Thursday, November 20, 2008

Maude in the morning

Morning is her time. I watch this over and over when I am away from her at school.

Friday, November 07, 2008

the other hand


A reader who voted for Amendment 2 in Florida, the one banning same-sex marriage from the state constitution, left a comment on my last blog post. As I struggled to respond, I realized it might be better to post what I was thinking on the main blog rather than get steamed in a footnote. I am also reposting the comment, since some people read on a blog reader that doesn't have access to comments, and might not know what the heck I I am talking about.

The jist of the comment they left was that they voted as they saw fit, and it was just an opinion. They also said nice things about the blog and added that they thought some day very few people would agree with their position:

I voted for Amendment 2, to maintain marriage as between one man and one woman, but it is not because I fear LGBT nor hate you nor fear you nor am I ignorant of the issues. It was a difficult decision because I DO understand the issues, but still, I felt that it was the right way to vote.
I'm not writing to anger you or upset you in any way, but rather merely to say, that a vote for traditional marriage is not necessarily one made out of hate, fear, or ignorance. It is simply based on a differential in values.
Thanks for writing your blog and sharing your sentiments. For whatever it is worth, I'm sure that one day, probably soon, those that share my views will be in the minority and those that oppose them will win the majority."

The first thing I have to say is that I just don't know how to be dispassionate about Florida right now. Florida is one of the most hateful states is a sea of red Southern states hostile to LGBT rights. Florida is the only state in the entire country to explicitly ban "homosexuals" from adopting children. They aren't even sneaky about it, like Arkansas or Utah--states that get away with discriminating against gay adoption by banning unmarried people from adopting children, then banning gay people from getting married, thus effectively banning gay people from adopting children. Florida is right up front about its bigotry--even though it means many children who otherwise would have legal parents will instead languish in the foster care system. Florida already bans gay marriage with a Defense of Marriage Act--a mini-DOMA modeled on the federal one Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996--and now, with Amendment 2, is enshrining this ban into the state constitution.

Just An Opinion, I'm glad you left a comment. I'm sorry you voted for Amendment 2, though I appreciate your honesty. I wish your vote had been only "a vote for traditional marriage," as you say it was. I wish it had been only an opinion. But it wasn't. It wasn't a straw poll, either. It was a LAW, and voting for it was a vote to make sure some people never get to be married to their partners.

Traditional marriage was unaffected by these votes. Traditional marriage continues to exist whether Amendment 2 or 8 passes or not, and whether you vote or not. People voting for these bans like to say that gays are trying to impose their values on others, but it is pretty clear that when you vote to exclude someone from a exercising a right, or you vote to take it away from them once they have it, you are imposing your values on them. Not the other way around. Traditional marriage was never on the table. Nobody was trying to get it abolished.

What they were voting on--what YOU voted on--was to close the door to same-sex couples being able to marry. Your marriage, the marriages of people voting for the Amendments, didn't change. Instead, our marriages became impossible.

Do you know why a lot of gay people want to get married? One of the best examples comes from your state of Florida. Maybe you read about the lesbian couple who were getting ready to go on a cruise with their kids when one of them suffered a stroke and was rushed to the hospital. You know what happened to the partner and the kids? The hospital whisked the stroke victim away, and then wouldn't let her family back in to see her. Ever. Not her kids, not her partner of 18 years. Nobody.

Do you know why? A hospital administrator told this poor woman, half out of her mind with fear and worry, that she couldn't see her dying partner because Florida was a Defense of Marriage State. That's what she said. She used the ban on gay marriage to keep an entire family from being with one of its members as she lay dying.

That wasn't an opinion. That was a cruel violation. That administrator behaved that way because she thought that's what the Defense of Marriage Act authorized her to do. She felt supported by the law, even though she misread it. She correctly intuited the bigotry and hate in DOMA statutes towards LGBT families, and she expressed that hate freely, feeling justified as she did it.

Do you know what happened then? A blood relative finally got to the hospital two hours before the woman died, and let the partner and kids in to hold her hand and say goodbye. Two hours. Those people sat in a waiting room all night long and a woman lay dying alone in a hospital room because of a "difference of opinion."

That's what many of us are afraid of. What if get broadsided by a car in Ohio on my way home to my family at Christmas, and end up in the hospital? Will my partner be able to see me and make decisions about my care? Ohio is a DOMA state, with an additional constitutional amendment worded so broadly, it bans anything that may be seen as resembling a marriage from legal recognition. Will I sit alone, in pain, while my partner is locked out? Should any of us have to worry about this kind of thing when we travel across a country where we are supposedly free to move at will?

Most people don't understand that hospital visitation is a benefit of marriage. They just assume that hospitals would be fair and kind and have good hearts and anyway, anyone with any decency would let a dying person's partner and children in to see them in their last hours.

In this case, they were wrong. And the saddest thing is, they were wrong because someone like you, Just an Opinion, thought that voting for a state DOMA or Amendment 2 was just a kind of public opinion poll. If I told you that voting the way you did would mean people were left dying and alone, full of tubes, hooked up to machines, while their families were banging on the door in vain to see them, would you still vote the same way?

I know that's an emotional appeal, but I just don't think there was enough representation in this election of the way these Amendments would actually affect people. I feel as if all these people who voted yes on these ballot initiatives think that gay people just want to run around aping marriage. I don't think they get what NOT having access to many of the most important legal benefits of marriage--and there are over a thousand of them--does to people's lives.

So I'm glad you wrote in, Just an Opinion, but I wish your opinion was more of a conviction. Because what might happen to people because of your vote is tragic.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

one hand giveth

Like most LGBTQ people in the US right now, I'm a lot sadder than I thought I'd be, given Obama's victory on Tuesday. GF and I voted a week early, which had its good and bad results. The good results were that I got voting over with, but unfortunately, that meant I was "free" to leave the city and my girls to come down to school. My Trial Advocacy class requires 12 hours of courtwatching, 8 of which have to be jury trials, and I had so far completed zip. I teach on Monday nights, so if I leave town right after class, I can get downstate sometime before midnight. There was a jury trial at 9am Tuesday morning. Ugh.

After spending Election Day sitting on hard benches (4 and a half jury trial hours, check!) that made my tailbone ache and dug into the small of my back, I ran back to my room here to see what was happening. I watched the first red state--I think it was West Virginia--go to McCain. Vermont went to Obama. I held my breath. Obama picked up a couple more states, slowly. And then suddenly the big states started going blue, widening the gap.

This was no 2000. This was no nailbiter, with assurances of victory followed by bitter, bitter disappointment. As the Obama victories started to roll in, the television anchors started getting excited. The commentary began to cut away to Grant Park, to people walking over bridges to get to the rally there. I was sitting at my desk trying to get a draft of a paper done, but I couldn't concentrate. I kept watching the news and checking the electoral totals. Back home, GF was watching with friends, who were texting me and chatting on Facebook.

You know the rest of the story. Obama began to pull away, McCain conceded, and Jesse Jackson wept. Spellman students danced. Villagers in Kenya danced. Chicago danced.

But wasn't going so well for gay marriage.

At one point late in the evening, Chris Matthews on MSNBC pointed in exultation to an overhead shot of crowds "celebrating" in the Castro. Rachel Maddow cut in. "If that's the Castro," she said, "those crowds probably aren't celebrating."

It was true. The votes coming in from California on Proposition 8 were not pretty. Matthews assured everyone that even bad news was potentially good in this instance, because the numbers showed a much more even split between the supporters and opponents of gay marriage. Maddow made a heated retort about rights actually being taken away from people, but the conversation soon shifted back to the topics MSNBC thought were more relevant to a general audience. I went to bed that night euphoric at the Obama victory, but with a pit in my stomach about Proposition 8.

After two days, the returns are in, but millions of absentee votes remain uncounted. Still, it is almost assured that opponents of gay marriage have managed to stop progress in its tracks in California. This morning, my Family Law professor spent the first fifteen minutes of class talking about how strange it is for a state to actually take a way a right it has granted, and how no state has ever had to decide the question of whether its constitution will allow people to STAY married in the event it grants, then rescinds, the right to marry, since the usual question asked of courts is whether the constitution will allow people to GET married in the first place.

Right now, I miss my family. This week feels as if it has been a month long. My little girl is just learning to sit upright in her activity saucer, and I want to watch her try to turn its brightly-colored little plastic wheels that make bells ring. She tries so hard to make it work. She can barely hold herself up, but she concentrates. There are buttons elsewhere on it with pictures of animals on them, and if you can manage to push them while maintaining your balance, they make sounds. Right now she can barely sit for very long, and her legs are so short we have to fold towels up for her to stand on, but some day soon she will make the cow moo, and the dog bark, and the lights flash bright blue under the face of the duck.

The law says that I have to pay money to a lawyer if I want to be her legal parent, because GF and I cannot get married. If we could get married, the same presumption of parenthood that fathers enjoy (even if they are infertile, and their wives use a sperm donor to conceive) would extend to me. But we cannot get married. Instead, LGBT people like me must pay thousands of dollars to adopt our own children.

In California, the courts have extended parenthood in this manner even to same-sex couples who have not performed second-parent adoptions. Here, that's riskier. So we pay, and feel grateful we don't live in hateful states like Florida, Arkansas, or Utah, which specifically prohibit homosexuals (Florida) or unmarried couples (Utah, and now Arkansas) from adopting either the children of their relationship or children from elsewhere.

I'm very, very happy about an Obama victory, but it's hard to feel excited right now. I can't wait till tomorrow, when I can drive home. I miss my family. Despite the wonderful, amazing, historic events of this past week, the world seems colder.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

the elusive butterfly


This whole Proposition 8 thing has me thinking about same-sex marriage pretty much all the time. Videos of protesters screaming at each other on street corners in Oakland circulate on gay internet blogs. People I went to high school or college with, and who now live in California, have become my Facebook friends, and their status updates grow more passionate every day. Some have reported seeing their formerly-conservative neighborhoods littered with Obama and No on 8 signs. Others are volunteering their weekends to try to defeat the measure.

In a stroke of great (unplanned) timing, this Monday in my LGBT politics and social change class we are reading about gay marriage. I enjoy teaching this class even though I am only doing it because I am desperate for cash. It takes up too many hours of my week, but the students are extremely committed to discussing the reading. This week we are going to talk about George Chauncey's "Why Marriage?" and look at the First Interim Report of the New Jersey Civil Union Commission. After that we will watch the documentary "Freeheld," about the fight of a dying lesbian police officer in New Jersey to give her partner her pension benefits.

As you probably know, Chauncey's book argues, among other things, that the LGBT community got really interested in marriage as a result of the AIDS crisis, when it became apparent how precarious the legal status of gay relationships and gay families are with respect to hospital visitation, funeral planning, inheritance rights, pensions, lease agreements, and child custody and visitation. The NJ First Interim Report concludes that establishing civil unions as a alternative to marriage fails to grant the same rights to same sex couples that their heterosexual neighbors get when they marry. "Freeheld," which won an Oscar for best documentary, shows a conservative community coming to terms with the injustice of denying a same-sex couple the survivor benefits that give financial security to heterosexual families when one partner dies.

As I watch Yes on 8 supporters railing against gay marriage because it means children will learn about gays in grade school, it is hard not to make the parallel to Anita Bryant's "Save the Children" campaign. Why does the right's fear of changing gender roles and anger towards the demise of patriarchal marriages have to take the form of campaigns to save children? From what? One white Massachusetts woman in a Yes on 8 film maintained that childhood should be a time of innocence, and that kids should wait to learn about gays until they are older. She and her husband are outraged that grade-schoolers went on a field trip to surprise one of their teachers at her lesbian wedding. They feel that being exposed to such things damages the carefree world every child is entitled to have in grade school. They feel that children exposed to such things--love, I guess--are somehow unprotected.

Watching them, I think about nineteenth-century ideologies of children as asexual angels, and I wonder if these parents also think their children should be protected from other kinds of difference. Surely going to school with children of color will only mar the innocence of white children, who deserve to grow up in an environment free from the knowledge of this country's legacy of racial violence. Ditto for children of immigrants, especially undocumented ones, whose parents will be hauled away by INS some fall afternoon. White children who are citizens should be protected from sadness like that. How about class difference? Middle-class children should definitely be protected from knowledge of poverty, since it will only make them feel sad and helpless to know how many of their peers go to school hungry each day.

These parents don't assume that their children are already going to school with the children of lesbian or gay parents, or with children who may identify as lesbian, gay, or transgender. These parents assume they can keep difference out--at least for now. It is the same logic that assumes there are no gay people next door, or in the schools already, or in your own family. It assumes that learning about difference is bad, and filthy, and traumatic. These parents never talk about why male-female relationships allow children to keep their "innocence," while female-female relationships appear somehow to be overtly sexual, even to toddlers.

Meanwhile, this Sunday's New York Times Styles section is filled with gay marriages, and the "Vows" story that serves as its centerpiece is, rarest of rarities, a gay couple with twin daughters. I think about these children, so wanted that their fathers spent upwards of 100K trying to get them. These little girls surely should be saved from such love, such difference, and their parents should never be allowed to marry and give them anything--not property, health care, financial security, respectability, love. Other children definitely need to be protected from these two little girls, who will grow up confident, secure, and "spoiled"--but not spoiled at all--from being showered with love by two doting, powerful, successful gay men.

My daughter-not powerful, certainly, but very beautiful nonetheless-- is asleep in the next room. One of her favorite toys is a big multicolored butterfly (ok, it's really a firefly, I guess) that lights up and plays songs when you pinch it, or bite it, as the case may be. My partner, who I cannot marry because it is not legal here, calls this toy the Elusive Butterfly, after the 60s song about the butterfly of love, which I taught her because when I was a very little girl I thought that song was so beautiful I would practically faint with joy when it came on the radio. I think there was something about the combination of butterfly and love that was almost too great for my soul to bear. I'm sure I learned that love in my family, especially from my mother, who was fascinated by each one of her children, and who took pains to cultivate in each of us strong sense of social justice and lifelong horror (she came from the South) of racism, snobbery, and all forms of prejudice.

My hope for my daughter is that the love she experiences with us will teach her to love other children in spite of and because of their differences, and that the deep and formative happiness of her childhood is not based on some fake innocence, but on something better than that--some kind of love of beauty and joy in the world that feels so big in her heart, it makes her want to faint with happiness. I don't want to protect her from love, or from emotion. I hope I can fill her with feeling, and compassion, and empathy, and a keen ability to perceive her fellow human beings, the generation she will spend her life traveling with. I hope her only innocence is optimism about her own ability to defeat evil, hate, bigotry, and despair.

Which we, as the generation before her, can address right now. Stop the hate. In any way that you can today, stop Proposition 8.