Only a few days before the tragedy in Orlando, my home town of Belfast, Maine celebrated its first Pride event. As a teen, bullied daily for being gay, I never would have imagined Belfast having a Pride celebration, much less that I’d be marching with my company, athenahealth #gaythenista #athenaculture. I am looking forward to Southern Maine Pride and Bangor Pride this month as well.
Unfortunately the recent events in Orlando remind us that there is still a great deal of hate in the world and we must come together as a community if we ever hope to heal. Our community can’t just be limited to LGBT people and our allies – it must also embrace the faith community, Muslims included. We cannot allow ourselves to become further divided by new fears and prejudice.
In the coming weeks, vigils will continue across the world to remember those we lost. The events in Orlando could occur anywhere and so it’s critical that we present a message of peace and inclusion. Working together and understanding our differences helps us recognize we all share so much more in common. We must listen to one another and keep an ongoing dialogue. It is the only path forward if we hope to see an end to unrest and violence.
He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him in.
You brought light into my life when I was down and encouraged me to find happiness in our little adventures. My family and I are grateful for the time you spent with us and we love you so much. I wish it could have lasted longer. You were one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known. I’ll see you again, but until then I’ll do my best to carry your light with me every day.
I joined millions of Americans yesterday in celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. For those of us at Pride, there was even more reason for celebration. The timing of the court’s ruling was perfect, falling within the National LGBT Pride Month and precisely on the anniversary of Lawrence v. Texas (2003, striking down sodomy laws) and United States v. Windsor (2013, invalidating DOMA and giving federal recognition to same-sex marriages).
My company led the parade in Bangor as a co-sponsor of the event. We had beautiful weather and a great turnout. In addition to the usual rainbows and glitter, I saw many #lovewins banners celebrating the Obergefell decision. It was a day for our community to truly come together and reflect on our achievements and consider what next steps are needed, such as prohibiting employment discrimination across the nation.
I had time today to read the full 103-page decision and take notes. There is a lot of rhetoric on both sides of the argument and it can be difficult to discern the central issue. To me, the core question seems to revolve around whether marriage is a right or privilege, and whether access to marriage is guaranteed by the US Constitution. Even more fundamentally, and perhaps most clearly stated in Justice Clarence Thomas’s dissent, does granting access to same-sex marriage, as considered in light of the Fourteenth Amendment, offer freedom (liberty) from government intrusion or freedom to a government privilege?
“Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits.”
~Justice Clarence Thomas, dissenting
The majority opinion and dissents appear to be divided primarily along this distinction and I felt they both made reasonable arguments, although I believe the majority correctly found that prohibiting bans on same-sex marriage represents a freedom from government intrusion rather than establishing a new right.
“States have contributed to the fundamental character of marriage by placing it at the center of many facets of the legal and social order. There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle…The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”
~Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority
Over the past decade or longer, a majority of states have made targeted efforts toward excluding same-sex couples from the civil institution of marriage. At the level of the legislature and popular vote, most of them succeeded. These actions represented a course of action that included identifying a minority class of Americans and choosing to write discrimination into state laws. Many of these laws contained within them true examples of animus, sometimes even being accompanied by laws forbidding the creation of any anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation. Such actions were ultimately their undoing in Obergefell because they expanded into the realm of government intrusion. State prohibitions against same-sex marriage were no longer passive obstructions to gay and lesbian couples. Instead, they became discriminatory statutes written into the law with a very specific intent.
Marriage has become so central to our society, with all its associated benefits and rights, it is hard to see how the respondents could make any argument as to why it should be restricted to heterosexual couples. The majority opinion found, “The respondents have not shown a foundation for the conclusion that allowing same-sex marriage will cause the harmful outcomes they describe.” The two main “harms” the respondents wish to avoid are the undermining of procreation and child-rearing, and threats to religious freedom. I find the former arguments to be implausible, even absurd. The oral arguments do well to dispel any suggestion that same-sex marriage would somehow cause harm to children or traditional family structure, so I won’t address them here.
As for religious freedom, it’s true that individuals representing government institutions and other civil organizations will be required to acknowledge and, where appropriate, participate in same-sex marriages and the associated rights of married same-sex couples. It is the nature of this country and our Constitution that we do not pass laws respecting any religion, nor do we abridge the free exercise thereof. The only exception is where fundamental civil rights and protections conflict with the practice of religion. We would not, for example, allow a fundamentalist Christian to sell his daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7), even though he may say that such prohibitions violate his religious liberty. That may be an extreme example, but we have already seen modern examples of religious leaders attempting to circumvent other civil rights by asserting their would-be religious liberty. I had hoped the majority opinion would clearly establish heightened scrutiny for sexual orientation, but it was somewhat ambiguous in that respect. It nonetheless provides a strong precedent for future litigation and states in no uncertain terms that “sexual orientation is both a normal expression of human sexuality and immutable.”
Granted, no purely religious leader or organization should be forced to recognize or participate in a ceremony or other action that would violate their beliefs. That said, there is a distinction between the Church (religious) and State (civil) that the respondents often fail to recognize. That distinction is too often blurred, usually by opponents of LGBT rights. I myself have seen local churches in Maine use their congregations, church property, and even their billboards to explicitly encourage a certain result in civil law. By interfering with civil discourse, churches and religious organizations violate the separation of Church and State and by their own hand, make themselves vulnerable to state interference.
The reality is that protections for sexual orientation, just as with race, gender, ethnicity, and so on, trump those of religious freedom. All protected classifications are immutable and are not subject to choice, with the exception of one – religion. Religion is always a choice, it can represent any belief or position imaginable, and can change any time at the whim of the individual. The recent conflicts concerning marriage equality should be viewed as a coincidence of the times and the current demographic of the US.
“The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times.”
~Obergefell v. Hodges, majority opinion
Our laws are secular and any freedoms, even those contained within the First Amendment, come with limitations. The respondents in Obergefell expressed concerns about religious freedom and the majority opinion even offers some relief in that respect, the latter to which I do not object. However, I’m not going to pander to the respondent’s arguments; those who oppose equal rights under the law should be worried. I’m sure slave owners worried when African Americans began realizing new freedoms, as did some men when women began asserting their rights as equal persons. Just as we see today, religion at that time was used to justify unequal treatment under the law. And just as then, modern claims to “religious freedom” cannot suffice to maintain such practices. Most rational Americans no longer tolerate those religious justifications, so why should we tolerate similar justifications used to discriminate against gay and lesbian people? The highest power in this nation has declared that we won’t tolerate discrimination and offers us a clear path going forward. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority:
“These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution of marriage. Indeed, changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations, often through perspectives that begin in pleas or protests and then are considered in the political sphere and the judicial process.
“This dynamic can be seen in the Nation’s experiences with the rights of gays and lesbians. Until the mid-20th century, same-sex intimacy long had been condemned as immoral by the state itself in most Western nations, a belief often embodied in the criminal law. For this reason, among others, many persons did not deem homosexuals to have dignity in their own distinct identity. A truthful declaration by same-sex couples of what was in their hearts had to remain unspoken. Even when a greater awareness of the humanity and integrity of homosexual persons came in the period after World War II, the argument that gays and lesbians had a just claim to dignity was in conflict with both law and widespread social conventions. Same-sex intimacy remained a crime in many States. Gays and lesbians were prohibited from most government employment, barred from military service, excluded under immigration laws, targeted by police, and burdened in their rights to associate…Only in more recent years have psychiatrists and others recognized that sexual orientation is both a normal expression of human sexuality and immutable.”
Thank you to the plaintiffs, their attorneys, especially Mary Bonauto, and all the other individuals who came together to ensure our nation started on the right path and achieved the dream of marriage equality. Although there is still work to be done, I am so proud of how far we have come and so grateful to be a part of this movement at a time in our history when we are realizing new freedoms and where a majority of Americans support those freedoms. Congratulations and Happy Pride!
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case for marriage equality for all Americans. The historical decision, likely to come in June, will determine whether the nation will remain a patchwork of equality and discrimination, or make equal treatment the law of the land. I’m hoping and betting for the latter.
Our progress has developed faster than I could have ever imagined. A decade ago, I was a senior in high school fighting with a homophobic school administration. The 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas, had just struck down the remaining sodomy laws in the U.S. and the following year, Massachusetts had become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. The idea of basic anti-discrimination laws, let alone nationwide marriage equality, seemed part of a distant future, one that may never be actualized.
“She’s the mastermind,” said Portland attorney Pat Peard, who has worked on gay rights cases with Bonauto going back to the 1980s. “I mean, Mary Bonauto is going to be in every legal textbook talking about civil rights in the United States. There’s not a doubt in my mind.”
Despite the excitement and (unnecessary) controversy surrounding equal rights, I believe that once the dust settles, marriage equality will be a non-issue and part of every day life. Ultimately, the goal is normalization; same-sex couples want the same recognition and legal respect given to opposite-sex couples. Recent attempts to legalize discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom,” notably in Indiana and Arkansas, and most recently here in Maine, have all been quickly extinguished. A majority of Americans support equal rights, including same-sex marriage, and the courts and corporate America have joined that sentiment, making it clear that Obergefell v. Hodges will not become a modern-day Roe v. Wade.
Those who oppose LGBT equality are rapidly becoming irrelevant. The discriminatory attitude of conservatives, not to mention the explicit opposition to marriage equality embodied in the Republican Party platform, will pose significant challenges to those who would seek office in 2016. As LGBT Americans join their peers in equal treatment under law, so too are conservatives further marginalizing themselves to a past characterized by prejudice. We must move forward and leave that past behind. This Tuesday will be a watershed in that continuing progress toward realizing the American dream.
Merry Christmas and Happy Yule! This is a photo I took of Punzo the other night. When I uploaded it to Google Plus, they applied an Auto Awesome filter that made it twinkle. You can see the original image by visiting my Flickr Photostream or by clicking here.
Only a couple weeks have passed since my last post and in that short time New Mexico and Utah managed to legalize same-sex marriage via high court rulings. Marriage licenses have already been issued as anxious couples attended early morning openings at various county clerk offices. This will make for some happy couples this holiday season. There is clearly momentum gaining fast for marriage equality and where I initially thought it may take 5-10 years to get every state on board, I now think that we won’t have to wait any longer than 2015.
The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are going to be very interesting. Several national leaders and celebrities are boycotting the event due to Russia’s newly implemented anti-gay policies. Three openly gay olympians – Caitlin Cahow, Billie Jean King, and Brian Boitano – have been selected for the official U.S. presidential delegation to represent the United States. I think it’s exciting to see this level of international involvement and I expect to see many visible pro-GLBT messages at this year’s events. The Olympics are about people coming together in a spirit of international unity, friendly competition, and a celebration of diversity.
Wow, I haven’t written anything in a while! I guess I’ve just been preoccupied with other things, like helping my mom sell her houses and constructing a fence and dog house for our pomeranians. Oh, and seeing Catching Fire in IMAX! Unfortunately the property sales along Route 3 in Belfast, my mom’s house included, are confidential and I personally don’t know what business is looking to develop, despite rumors of Wal*Mart, Home Depot, and Lowes.
I continue to be faithful to my vegetarian diet. I do continue to eat a little fish and shrimp, which I may give up at some point, though overall it’s been very easy for me. A few restaurants, like Texas Roadhouse, make it very difficult to find vegetarian options, so in those situations I usually just put together a number of side items. My mom prepared a special tofurkey for our Thanksgiving dinner and my family has been eating less meat as a result of my decision.
Black Friday Shopping with Ashley & Tayler
Speaking of Thanksgiving, I went Black Friday shopping and got rear-ended by another vehicle. Fortunately the woman behind me has insurance and I have a front and rear dash cam that recorded everything. It was also reported on local news. We all had neck pain and headaches for a day or two following the incident. I’m still able to drive my RAV4, though it’s going to need quite a bit of repair. I didn’t even buy anything, though I’m more of a Cyber Monday kind of guy anyway (I spent way too much yesterday).
In national news, Hawaii and Illinois legalized same-sex marriage. While I was not especially surprised, it was historic in that Hawaii was the first state to try to pass marriage equality back in 1991 (see Baehr v. Miike). I’m sure the new law will bring a great deal of revenue to Hawaii, one of the most popular wedding and honeymoon destinations in the US. New Mexico is expected to be the next state to legalize same-sex marriage and there are lawsuits in many other states, most notably Virginia. The same team of attorneys who represented the Prop 8 case, Ted Olson and David Boies, have joined a lawsuit in Virginia that could be the end-all case in this matter (see Bostic v. Rainey). The potential for an historical decision is huge when you consider that this is the same state where the 1967 Loving case arose and put an end to discriminatory laws that prohibited interracial marriage.
British Olympic Diver Tom Daley
This past week also brought with it news of British Olympic Diver Tom Daley. Daley, who is 19 years old, decided to offer a public statement concerning his sexuality and the fact that he is currently in a relationship with a man. Last year I blogged about the London 2012 Olympics and Tom Daley, including some of the athletes who were out at that time, most notably Matthew Mitcham. Daley’s decision to come out is being labeled brave, and rightfully so, though I have to agree with BBC’s Matt Slater that it shouldn’t matter. Daley’s announcement comes at a time when much of the world, most notably Russia, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, still enforces discrimination against gay and lesbian people. Nonetheless I think Daley will serve as a role model for other youth across the globe, showing that you can be yourself, even in sports.
I just got a copy of July’s issue of Dispatch Magazine, which is local to Maine and New Hampshire. My boss had actually saved it out for me because she recognized my picture on the first page (see full spread below). My friend Jesse and I went down to Portland and stayed for Pride weekend. I had a good time and this was the first Pride we’ve had since the passage of marriage equality in Maine, so it was even more special this year.
In more recent GLBT news, the Federal 9th Circuit Court just today upheld the ban on reparative therapy, a type of “counseling” intended to change the sexual orientation of gay and lesbian people. For now the ban only applies to minors, but I believe it will soon be extended to all adults, especially if opponents appeal the decision and it goes before the US Supreme Court. Following the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions, I think it’s pretty clear how our nation’s highest court feels about gay and lesbian people, so I have no concerns. Republican Governor Chris Christie recently signed a similar ban into law in New Jersey, a further indication that conservatives and the GOP are beginning to embrace equal rights for all.
Prop 8 supporters lost their last appeal a little while ago, meaning Prop 8 is permanently dead. As to the DOMA decision, there was some ambiguity about whether same-sex couples living in non-equality states who got married in an equality state, would receive federal marriage benefits. Today the IRS announced it would in fact extend federal marriage benefits to all same-sex spouses, regardless of their state of residence. That means a couple from Texas, for example, can vacation and get married in Maine, then return to their home in Texas and continue to receive federal marriage benefits. The IRS decision, combined with the current Supreme Court position, new litigation across the country, and public acceptance of marriage equality, leads me to believe same-sex marriage in every state is only a few years away.
First of all I want to say thank-you to the courageous plaintiffs of the DOMA and Prop 8 cases, as well as their attorneys and everyone who helped us toward today’s victories in our nation’s highest court. We made history, a history that can never be revoked by a popular vote or referendum. This is permanent and it has set the stage for the final steps in this battle for equality. I am proud of our nation today. We are led by the first president to openly embrace and support the LGBT community. Gays and lesbians are serving openly in the military and now are proud members of the Boy Scouts. It is fitting that these Supreme Court rulings came in June, which is, by presidential proclamation, National LGBT Pride Month. For the first time in history, a majority of Americans favor marriage equality, and that majority becomes a vast majority for those in my generation and younger.
The direction in which we are moving is clear and the path ahead is laid out before us – we need only take a few more steps. I expect it won’t be long now until we achieve nationwide marriage equality in every state as same-sex marriage is now free to follow in the footsteps of Loving v. Virginia. There is still a great deal of work to be done in other areas of law, such as the federal Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which will make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation in employment and education, respectively. As David Boies, attorney for the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case, indicated, the DOMA ruling demonstrates that when the issue of gay marriage returns to the high court, “marriage equality will be the law throughout this land.”
When I was in high school, I was harassed on a daily basis for being gay. I was suspended for a week and threatened with arrest because I wore a gay pride t-shirt to school. No state had yet recognized same-sex marriage and sodomy was still criminalized in some parts of the country. My experiences convinced me that I had to take action and stand up for what was right, and shortly after graduating high school, I helped pass Maine’s anti-discrimination bill that outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity / expression. So much has changed since then. Today’s ruling not only grants over 1,000 federal benefits to married same-sex couples, but is also symbolic of a cultural shift. I think I speak on behalf of millions of other gay and lesbian Americans when I say that I feel very affirmed and proud of who I am and my community. Nothing will ever be the same again.
While the majority’s opinion praised equality and condemned discrimination against gay and lesbian people, Justice Scalia’s homophobic dissent was quite prophetic and I believe he is correct. We haven’t much longer to wait until full equality is realized for LGBT Americans…
“The Court is eager – hungry – to tell everyone its view of the legal question at the heart of this case…Yet the plaintiff and the Government agree entirely on what should happen in this lawsuit. They agree that the court below got it right; and they agreed in the court below that the court below that one got it right as well…As far as this Court is concerned, no one should be fooled; it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe.”