The Solid Northeast

May 20th, 2014

You know, K and I aren’t really “pride people.” We’re just not that kind of gay. You won’t find us carrying the sea-to-sea Key West pride flag, or attending the Philly Pride parade, or dancing on a float, or anything like that. We’re totally proud of who we are, and we’re glad that we were “born this way” and quite content with it all, but pride just isn’t our thing. On days like this, though, there is a great deal of pride to be had and plenty of reason to celebrate.

After the anti-DOMA ruling was issued by the Supreme Court last year, gay rights advocates in Pennsylvania immediately went to work. In less than a year since that ruling, no fewer than seven lawsuits have been launched against the state at various levels, for various reasons, contesting some or all of various anti-gay laws. So far, all but one of those is pending. Today, Whitewood v. Wolf, a case lodged in federal court that sought regonition of out-of-state gay marriages and marriage equality for Pennsylvania’s LGBT community, was decided.

The judge, who notably was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002 and recommended by our then-Republican senator (who we later voted out by a record-setting margin just four years later), sided with the gay community and stood for equality. In his ruling, Judge John Jones III writes:

Some of our citizens are made deeply uncomfortable by the notion of same-sex marriage. However, that same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional. […] Nor can past tradition trump the bedrock constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. Were that not so, ours would still be a racially segregated nation according to the now rightfully discarded doctrine of ‘separate but equal.’

In future generations the label ‘same-sex marriage’ will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by ‘marriage.’ We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.

Clearly, I could not agree more. It’s slightly less embarrassing to live in Pennsylvania today, which has long been more progressive than this law would indicate. There’s always a chance of appeal, but I hope that calmer, more rational, more egalitarian heads will prevail. I await eagerly the day that K and I’s marriage license, which will be obtained from neighboring New Jersey in 2016, is fully and equally recognized under the law in Pennsylvania. I imagine — parade or not — that there will be no bigger feeling of (gay) pride than that.

UPDATE: Governor Corbett has declined to petition for a stay or appeal of the ruling, making Pennsylvania officially the 19th state in the USA with marriage equality. This, in turn, creates a “solid northeast” where no state in the region outlaws same-sex marriage — just ten years after Massachusetts led the nation and become the first state to permit it. Incredible.

Talent is Talent

May 11th, 2014

A couple months ago, when Michael Sam publicly came out, there were all kinds of theories about how this would affect his future. The consensus was this: Coming out was “controversial,” and it clearly indicated that Sam was desperate for publicity. It showed that he was selfish, determined to break a barrier just for the sake of doing so, and may have “conveniently” waited to make such an announcement at the last minute before the NFL Draft.

Those sentiments were offensive and ridiculous then, and they’re ever more ridiculous now. Though Michael Sam wasn’t anyone’s first-round draft pick, he did get selected in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams. The team’s coach had nothing much to say on the matter, other than how happy he was to add Sam’s talent and commitment to hard work to the organization.

And that’s how it should be. No one questions whether or not the heterosexuality of professional sports players will negatively or positively impact their talents on the field or the nature of their presence in the locker room. It should be the same with openly gay players. They’re equally talented, if not more so. And no one really thinks that their presence in a locker room is going to be awkward, predatory, or offensive. I mean, really.

And so, I think it was a proud moment for America when Michael Sam received his draft selection phone call as the first openly gay player in the NFL, kissed his boyfriend, and celebrated the news as anyone else in the world would have. Progress is accelerating so quickly on this issue — and I’m proud of my “Millennial” generation for persistently stepping on the gas pedal.

Move the Olympics

August 7th, 2013

In exactly six months, the Winter Olympics will kick off in Sochi, Russia, and we’ll all be tuned in to watch everything from moguls to freestyle snowboarding and beyond. I’m actually a really big fan of the Winter Olympics, perhaps an even bigger fan than their summertime counterpart every four years. This year, though, I’m not sure what to make of the spectacle. The 2014 games are being held in a country that has deemed it acceptable, and legislatively required, to arrest and detain both local residents and foreign visitors who “spread gay propaganda.” If, for example, I were to go to 2014’s Winter Olympics in any capacity, I would risk being beaten, arrested, detained, and deported.

And that’s just me. That doesn’t count the LGBT fans from all around the world, their allies who will be with them at the games, and the LGBT athletes and allies who will be participating in the spectacle. This is a big problem. It could lead to serious human rights concerns during what is supposed to be a celebratory time of peace, unity, and multinational togetherness. The idea of a boycott has been floated by some US politicians, while others have advocated showing up and putting on a multinational pride parade. But perhaps relocating the games is a simpler solution that can appease all sides, except the Russian side, of course. Let’s examine the options.

Option 1: America Boycotts the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

This sounds like a really great thing, a really strong message. The problem, though, is that it doesn’t really do anything productive. Sure, American athletes will be missing from the games. But that won’t reduce the media attention given to the event, nor will it dramatically reduce the positive economic impact that the games will have on Sochi in the long run. American athletes will suffer the inability to compete, and foreign nations like Russia will pick up more medals without our athletes on the scene. This is a big loss, even if the drama of it all might appease some LGBT activists.

Option 2: Show Up in Rainbow Drag

Another option advocated by activists and others has been to show up in rainbow hats, rainbow lapel pins, and with adorned messages of LGBT support and advocacy. Great idea, right? Yes! This would be nice. But it doesn’t go far enough, and it could lead to some unintended consequences. Russia won’t arrest LGBT athletes and their star allies, but they will certainly take out their frustration on visiting fans and “no-names” who would be far less likely to cause headlines and global media outrage. Private citizens and innocent travelers would suffer, the games would go on, and perhaps very few would notice. That’s no good.

Option 3: Move the Games to Vancouver

Moving the games to Vancouver would be a dramatic step, but not one completely out of reach. The 2010 host city still has all of its venues, hotels, and infrastructure in place. It would certainly require a last-minute hustle, but there would be no shortage of fans and venues to make the Games a total success. An opening ceremony at the last minute would be a challenge, of course, but I’m sure they could pull something off. And that isn’t really why we watch the Olympics anyway, right? Vancouver has expressed its willingness to work with this option if the International Olympic Committee seeks to invoke it, and I think they should. Let’s let Canada absorb those tolerant tourist dollars instead of Russia’s ruthless, hateful regime. Canada, where gay marriage is legal, healthcare is universal, crime is low, and tolerance is high. It just makes sense.

Down with DOMA

June 26th, 2013

When I was ten years old, and Bill Clinton was president, the Republican-controlled Congress passed a law known as the Defense of Marriage Act. The law was passed as a reaction to Hawaii’s assertion at the time that nothing prevented them from marrying gay couples and making same-sex marriage into legal contractual affairs identical to straight marriages. It was viewed as a “compromise” by Clinton, who now says that he signed the law to prevent even harsher laws from being passed that would have been even worse for gay couples.

In any case, it has been seventeen years since the Defense of Marriage Act went into effect. All the while, gay marriage has been legalized in twelve states and the District of Columbia, creating two classes of married couples. Straight couples enjoyed federal tax benefits, Social Security retirement funds, and a wide range of other perks after their marriages. For gay couples in certain states, though, their state-sanctioned marriage was met with a blind eye at the federal level. Gay couples for years have paid more in taxes, been unable to collect their partner’s Social Security benefits, or even visit each other in hospitals.

That has all begun to change, though, especially with the Supreme Court’s ruling today that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. In its ruling, the court noted that the law was harmful to children and families, unenforceable based on the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, and a gross and egregious power-grab by the mid-90s legislators who authored it. After that ruling, the court took the actions necessary in a separate case to restore marriage equality to California.

The result is not a sweeping, nationwide right to marriage for same-sex couples, but it is still profound. As of today, gay couples have federal legal protections that are absolutely essential for the financial benefit of the couple and the legal protection of the family unit. As of today, the pressure will be on to legalize same-sex marriage in the remaining states where that has not already happened.

The movement for gay equality, the great civil rights movement of the last two generations, advanced in a major way today. And it was all led by Temple University alumna Edith Windsor, a woman whose courage is incalculable and whose fight against this bigoted law was northing short of inspirational. The future is bright for those of us who wish for an equal future. And it just feels so good to win. Finally.

Another Year, More Progress

June 5th, 2013

In the United States, June is LGBT History Month. At least, it has been under our last two Democratic presidents. It’s also the month that features the highest concentration of pride parades around the country, including Capital Pride in DC, Philly Pride in Philadelphia, and NYC Pride in Manhattan.

The year that has elapsed since the last slate of gay pride parades has been a legendary one here in the United States where it seems society is finally willing to take a leadership role in the fight to give gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals equal rights and equitable protections under the law. In just the month of May alone, three states moved ahead with marriage equality. Today, a full 25 percent of all states allow same-sex unions.

The Supreme Court is poised to deliver decisions later this month regarding the legality of California’s anti-gay Proposition 8, and the Defense of Marriage Act seems to be all but overturned by the same court in a separate decision that will quickly follow the Prop 8 news. A slim and growing majority of Americans nationwide support marriage equality, while a vast majority of Americans support recognition of same-sex relationships in the form of marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships. A large majority of Americans also support workplace anti-discrimination laws and hate crime protections for their LGBT peers.

This is big news. Really, this is huge. During 2004, when I was able to cast my vote for the first time, anti-gay marriage amendments passed in every state where they were on the ballot. Other states passed anti-gay marriage statutes. Hate crimes were a daily problem and a pressing threat. And no president had ever endorsed same-sex marriage, not by a long shot. It should be noted, however, that the battle is far from over.

A full 75 percent of states do not currently support legal gay marriages, nor do they recognize such unions done in states where the practice is legal. Many states still don’t offer same-sex protections from employment discrimination and hate crime targeting. It’s likely that the Supreme Court decision concerning Prop 8 won’t make marriage equality the law of the land in all 50 states. And violence against the gay community continues to be a threat as those opposed to gay Americans lash out in the face of civil rights gains.

This year, let’s celebrate the growing acceptance of the LGBT community nationwide. Let’s dance in the streets as equals where the law finally recognizes us as such, in New York and Delaware and Maryland and Washington and Minnesota and DC and scores of other states. But let’s remember that, once the booze is cleaned up and the confetti is swept away, there are battles to be fought, court cases to win, and rights still to be secured for millions of Americans who don’t have the benefit of living on the coast.

Portman Thoughts

March 21st, 2013

Last week, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a conservative Republican, announced in an editorial that he was officially changing his position on marriage equality. For the entirety of his political career until that point, Portman was a typical Republican. He believed that marriage was between a man and a woman, that there were no exceptions available, and that it was the government’s responsibility to legislate that morality and force it upon the masses.

Portman’s reason for changing his opinion is intensely personal but just as admirable: Two years ago, his own son came out to him as gay. In the two years that have elapsed since that moment, Portman has come to believe that his gay son deserves the exact same opportunities as his two other, heterosexual children. It’s a common-sense, duh-worthy position. But it’s not the obvious one for Republicans who feel either morally compelled or electorally challenged to support an anti-marriage-equality position.

In the time since Portman’s editorial, he has been attacked by fellow conservatives as everything from a sinner to a flip-flopper to a “Republican In Name Only,” or RINO. Liberals have attacked Portman for not having enough empathy to change his position until the issue affected his own son. This really misses the point in a big way.

Marriage equality will have its future tested before the Supreme Court next Tuesday, March 26th. Justices will hear a case regarding California’s Proposition 8, which could lead to marriage equality in all 50 states via the Constitution’s right to equal protection. A case regarding the federal Defense of Marriage Act, signed in the mid-90s by President Clinton, could result in federal recognition of same-sex marriages for the first time ever.

When the stakes are this high, liberals do themselves a disservice to criticize any person who embraces their position on the key civil rights issue of our generation. Sure, it would’ve been nice for Rob Portman to support the cause all along. He didn’t, but he does now, at a key moment in the movement’s history.

As a gay American and someone who does very much hope to get married someday, the next week will be key. The court’s decision, expected in June, will be either a major liberation or a significant setback. Portman’s decision to be the first elected Republican to support marriage equality, though, is a moment of liberation no matter its context, reasons, or asterisks. And that is something that I, and every intelligent gay man and lesbian woman in America, absolutely must recognize at this critical time.