Category Archives: Gay Rights

Vindictive Exits

Many thanks to all of you who posted kind comments on yesterday’s post. I really appreciated them!

And now, back to our “originally scheduled programming”!

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Ever since the election, the media has been filled with stories about the ungraceful and vindictive exit of Trump Administration appointees. Confirming that administration’s utter disinterest in the common good, officials have been taking steps to make it as difficult as possible for the incoming Biden administration to function properly.

Of course, Republican moral nastiness isn’t limited to outgoing federal officials; here in Indiana, departing Attorney General/lecherous groper Curtis Hill is cementing his “Christian conservative” credentials by asking the U.S. Supreme Court to allow Indiana to strip parental rights from same-sex couples.

As Slate has reported,

On Monday, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill asked the Supreme Court to strip same-sex couples of their equal parenting rights. He did so at the request of the court, which is considering taking up his case. Hill implored the new conservative majority to rule that states may deny married same-sex couples the right to be recognized as parents of their own children. The case gives SCOTUS an opportunity to start chipping away at Obergefell v. Hodges by allowing states to withhold marital privileges from same-sex spouses. If the majority wants to begin eroding Obergefell, they will probably start here.

As the article notes, the case– Box v. Henderson–poses a question the Supreme Court has already answered twice. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are eight married lesbian couples in Indiana who used a sperm donor to conceive. In Indiana, when a married opposite-sex couple conceives using a sperm donor, the state recognizes the birth mother’s husband as the child’s parent. When a lesbian couple does the same thing, however, Indiana refuses to list the birth mother’s wife as the child’s parent.

In both instances, the second parent has no biological connection to the child; Indiana’s decision to extend parental rights to the nonbiological husbands of birth mothers, but not the wives of birth mothers, is sheer discrimination.

Other states have read the Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges to require such recognition. Obergefell held that the Constitution requires extending marriage to same-sex couples  “on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.”

When the Arkansas Supreme Court kept a birth mother’s wife off their child’s birth certificate, SCOTUS shot it down without even bothering to hear oral arguments. In 2017’s Pavan v. Smith, the court unequivocally ruled that states must issue birth certificates on equal terms to same-sex and opposite-sex couples. It announced a rule: If a state lists a birth mother’s husband as a parent despite his lack of biological connection, it must list a birth mother’s wife as a parent, too.

When Indiana’s case went to the 7th Circuit, a unanimous panel confirmed that precedent, and held that the state must treat same-sex couples the same way it does opposite-sex couples–but there was an unexplained delay in issuing that decision. According to the Slate article, the usual time lag between argument and decision is around three months; in this case it was 32 months. If the panel had issued its decision within a typical time frame, Indiana would in all likelihood given up, since Justice Kennedy–with an admirable record on same-sex issues– hadn’t retired, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg was alive.

But the Court has been changed, and not for the better. Kavanaugh has not previously shown support for LGBTQ rights, and Ginsburg has been replaced by Amy Coney Barrett, a frightening religious zealot. There are rumors that the new court “has its knives out for Obergefell.”

Which brings us to Curtis Hill, who is so slimy and self-aggrandizing that even Indiana’s retrograde GOP refused to re-nominate him. Hill has tried to distinguish Box v. Henderson from the applicable precedents by misrepresenting state law and claiming that the case is about a state’s right to acknowledge “biological distinctions between males and females.”

According to Hill, Indiana law only presumes that a birth mother’s husband is the father of her child. A birth mother’s wife, by contrast, “is never the biological father,” so she does not deserve the presumption of parentage.

If the Supreme Court sides with Indiana, and our departing creepy Attorney General gets the satisfaction of one last “owning the libs” moment, states will be able to resume discriminating against same-sex parents and, in effect, marking same-sex marriages as second-class.

I don’t know what makes these people into the petty and vindictive creatures that they so clearly are. I probably will never understand what sort of satisfaction they get by making life difficult and unfair for people they don’t even know.

do know that we are well rid of them.

 

 

 

When We Can’t Look Away

I’ve been harping on the role of pictures in generating social change–how the flood of visual testimony of racism, culminating in the video of George Floyd’s murder, has forced recognition of a reality too many Americans hadn’t previously understood–or wanted to acknowledge.

But a couple of recent columns–one by Michelle Goldberg and one by Russ Douthat–have expanded on that observation. Both writers suggest that seeing Donald Trump and experiencing the travesty that has been his administration have also been “pictures.”

Goldberg notes “two big examples” of how Trump’s presidency has triggered progress.

The sudden, rapid embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement by white people is a function of the undeniable brutality of George Floyd’s videotaped killing. But public opinion has also moved left on racial issues in reaction to an unpopular president who behaves like a cross between Bull Connor and Andrew Dice Clay.

And the thrilling 6-3 decision the Supreme Court just issued upholding L.G.B.T. equality wouldn’t be as devastating to the religious right if it had happened under a President Clinton.

Goldberg suggests that the Supreme Court’s LGBTQ decision dealt a real blow to the “but the Supreme Court!” argument made by conservative supporters of Trump. (And this was before the Court slapped him down on DACA.)

We’ve all encountered those people: yes, they’ll admit, Trump is an offensive ignoramus, someone we’d never socialize with or hire, but we need to support him in order to put conservative judges on the courts. (The argument used to be accompanied by “and look at your 401K!”–but that justification disappeared with Trump’s criminally incompetent “management” of the pandemic.)

The phrase “But Gorsuch” is shorthand for how conservatives justify all the moral compromises they’ve made in supporting Trump; controlling the Supreme Court makes it all worth it. So there’s a special sweetness in Gorsuch spearheading the most important L.G.B.T. rights decision since the 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Goldberg quotes one conservative for the sentiment that, if Trump’s appointees can’t  deliver Supreme Court victories to social conservatives, “there’s no point.” If that reaction means that social conservatives will be less enthusiastic about heading to the polls in November, it makes the Court’s decision even more satisfying.

On the Sunday before announcement of the Court’s decision (which, I am happy to report, was accompanied by others that cheered me: refusal to hear a challenge to California’s refusal to co-operate with ICE, refusal to hear challenges to state gun control laws, and one protecting the Clean Water Act) Russ Douthat, one of the conservative columnists at the Times, attributed the increasingly leftward shift of public opinion to Trump’s Presidency, suggesting that “so long as he remains in office, Trump will be an accelerant of the right’s erasure, an agent of its marginalization and defeat, no matter how many of his appointees occupy the federal bench.”

In situations of crisis or grave difficulty, Trump displays three qualities, three spirits, that all redound against the movement that he leads. His spirit of authoritarianism creates a sense of perpetual crisis among his opponents, uniting left-wingers and liberals despite their differences. His spirit of chaos, the sense that nothing is planned or under control, turns moderates and normies against him. And finally his spirit of incompetence means that conservatives get far less out of his administration than they would from a genuine imperial president, a man of iron rather than of pasteboard.

Douthat concludes that Trump has been little short of a disaster for conservatives.

What we are seeing right now in America, an accelerated leftward shift, probably won’t continue at this pace through 2024. But it’s likely to continue in some form so long as Trump is conservatism, and conservatism is Trump — and four more years of trying to use him as a defensive salient is not a strategy of survival, but defeat.

For principled conservatives–in contrast to the more numerous racists and homophobes who’ve adopted the label–the Trump Presidency has been that very bad car wreck at the side of the road–the one every passing car slows down to gape at. 

It’s a horrifying picture, and they can’t look away. None of us can–and the compelling pileups keep coming.

Friday’s effort to fire the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York–this administration’s “Saturday night massacre”– looks to usher in an even more dramatic and compelling collision, as Barr frantically tries to keep the lid on pending disclosures and indictments…

Popcorn, anyone?

As a friend recently posted to Facebook, this isn’t government–it’s the Days of Our Lives. 

 

 

Can The Arts Save Us?

Indianapolis, like many cities, has experienced an explosion of arts over the past ten to fifteen years: theater companies, art galleries, dance venues…all have proliferated. Even more significantly, the quality of those venues has dramatically improved.

Last weekend, my husband and I had tickets to two plays and a cabaret performance. (It was an unusually busy weekend for folks in our age cohort.) The cabaret performance was wonderful (Indianapolis has one of the very few Broadway-caliber cabaret theaters in the U.S.) but I really want to focus on the two plays we were privileged to see, because that experience illustrated why theater, especially, contributes to a culture of inclusion.

In times like these, when Americans are so divided, theatrical performance becomes particularly important, because it is through stories that we advance human understanding and self-awareness. (It was recognition of the importance of stories and how they are told that led to the establishment of Summit Performance, a new, woman-centered theater company in Indianapolis that endeavors to tell universal stories through a female lens.)

Last weekend, we saw two truly riveting performances: The Agitators and The Cake.

The Agitators, at the Phoenix Theatre, explored the long and often-fraught friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas–a friendship of which I had been totally unaware. It may be comforting to believe that representatives of different marginalized groups fighting for equal rights will do so in solidarity, but of course, reality is much more nuanced. The play–superbly acted–probed uncomfortable questions about uneven progress toward equality and our inescapably parochial perspectives–questions that we tend to gloss over.

The Cake, at the Fonseca Theater, defied my expectations. Part of the Fonseca’s stated mission is to be a forum for “pressing conversations.” The Cake was described as a play about a same-sex wedding and a bakery, so I expected a theatrical presentation of the legal challenges that have been in the news–the baker who refuses to lend his craft to an event he considers inconsistent with his religious beliefs, and the clash between civil rights and claims of religious liberty.

What I saw, instead, was a deeply affecting story about good people who were–inescapably– products of their upbringing, and how they reacted when forced to respond to a changing world, especially when people they dearly love are part of that change. No legal arguments, just people trying to reconcile their own contending beliefs.

Both performances reminded me that the arts are important, not just as outlets for human creativity and communication, but as necessary “threads” that very different people use to stitch together a social fabric. Plays, movies, well-done television presentations and the like allow us to travel to places we otherwise wouldn’t visit –some geographic, but others interior and highly personal–and to understand the issues that divide us in new and more nuanced ways.

In the program notes accompanying The Cake, Brian Fonseca quoted a patron saying “We sit together in the dark to know how to love each other in the light.”  I don’t think it is accidental that so many artists–actors, painters, dancers, whatever–are among the more compassionate and accepting people I know.

Readers of this blog who are in Indianapolis or surrounding areas really should try to see both of these productions.

 

Fighting Tolerance

One of the (relatively few) bright spots in recent American culture has been the vast improvement in social attitudes about LGBTQ people and the laws addressing their status. It never made sense–culturally or constitutionally– to make the religious beliefs/prejudices of one subset of Americans the law of the land.

Of course, a fair number of our persistent “hot button” issues are a replay of that same  demand–the insistence by some Christian denominations that the law should require everyone to abide by their denomination’s religious convictions.

The progress toward equal civil rights for LGBTQ folks should not lull us into a belief that we can declare victory for “gay rights,” because it turns out there are still powerful forces intent upon turning back that progress.

The Guardian recently published a lengthy article about one such effort.

Titled “The Multi-Million Dollar Christian Group  Attacking LGBT Rights,” the article focused on an organization called–misleadingly–The Alliance Defending Freedom. (Of course, the “freedom” the Alliance is defending is the freedom to impose its religious views on others).The Alliance is described as “a conservative Christian powerhouse working internationally to remake laws governing family, sex and marriage in a vision which ‘keeps the doors open for the Gospel.'”

Their Gospel, of course.

ADF, which reportedly received more than $55m in contributions in 2018, claims to have more than 3,400 affiliated attorneys and judges worldwide. In the 25 years since it was founded, it has brought 10 cases before the US supreme court, including some of the most consequential cases of the last decade on contraceptive and gay rights.

ADF is, “an aggressive, strategic legal group that is about Christian supremacy and hegemony in the US and in the world,” said Frederick Clarkson, a senior research analyst with Political Research Associates. “It’s the world under God’s law.”

The group’s work against LGBTQ+ people has led experts on extremism at the Southern Poverty Law Center to label them a hate group. ADF rejects that label.

The Alliance gave us Hobby Lobby, and more recently, the case of the baker unwilling to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding.

The group was founded by prominent opponents of gay rights, including Jeff Sessions, and it hasn’t confined its activities to the U.S. (In the UK, for example, it is defending graphic signs used by anti-abortion protestors.)

In the last decade, ADF attorneys argued in favor of state-sanctioned sterilization for trans people at the European Court of Human Rights. Their brief argued, “equal dignity does not mean that every sexual orientation warrants equal respect”.

Gee–I guess we are not all “God’s children…”

The Alliance is one of the groups behind those misnamed “religious freedom” laws that have popped up in so many states– laws that would give businesses the right to refuse customers or perform services based on “sincere” religious beliefs.

The article notes that, since American public sentiment now strongly favors same-sex marriage, groups like the Alliance have focused on curtailing trans rights, and the rights of trans girls in particular, alleging various “dangers” their existence causes to cis women.

Interestingly, on the same day I came across the Guardian article, the Religion News Service  reported on the “Godly” behavior of some other “Christians.”

A California-based Christian college and the former publishers of The Christian Post and Newsweek have pled guilty in a scheme to fraudulently obtain $35 million from lenders, according to the Manhattan district attorney….

Earlier this month, William Anderson, former chief executive officer of Christian Media Corporation and former publisher of the Christian Post, and Etienne Uzac, former co-owner and chairman of Newsweek Media Group, each pleaded guilty to one felony count of money laundering in the second degree and one felony count of scheme to defraud in the first degree.

Anderson stepped down from the Christian Post, an evangelical Christian publication, in 2018. Christian Post Executive Editor Richard Land, a longtime Southern Baptist ethicist, was not immediately reached for comment.

The publication made headlines in December for publishing an editorial in favor of President Trump. That editorial caused a politics editor at the publication to quit.

Perhaps the pious, holier-than-thou” “Christians” who are so concerned about other people’s “sins” should turn their attention to the behavior of their own brethren. Perhaps, too, they should consider the possibility that immoral behavior doesn’t occur exclusively below the waist.

And so long as we’re being “biblical,” Isn’t there some passage about removing the beam from one’s own eye before trying to remove the speck from someone else’s?

The Fight Is Never Over

When I first began this blog, one of the issues I frequently addressed was gay rights. LGBTQ folks still faced formidable barriers to equality; same-sex marriage was a pipe dream, with DOMA at the federal level and so-called “mini-DOMAs” in many states.  Activists were fighting “Don’t Ask, Don’t tell” and working to include protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in state civil rights statutes.

In Indiana, civil rights organizations and major businesses managed to defeat an effort to place a ban on same-sex marriage in the state’s constitution, but we still lack those “four little words”–sexual identity and gender identity–in our civil rights law.  Unless you live in an Indiana city with an inclusive human rights ordinance, it is still perfectly legal here to fire someone for being gay. We also remain one of only five states without an inclusive hate crimes law.

Even in states like Indiana, though, LGBTQ folks have benefitted from the truly dramatic shift in public opinion that has occurred over the past couple of decades. As homophobia ebbed–it certainly hasn’t disappeared, but it has greatly diminished–this blog focused on other issues.

Attacks on LGBTQ citizens may have diminished, but as young folks like to say, “haters gotta hate.” As an article in the Guardian recently illustrated, there is plenty of room for homophobia among the numerous bigotries exhibited by our accidental President and those who support him.

The Trump administration has attacked LGBT rights in healthcare, employment, housing, education, commerce, the military, prisons and sports.

These efforts, it turns out, were just the beginning.

The president’s anti-LGBT agenda could soon gain significant momentum at the US Supreme Court, where Trump’s Department of Justice (DoJ) is pushing to make it legal to fire people for being gay or transgender. The move would fundamentally reverse civil rights for millions of people, LGBT leaders say, and raises fears that LGBT people may lose the minimal protections and resources they have won in past years.

“This is a critical point in history,” said Alesdair Ittelson, the law and policy director at interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth. “The outcome of this case is going to have a tremendous impact on everyone.”

During the Obama administration, the LGBTQ community won significant victories:  repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” new protections under the Affordable Care Act, an anti-discrimination executive order and expanded recognition of trans rights, among other things. Those victories are now under attack.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has sought to reverse healthcare protections for trans people, moved to ban trans people from serving in the military, eliminated rules protecting trans students and pushed to allow businesses to turn away gay and trans customers if they seek a religious exemption.

Last month, the Trump justice department made its most aggressive anti-gay legal argument to date, urging the supreme court to rule that gay employees are not protected under a longstanding act that prohibits “sex discrimination”. The DoJ filed briefs related to three supreme court cases to be heard together on 8 October – two involving gay men fired from their jobs, and a third involving a woman terminated by her employer after she came out as trans.

The courts have repeatedly held that gay people are covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Before Trump, the federal government agreed. But William Barr’s Department of Justice is now arguing that sexual orientation and gender identity are excluded under Title VII because “sex” means only whether people are “biologically male or female.”

Before Trump, the Justice Department pursued justice. Before Trump, judicial nominees elevated to the federal bench were vetted for legal competence, not for fidelity to radical “conservative” (actually fundamentalist Christian) ideology.

Before Trump, even our worst Presidents weren’t rabid White Nationalists, Islamophobes, homophobes, anti-Semites and proud and loud racists.

But that was then, and now is now.