Nothing Less Than Equal

Finally some good news coming out of my home-state of Connecticut (for the bad news – and a primer in white-collar crime – just Google “Governor John Rowland” or “Joe Ganim”): last Wednesday the State Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would establish civil unions.
But the news is not as good as it could be: LGBT and other human rights activists had been pursuing nothing less than marriage. However, civil unions have more support and have a better chance of passing when the bill is voted on early this summer.
Love Makes a Family, the most prominent LGBT rights advocacy group in CT, has been adamant that civil unions are not enough. According to LMAF, civil unions provide only one-third of the rights to same-sex couples that heterosexual couples enjoy.
There might, however, be one more hurdle: Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Rell has spoken in favor of civil rights for same-sex couples but has spoken against same-sex marriage. Bloomberg-ian nonsense, I say. Equality is not separatism and human rights are not making do with table scraps: only marriage will do.
Two state newspapers have also come out in support of same-sex marriage over civil unions: The Norwich Bulletin implored, “Do it right or not at all” and The Hartford Courant argued, “Why should they settle for less?” Although being the only the second state to legalize civil unions is something to be proud of, really, we can do better.
Contributed by Jess Wakeman

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  1. Posted March 1, 2005 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Even before it was making huge splashes in the media this year, I’d been a strong and vocal supporter of gay marriage and the equal rights movement. As the bisexual, liberal, feminist daughter in a family of conservative Yankee New Hampshirites, I’ve found myself not only having to study and educate myself as much as possible about subjects I feel strongly about (the better to debate my side when I inevitably find myself with an opinion that differs from theirs,) but I’ve also discovered that talking to my parents is an interesting way to find out what the ‘other side’s’ opinion is. I guess that since I’m their kid, they’re less likely to dismiss me outright as just one of those ‘liberal moonbats’.
    All of that having been said, having heard my folk’s side of things has often left me torn. From their point of view, there’s large chunks of this country that just isn’t ready to accept no-holds-barred gay marriage, and that if people like me push too hard, it’ll just put ‘em even more dead set against the idea. They say that if we work towards civil unions first, then it’ll be easier to push for gay marriage later, once the country at large has realized that it’s not going to mean the end of the world.
    My opinion is that we should hold out for nothing less than marriage, because if everyone settles for civil unions, it’ll be that much easier to deny us marriage later. “You’ve already gotten your civil unions, isn’t that enough for you people?” My feeling is that, whether the country is ready for it or not, to keep denying gay people the same rights as the rest of the population is -wrong-, as wrong as denying women the vote, as wrong as segregation, as wrong as any other violation of civil rights. I feel that civil rights violations shouldn’t be judged on some sliding scale of “this one’s more wrong than that one,” because once you do that, it’s easier to say, “well, it’s more important that we take care of THIS group, because THAT group isn’t as bad off.” Inequality remains inequality, no matter how you label it and no matter how bad a person thinks it is in relation to other forms of inequality, and it needs to be corrected.
    Here’s where I’m torn — what if my dad’s right? What if all of our pushing only results in the people who’re against it pushing even harder to bar gay marriage from happening? What if civil unions are the way to go for now, so we can push for more rights later? Then again, what if I’m right, and if we just push for civil unions, we’ll be more likely to be denied marriage down the road? It’s enough to make me tear my hear out in frustration.

  2. Posted March 1, 2005 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I’m similarly torn, being lesbian myself, I have questions about the appropriate strategies.
    If it weren’t about strategies, it would be obvious. It honestly doesn’t matter what the populace wants, because we have the right to marry the person we love. Moreover, they honestly don’t have that much of a say, as the whole point behind the ‘tyranny of the majority’ is that the courts are there to protect us. If a vote had been taken during the civil rights era, ethnic minorities certainly wouldn’t have gotten the rights the courts provided for them.
    The populace can’t celebrate the supposed freedoms and rights protected by law, and then deny us the consequences of those laws.
    However, we live in the real world, where strategy and compromise rule.
    I honestly think we need to talk to those power houses of the civil rights movement. Ask them, how did you react to being asked to shelve your rights claims? How did you react to being asked to take it slow and not too loud? How did you react and strategise for questions of seperate but equal.
    Nowadays, asking these questions of a ethnic minority seem insane (or at least they do to me) so why do they seem vaiable to be asked of us?
    Personally, I don’t think we need to focus on one fight. We can fight for both civil unions AND marriage. Change the debate from and either/or framing to that of both, as part of a larger fight that provides us with not only marriage but wider issues of social justice, poverty, racial issues, etc for queers.
    In other words, push for marriage, enjoy the civil unions as a step, but never _ever_ give anyone the impression that this is anything other than a stepping stone.

  3. Posted March 1, 2005 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    You’ve got a really good point there, Sarah. On that note, I really think we should be taking notes from the work Saul Alinsky did in Chicago in regards to community activism and civil rights. As long as the gay civil rights movement is splintered up into small chunks, we’re going to have a more difficult time winning against the ones with the power. We need to get the community at large behind us — not just the LGBT community and our friends and family, but also tolerant church groups who’re tired of hearing the hate spewed out by the fundamentalist few; we need to get the Average-Jane-and-Joe people who’ve never thought one way or the other about gay marriage to really give it a long, hard look and see that we’re not here to steal their rights or convert their children and destroy families, like those who’re radically against us say. We’re just trying to get recognized as equal to everyone else, we’re just trying to destroy the current structure that says that the families we create, and those whom we love, are somehow -less than- others. We need to mobilize married people who have chosen to be childfree, or who are childless due to infertility, and we need to mobilize single-parent families, because if the traditional nuclear family is the Way Things Should Be, because marriage is about a mom, dad, and 2.5 kid family, and anything else is Anti-Family, then by that definition, childless marriages are also somehow -less-than-, and single-parent families are, too — just like we are.
    You’re right, Sarah — it needs to be broader than just either/or, civil unions or gay marriage. It -is- about social justice, and if we can take our fight and bring it to communities beyond ours, we can bring about change. Here’s a question — how do we go about it, and who do we talk to, to get it started?

  4. Posted March 1, 2005 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Kim -
    Talking. That’s my opinion. You don’t change opinions by issuing press statements, you change them by showing them your life, your dreams, you.
    But, this isn’t just about talking ‘to’ them, we need to start asking questions of them. How are we white queers racist, how are our fights similar to those of non-whites, and how are they different? I’m not asking non-whites to educate us, because that should be our own responsibility, but rather asking them their opinions on what we should be doing. And not just non-white straights, but also non-white queers.
    For instance, I don’t understand the religous mindset, whether liberal or conservative. I simply can’t wrap my head around it, so, I have a blind spot. So, perhaps, instead of barrelling ahead into religous conservatives, then I/we should be talking to liberal religous people and ask them how we should be going about this.
    For instance, if you are a member of any lgbt organisations, step up to the plate and ask to bring in friendly church representatives, african-american representatives, muslim scholars, union leaders, etc … and then once we have invited them in, perhaps they might invite us to their spaces.
    To a certain extent we’ve lost our grass-roots base, it’s part of becoming a powerful political force, after all. However, we need to learn from what religious conservatives have done in reconnecting with their base; they are reaping the rewards of having that strategy over the last couple decades. We need to do the same, and do it better.
    But, those are just my opinions :)

  5. Thomas
    Posted March 1, 2005 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    I agree that there is no contradiction between fighting for CU and marriage. Some conservatives may _think_ that by compromising on CU, they will blunt the marriage push. But, as the other side has taught us, in a culturally polarized nation, compomise is often weakness. We should never _say_ that we’re willing to give up marriage, and we should never _be_ prepared to give up on full marriage equality. (I say this from a position of considerable privilege. I’m a straight, married man.)
    I’m a lawyer and I grew up worshipping the civil rights movement, so I hear where you’re coming from on the counter-majoritarian function of the courts. However, when I was in law school, I saw a panel with Evan Wolfson and some others, and one of the panelists (my recollection is Wolfson, but it’s been years) said something that stuck with me. He said that capital punishment is a perfect example of the limitations of the countermajoritarian function. While most of the nation still supported the death penalty and the country was just entering into the “Dirty Harry” era, the Supremes did away with CP. We won. That was it.
    But five years later, Gilmore was executed, and over twenty years states started executing more folks, and the federal gov. started executing people, and all the gains were lost. Two decades after the big win, the situation was worse than when the fight started.
    I think the civil rights movement is a tough example to generalize from, because of the regional component. While the population of the southern states was never going to support civil rights, it was forced on them by much more than the courts. The segregation decisions were backed by a larger, northern majority that said, “what has four eyes and still won’t see? Mississippi.” The will of the national majority rammed progress down the throats of a recalcitrant region; the courts didn’t act without support.
    There will be no federal decision applying Goodrich nationwide, and if there were, it would result in the FMA. But Dean got death threats when he signed CU into law, and now CU is the compromise position. This battle will be won house by house, block by block, city by city at the political and social level. The court victories can only work with strong support.

  6. tfreridge
    Posted March 1, 2005 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to be very blunt. Please don’t get offended.
    I have a gay family member whom I love very much. I attended her wedding in Las Vegas a few years ago. I have a number of gay friends and co-workers and I believe in civil rights and equal protection for gay couples under contract law (ie: civil unions).
    That said, the reason why many Americans don’t want gay “marriage” is that they see it as another attempt to “define deviancy down”. Yes, many socially responsible, hardworking, loving people see homosexuals as “perverts” or at least diseased, like alcholics or pedophiles. This may not be the truth, but that is the way they percieve same sex relationships. They are grouped together with transgendered, x-dressers, and pretty much anything but “man and woman”. An “Us vs. Them” if you will.
    The more the gay community tries to normalize their sexuality without coming to terms about what the scientific “causes” of the behavior or orientation are, the more they will continue to alienate the “normal” people.
    This may not be a popular thing to say, but until “normal” people can ask the question “But why are you that way?” and “Can it be fixed?” and have a serious scientific answer in response, they are going to fall back on the “sinner” or “pervert” or “diseased” explanation.
    The only thing the gay community has offered in response is “Well, it makes me feel good.” and “I’ve always felt this way.” Not exactly scientific method. Especially in the face of new pherome/chemical data about sexuality and reproduction.
    It only took a couple of hundred years to convince most people that the world was round. Evolution has been a theory for a while now, too. How long do you think it will take people to change their beliefs about something as basic/complex as human sexuality, with not enough strong scientific evidence to even advance a reasonable theory?
    All that being said, civil unions and contract marriages are inevitable. It seems obvious to me that it violates The Constitution to prohibit participation in a contract based on gender.
    Perhaps we’ll even see “term” civil unions. Its about time for a total revamp of the civil union law anyways, too many divorces. As long as we seperate the terms “civil union” and “Marriage under God” we should be able to avoid a huge conflict with the religious right.
    I look forward to reading your responses and I truly hope I didn’t offend anyone with my bluntness.

  7. Thomas
    Posted March 1, 2005 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to be blunt. Please don’t get offended.
    The world changes. Some people’s culture and values will become increasingly marginalized, and these people will become alienated.
    I’m sure there are lots of white Southerners who still can’t accept race-mixing. They can learn to deal, they can sit and simmer. I don’t care. They’ve irretrievably lost that battle. They’ll lose this one, too, in time.
    The answer you say gay folks have to provide is not one that you may ever get — sexual orientation as we know it may be a multi-faceted and complicated phenomenon. Biological sex does not always equal sex category. Sexual behavior does not always equal affectional orientation. Sexual orientation, broadly understood, may be mostly biological for some folks and environmental for others.
    Moreover, no answer would satisfy the opponents of GLBT civil rights. Biological answers are met with assertions of “Disease!” Environmental answers are met with “Sin! Deviance!”
    I’m willing to work with the reasonable people where they are, not to explain homosexuality, but to get folks to accept that the world is changing. But the folks who say, “sinner! pervert!” are just going to get run over. It may be next year in Connecticut and fifty years from now in Alabama. If it’s a fifty year fight, that’s okay with me. I’ve got the time. This locomotive may not move fast, but it doesn’t stop.
    Don’t stand in the way of the train.
    Choo Choo.*
    (*a nod to the late, lamented Dennis Hopper NFL commercials)

  8. Posted March 1, 2005 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    First off Thomas -
    Thanks ever so much for the legal perspective, I’m still learning my way around the american system, and it often seems like I am in a constant crash course. Give me a bit to have a think about the things you said and I might have something intelligible in answer, if you would like me to that is of course :)
    Now, tfreridge -
    Yup, what you are saying is a touch offensive, but the way I look at it, a good discussion involves a bit of polite offending. Plus, people need to ask questions, even the dumb questions, sometimes *smile*
    Now, I’m not speaking for all queers here, just as one single dyke …. but I don’t think we need to explain the ’causes’ of our sexuality. Why should we? This is simply the way it is, and it doesn’t hurt anyone at all.
    If you want a more complex answer, I’ll give you this. The binary systems themselves of male/female, hetero/homo, nature/nuture are themselves western cultural constructs and are artificial. Moreover, they actually don’t describe the phenonemonly complex ways this actually do operate. To be ‘heterosexual’ hence, is just as much of a deviance (ie you can apply the question just as easily of; how did you become straight?) as homosexual, in this framework.
    But that’s an aside, and I could go for that for a LONG LONG time (and bore everyone mindless *smile*).
    Regardless, there is no one ’cause’. Some people choose to be gay, whether for personal or political or whatever reasons. Some people become gay for whatever reason. But, the far overwhelming majority of gay people experience their sexuality in much the same way straight people do, as just the way they are (of course, this is complicated by the fact that our society makes our sexualities far more central and public than those of our heterosexual friends and families).
    I don’t think a ‘biology’ answer really gives us anything, as it will only serve to alienate and marginalise those for whom this doesn’t work. Moreover, as I alluded to above, our (ie society) view or conception of what ‘biology’ means is socially specific and constructed, so hence to speak of biology as this absolute and outside of social/cultural context and interpretations is a fallacy (or is that phallacy? *wink*).
    So, I don’t think providing a ‘reason’ or ‘reasons’ is a good strategy. My opinion is that by getting to know lgbt’s straight people (whom we need as allys to win) will see that we are just as boring and screwed up as they are. Sure, it doesn’t always work (look at Maya Keyes and her issues with her father, Alan Keyes), but more often than not, it does. When that happens, how we got where we are won’t seem as important, but what rights we deserve, will.
    Oh, and my sexuality is normal, it’s all you freaky straight people that are weird and sick ;)

  9. Posted March 1, 2005 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad to read your response, and I’m not at all offended.
    I do see your point; there’s a large number of people out there who do think that we’re deviants, that we’re making a choice, etc. In fact, I’ve had more than one person ask me, “Well, now that you’re with a guy, that means you’re not bisexual anymore, right?” Instead of coming back with something snarky, which is my first instinct, I’ve always done my best to take the time to inform them about the reality, which is that my orientation is something that can’t be changed. After all, who knows if they’re just uninformed, instead of being bigoted, right?
    Until science comes up with a more definitive answer to what makes us how we are, there won’t be an answer out there that’ll satisfy anyone. After a bit of Google searching, in fact, after weeding through the articles from pseudo-scientfic religious groups that’re trying to keep the LGBT community labelled with the stigma of being deviants, I was able to find a link to an article re: a study I took a lot of interest in, when it came out a while back:
    That’s one of the things that upsets me — people who’re out there to do research for themselves whether LGBT people are this way from birth or not, have to take a long hard look at every site they see, and try and figure out what the site’s motives are. Then again, when people have confronted me in the past about inconclusive findings as to whether homosexuality is hard-wired or not, I point them to the facts that -most- human behavior has no conclusive evidence in science — new studies are being done all the time about human sexuality, personality, etc, and the questions posed in my high school “Intro to Psychology” class almost 10 years ago in regards to “Nature Vs. Nurture” when it comes to personality development are -still- being debated and studied. Some days, I wonder if the best answer to “What makes you people the way you are?” is “I don’t know, what makes -you- people the way you are?” *laughs*
    I just hope that eventually, those that see us as deviants will realize that the LGBT community should not be judged by the actions of, say, pedophiles who prey on young children of the same gender. It’s just as ridiculous as someone judging every single heterosexual white male based on the fact that serial killers are overwhelmingly heterosexual white males. Just because there are some crazy people out there, doesn’t make everyone else crazy, too. When the sea change in public opinion about homosexuality will happen, I don’t know, but I pray that it’ll happen in my lifetime.

  10. Posted March 1, 2005 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Here’s an interesting view from one of my daily-read blogs, “Big Fat Hairy Living”:

  11. Thomas
    Posted March 1, 2005 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    The post you linked is an interesting point of view — fear that same-sex marriage will change what is unique about queer communities and destroy their progress towards less restrictive relationship norms. Many others think that queer communities will redefine marriage to be more flexible institution. I lean to the latter, though I think both are true to an extent.
    One idea in that post is that heterosexual marriage is inherently a patriarchal construct with its roots in the purchase of women as property. Of course, that is exactly the history. However, I reject the notion that marriage cannot be salvaged.
    Along the lines of Susie Bright’s famous dictum, “penetration is only as heterosexual as kissing,” marriage is only as patriarchal as the two married people make it. Your bear friend thinks that marriage must be monogamy, but there are polyamorous couples, in lawfully wedded unions, happily shredding this all over America. If straight men tell eachother that the norm is a marriage of equals, dealing with each other with respect and decency, then we will all get better at treating our wives as equals and dealing with them with respect and decency.
    Finally, the post you linked to says the fight over SSM is fundamental, and I think that’s right. But I don’t think it’s for the reasons he says. I think it’s the legitimacy. The last real legal bulwark that says gays and lesbians are inferior is that they are barred from the gold-standard of relationships. There is no argument-ender about respectability like marriage.
    Already, same sex couples can have a church ceremony, wear rings, comingle finances, make eachother survivor beneficiaries, own a home together, and depending on the state and the circumstances, raise a family. But once SSM becomes a reality someplace, conservatives know they have lost the argument there. It really is the society’s stamp of approval, of full participation. (incidentally, after SSM, we probably run the table on other issues — adoption, employment and housing discrimination, partner benefits.) The battle will be as lost to them as miscegination.

  12. Posted March 2, 2005 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Congrats on the new position, Jess! I think it really fits your writing and worldview.
    Excellent job. I like the one-sentence-one-para style.

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