Equality (here)


Oh, I cried like a baby. For my friends who are binational couples. For my friends in California, my previous home state. For so many of us around the country, in the states where equal marriage is now truly equal. And finally, for myself. It really hit me that this is the first time in my life I am living in a place where I am no longer a second class citizen, and that it means something. It is a notion so powerful and so simple, one I have spent my life fighting for, that it kind of floored me when it actually happened. All along the way there have been lurches forward and backward, a passel of small and large victories, but the prize was always just out of reach. Through all the letter writing, the advocacy, the phone calls, the arguments, the marches — we are finally here, and I had to pinch myself. This is not perfect, because it is not national. But in the place that I live, my people now enjoy all the rights that straight people take for granted. We can’t be fired for being gay. We have the same housing rights. We have the same access to public services and accommodation. And now finally, we have the same federal marriage rights. And the federal rights are the ones that matter most in marriage law, as there are over a thousand of them. There may still be vestiges of homophobia in society, but at least in my adoptive state there is no official, state sanction anymore against us. When you have lived your whole life with constant official reminders that you are a second class citizen, that you are less than, that your love is less than, it feels unreal to be finally unburdened of all that.

As I mention above, this is a less than perfect decision in that my brothers and sisters in the hate states are still not equal before the law. The court should have decided for a national right to equality today. I will not rest until they too have equality. For now, I consider my country to be New York and the other states where equal treatment is now the law of the land. I am optimistic that one day the inequality suffered in other states will also be history, but I do not know when. It will take many lawsuits and many years I am afraid to reach that milestone.

But today, we celebrate, because we are truly equal here in my homeland.

The road to equality has some potholes


The last two days of Supreme Court arguments involving gay marriage were a bit of a disappointment to me, I have to admit. It is always somewhat stomach churning watching people arguing in the abstract about your humanity and right to be treated equally before the law. Going into these two cases, I felt much better about the prospects for finally achieving full legal equality. Now, after hearing the arguments, I am a bit less sanguine about them reaching the more sweeping (and correct) conclusion. To be fair, I don’t think they will reach the two worst possible outcomes (upholding Prop 8 and DOMA), but it seems from the way the arguments went that they will probably fall far short of declaring a federal right to marriage.

The issues at stake are huge, and the conservatives on the court seemed to be falling all over themselves to limit the possibility that gays might found to be a suspect class, despite the obvious animus reflected in both Prop 8 and DOMA. Many of them seemed to wish that the whole discussion would just go away. One of the most nauseating examples was Roberts‘ line of questioning in the DOMA case yesterday, where he seemed to assert that gay people had plenty of political power, evidenced by the fact that they had even made their way into the Supreme Court arguments in the first place. Oh yeah, who needs to overturn these hateful laws, the people are on our side! Fundamental rights never seem important from the vantage point of people who see you as “less than”, nor for some odd reason do they see these rights as fundamental, despite them readily agreeing that they are fundamental to the groups that have them.

If I had to guess based on all the reporting and listening to the audio of the trials, I would say that they will leave in place one of the lower court rulings on Prop 8, and strike only one provision of DOMA, the one that pertains to federal recognition. This would be a huge mistake for a number of reasons, inevitably kicking the can down the road. That will leave us with a patchwork of laws and rights, and messy consequences for gay couples who travel or move to states where they are still not treated equally. Only a federal decision that removes these differences in treatment across the nation will be justice. I have no doubt that one day we will have full legal equality, but after fighting this fight for more than 20 years (I came out in 1990) I am ready to be done with the legal aspects of it. You can’t make society accept you fully (note the continued existence of racism for example) but we must rid ourselves of the inequality before the law.

It would be a mistake to pretend to know what the court will eventually decide in these cases based on nothing but the reporting and the testimony. I dearly hope that my analysis is overly pessimistic, and it is certainly possible we will have equality come June. And if we do, I will be out celebrating like never before, arm in arm with friends and family and people of good will everywhere.

One step closer…


I was thrilled yesterday to see the Supreme Court take up not only one of the challenges to DOMA, but also the Prop 8 case. I had expected them to leave lower court Prop 8 decisions in place. That would have restored marriage in California, definitely a good thing, but would have precluded deciding the marriage question in a federal way. Although the risks are still great for a major setback (this is a largely conservative court), the potential rewards are fantastic. For the first time in my life, there is a very real possibility that the last vestige of gay legal inequality will be banished. And I am pretty optimistic, even with the makeup of the current court. Although we will never get a pro equality vote out of Scalia, Alito, or Thomas, I feel much better about the prospects of Roberts and Kennedy (especially) deciding the cases in a good way. And the cases seem to airtight to me. I know I am biased in favor of logical arguments, and those don’t often rule the day when the hateful passions of the masses are considered, but a great tide has turned in this country on the question of gay rights in general and marriage equality in particular. Even the anti gay judges must realize that they are moving against the tide of history. There are some arguments to be made about whether the judges will feel comfortable that the American public is “ready” for marriage equality, but those don’t hold much water with me. When the Supreme Court decided “Loving v. Virginia”  in 1967, fully 82% of the country was opposed to interracial marriage.  Compare that with the ever growing majorities already in favor of marriage equality for gay people, and I am very hopeful that our time is near for the end to legal inequality and second class citizenship. There will of course still be other battles to fight (ENDA is a good example), but those involve protections against animus in the private sector, not official inequality before the law like the marriage laws (and sodomy statutes before them).

Evolution complete.


God, this was a long time in coming. And did anyone seriously believe that Obama didn’t personally believe this a long time ago? And why now, why not weeks ago when it could have made (some) difference in the North Carolina Amendment One debacle? Is it a brave thing to do? Yes and no. It would have been braver yesterday and less brave tomorrow. That is the way history is. The President is clearly calculating that we have finally come far enough as a nation that this stance will no longer hinder him. Although I highly doubt anyone strongly opposed to same sex marriage would ever vote for Obama anyway, it could hurt him somewhat. And it could help him, certainly by energizing some on the left. Obama is a cool, calculated thinker, I have to give him that even when I disagree with him. This was a smooth political act with all that implies.

And yet, even knowing all that, I sit here with tears in my eyes. Today the leader of our nation stood up for equality. I have spent the better part of my adult life forging my own path, and a lot of that is related to the fact that I am gay. Would I have felt the wanderlust I did had I been raised in a part of the world or a time that was more accepting? (It is interesting to note that of the several members of my extended family that are gay, none of them live in our home state of Indiana. My family there is as wonderful, progressive and supportive as any family anywhere in the world, but I would not say the same about the state in which they live.) At this point in my life, I truly consider being gay to have been the single biggest gift I was ever given by the universe. It has forged in me a strength and curiosity about life, and a respect and fascination with difference that would never have blossomed in the same way. It has given me a terrible appreciation of the use and abuse of power, and a strong ability to follow my own moral compass. It has not been easy, and there were many times that I felt the petty hatreds and misunderstandings of people living in ignorance and fear. But these things ultimately made me stronger, and hopefully more compassionate towards those with outsider status. And although I have long seen this struggle as a blessing, I yearn for the day when being gay will make as much difference to how someone lives their life as being left-handed or having green eyes. When the choices they will make will be based fully on their own hopes and dreams, and not at all on the irrational bigotry of others. I have seen a lot of movement towards this goal in my own lifetime, and today is another step along that path. Thank you, President Obama.

The meaning of equality


I got into a slightly heated discussion with a new friend of mine the other day. He is Mexican, and just arrived here with his partner a couple of months ago. They will be living in NYC for the foreseeable future, as his partner got some posh job here. My friend, like me, is freelance and we meet about once a week for lunch. We were talking about comparisons between gay life here and there and he was remarking that he thought people were really uptight here about public displays of affection. Having lived in both cultures, I could see his point on one level (as there were many times I saw young lovers really going at it in the parks in Mexico City). But on another, I never saw gay people doing much PDA in Mexico, it seemed to me to be definitely something reserved for the straights. And even then, it seemed to me this was because so many young people lived with their parents and had no place to go. And on the subject of gay rights, he (rightly) pointed out that Mexico has country-wide marriage rights, something we still lack in the US. And my protestations to the contrary, he honestly believes that culturally, Mexico (and other Latin American countries) are far more accepting of gay people. Again, having lived there and traveled extensively in Latin America, I can only speak to my experience, but let’s just say it ran contrary to his impressions. He noted how much stronger the family unit and connections were in those countries, and that is something that (notwithstanding my own close-knit family) I granted was true.  But I asked him if he was out to his family, and he replied that “they knew” about him and his partner, but that he didn’t bring it up or throw it in their faces. To which I replied that for me, equality means living as openly as any straight person, and having my life and relationships treated with the same respect and openness. He replied that he didn’t need that, and he honestly believes that things are better for gay people there.  It was striking to me how different were the notions of equality that we each had. And how different our experience of each place was. I have no illusions about the United States, and I divide the country into regions or bubbles of equality. New York is a very different place than Omaha, and my daily experience is of course local, and very much equal on a societal level. I will not rest until we have full legal equality under the law, but I believe that is coming soon (although not soon enough obviously). And further, I am under no illusions that the Republican party will soon turn over a new leaf and let go of their disgusting hatred of us, but I am hopeful that they will have less and less sway over the culture. I think that our biggest point of divergence is over openness, and that is something that I will never relinquish– to me, that is the mark of equality. And that is probably why I think that the most powerful thing anyone can do to advance the cause of equality is to live openly, and refuse to be treated as a second class citizen. Coming out, and living openly is not “throwing anything in anyone’s face”, any more than living an openly heterosexual life is. It is all part of our human condition, and equally deserving of dignity and respect.

Get over yourselves already


This morning I noticed the top headline on the NY Times site was “As ‘Don’t Ask’ Fades, Military Faces Thorny Practical Issues“.

Jesus Christ, give me a break.

Imagine Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell applied to left-handedness (or religion for that matter). How silly would it sound to ask about all the “thorny” issues surrounding integrating the lefty into the troops, whether or not they should have separate barracks, what to do about attacks on them, etc, etc. I am so over all the ridiculous hand-wringing over this. Get over it and act like adults. The military (and other institutions) have rules regarding conduct, and anyone of any orientation (left or right-handed) who breaks these rules should be treated in exactly the same way. That applies as much to “unwanted advances” as to “harassment of minorities”, no matter the person in question. There all all kinds of bullshit reasons people may not like the person next to them, from their skin color to their religion (or lack thereof) to their political affiliation to their taste in movies. I am heartened to note that in the younger generations, there is a notable difference in how sexual orientation is perceived, and by that I mean it is less and less perceived as anything other than one more attribute of the person in front of you, like left handedness (which is an orientation), or religion (which is a choice, btw).

The people all up in arms about this are the same ones who were against racial integration of the troops a generation ago. The arguments are the same craven ones as back then. It will be a nicer world when all the old bigots have moved on to that big segregated plantation in the sky.

National Equality March


Despite the various naysayers, I found the march to be an inspiring and very worthwhile event. A lot of the talk this weekend focused on the differences between the establishment (read HRC, professional lobbyists, etc) parts of the gay movement and the (mostly younger and) grass roots parts of the movement. Personally, I think each has its place and I wish there wasn’t so much bickering between the two. I came to the last march in 2000, and while this one felt a little smaller, I was mightily impressed with the diversity and purpose I felt from the assembled crowd. This was a new generation, demanding the fullest expression of equality ever. This was a generation appalled that there are two sets of rules and adamant about not accepting 2nd class citizenship. And I was impressed by how many straight allies there were, especially young men. Our culture has changed a lot in the last 10 years. We have made amazing progress on a societal level. It is much easier for young people to come out now than ever before. And yet, there are still areas of great inequality, most notably before the law. This is why it is so important to overturn these laws and to finally get to the full legal integration that all of us deserve.

Early for a trip to DC, no?


It is around 5:30 in the morning. I am meeting Josh at Penn station in less than an hour to go down to DC to participate in the National Equality March. It was much less expensive taking the train this early in the morning, but wow am I tired. We are very fortunate to be staying with Josh’s other gay cousin (and my cousin by marriage I guess), Stuart, in his well appointed home in DC. A quick check of google maps has revealed the unfortunate detail that it is nowhere near public transportation, alas. Still, who said fighting for our rights should be totally convenient?

See you in DC.

A great day in India


The Delhi High Court has finally struck down section 377 of the penal code which criminalized homosexuality. This is fantastic news for the gay community across India, and the opening to a much greater degree of acceptance. Many of the wonderful people that I met while on my trip there were at the forefront of fighting this hateful law, and my heartfelt congratulations go out to them. It seems that even in the past two years alone there has been a fairly rapid growing of awareness of gay rights in India, with small but growing pride rallies taking place in major cities. As I have written about previously, India is still a country where it is not at all safe to be openly gay, but it is definitely changing and this decision is a major breakthrough in the march towards full equality.

Drinking in a bit of gay history


I’ve never been to Fire Island or P-town, but at least I can check this off my list. Last night after dinner with friends in the Village, we stopped by the oldest running gay bar in New York, Julius. Although it has only been a gay bar since the mid 1960’s, it has been running apparently as a tavern/bar since 1867, and it would appear that the decor hasn’t changed much at all since then. It was the famous site of a 1966 “sip-in” by an early gay activist group known as the Mattachine Society, to protest rules preventing serving alcohol to homosexuals. It ended up resulting in a court case which overturned these rules, paving the way in part for the Stonewall riots and modern gay rights movement.

As I mentioned, the place looks like the interior hasn’t changed much since the 1800’s, with wagon wheel chandeliers and musty wood barrels and layers and years of accumulated funk. Think of a cross between a bowling alley, a barn, and a saloon and you are getting warm. It was the very soul of unpretentious and I quite liked it. I couldn’t say this would be any kind of place to meet your future husband (or one night stand either, for that matter), but it is a fine place for hanging out with old friends and reminiscing about the revolution.