened to this young man we never knew.   I hope that the outpouring of love and support from people all over the world can be of some small comfort to Matt’s family and friends as they try to deal with their loss and comprehend the forces that brought it about.

I also hope — probably in vain, unfortunately — that the misguided individuals who spew their venomous rhetoric, in whatever forum (politics, religion, government), will, in light of this tragedy, carefully and critically reconsider their motivations and the contributions they have made toward creating a social environment of intolerance in which such an atrocity can occur.  We hear all these code phrases such as “America's moral decline” and “moral relativism” and (most hypocritically) “family values” (hatred and intolerance are not family values) from our so-called political and religious leaders — Trent Lott, Dick Armey, and Cardinal John O'Connor of NYC, to name just a few.  They also talk about loving the “sinner” but condemning the “sin.”  This is an irresponsible evasion of the most insidious kind, concealing vicious intolerance in a false cloak of goodness, love, and charity — the iron-fist-in-the-velvet-glove strategy.  It's the same tactic that the religious right is craftily employing in its new newspaper and TV ad campaigns about “rescuing” people from the “homosexual lifestyle.”

People have no conscious choice about their sexual orientation — about this there is no legitimate debate — and therefore there is no moral value, and no lack of moral value, in being straight or gay or anything in between, just as there is no moral judgment attached to being tall or being left-handed or any other immutable characteristic.  And, to say the least, it shows a shocking lack of compassion and understanding of the human spirit to try to draw some fictional line, saying that it’s perhaps okay if you are homosexually oriented but it’s a sin to express your love in the only way that is natural to you, or to express your love to the only people to whom it feels natural to you to express it.  Those of us who spent significant time struggling and trying to accept ourselves know firsthand of the terrible destructiveness of that dichotomy.  The real sin belongs to these people who so pervertedly and cynically misuse religion and compassion for their own divisive and destructive political purposes.  Despite their considerable efforts to disguise it, what is going on here is blind bigotry, not legitimate moral debate.

Like so many others, these statements of our leaders, not to mention the right wing ad campaigns, are direct and thinly veiled attacks on gay people and on our struggle for simple acceptance and freedom from discrimination.  They’re particularly troubling to those of us who have had a difficult time in accepting who we are because they embody the prejudiced attitudes that made the process of self-acceptance so difficult in the first place.  These statements from the highest levels of society make hatred socially acceptable, and they have the undeniable effect of spreading that hatred to multitudes across the country and around the world.  So while it may be overly simplistic to say that Lott, Armey, O'Connor, Falwell, and the others directly caused this atrocity, they cannot  — and we must not allow them to — disclaim their proper share of responsibility.  These are influential and powerful people, and they have misused their influence and power to make huge contributions to our culture of acceptable hate.  Having pushed the culture so far in that direction for so long, they cannot legitimately back off at this late date and say, “It's not our fault, it has nothing to do with us” when others, such as the tiny-minded individuals who allegedly committed this terrible crime, become empowered by that hate and act on it in shocking displays of mindless violence.  There is a reason that so many people in our society consider anti-gay prejudice to be not only acceptable but also justifiable.  Trent Lott and the others need to spend some time in serious contemplation about the fuel they have heaped on this fire.  Perhaps if they do, they will come to a better and more humane understanding of the responsibilities that their positions of power and influence require of them.

There’s been a lot of talk about hate crime laws in the wake of Matt’s death.  Many people have spoken out against such laws, saying that the government can't outlaw hate.  That’s true but it misses the point: in addition to their stated overt purposes, hate crime and civil rights laws can be a powerful vehicle for carrying a strong and clear message — a moral beacon — that all people, whatever their differences, are valued members of society, and that violence and discrimination are simply unacceptable.  In other words: there is no legitimate reason to hate someone based on an immutable characteristic; if you absolutely must hate, then do so; but our society will not tolerate it if you act on that hate.  That’s not a radical position for the government to take, or at least it shouldn’t be.  Regrettably, however, our government’s current position on homosexuality is different: although there has been some progress, we still have the utter hypocrisy of don’t ask/don’t tell, Lott’s ridiculous and misinformed comparison of us with kleptomaniacs, alcoholics, and sex addicts, Armey’s infamous “Barney Fag” remark, endless hate-filled and ignorant diatribes from the likes of Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond, and many others.  To deny that these negative messages, let alone the lack of any clear positive message, give empowerment and self-justification to individuals such as those charged in this crime is to fail to understand a not-very-complicated reality.

As distasteful as it may seem to “use” Matt's tragic death for bringing about political and social change, the massive outpouring of love and support for Matt, his family, and his friends from people all over the world demonstrates that this awful tragedy has galvanized public attention, as perhaps never before, on the difficulties our community faces every day.  Perhaps this will turn out to be a rallying point in our history, as Stonewall was, around which we can focus our energy so that we can start moving our society in a more positive direction toward true tolerance and acceptance of all people.  But it’s hard to be optimistic.  There are so many pathetic and perverted and hate-filled people.  (For instance, that Rev. Phelps, and the protesters at Matt’s funeral — how can these people possibly be so inhuman?  What kind of misguided belief system would impel them to travel hundreds of miles for no purpose other than to inflict even more pain on already-grief-stricken others?)  They misuse their warped concept of religion to justify their hatred, and they’re so convinced of their own righteousness that they’ll never listen to the voices of compassion, understanding, tolerance, and reason.

Oh, well.  One can only hope for a day of reckoning of some sort when they will all have to account for the evil they have perpetuated.  Until then, all of us, in our own ways, need to do what we can to make the world a better and safer place.  And for now, all I can humbly do in my sadness is to send my heartfelt sorrow and condolences for Matt and his family and friends.  Perhaps some good will eventually come out of this tragedy.

 

 

 

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