Real Gains or Just a Lower Bar?
To the Editor:
I appreciate Matt Foreman’s optimism regarding the progress of GLBT rights over the last 25 years (“Guest Opinion,” July–Aug. 2007), and it’s tonic to see his chart. What this also illustrates, however, is that we too readily accept the implied rightness of laws that “outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” It’s one thing to have a nondiscrimination law or regulation, and quite another to give it teeth, making it address the issues we are faced with. Many of these laws define “rights” narrowly, leaving out more than they include. That’s discrimination.
We need to point out where narrowly defined nondiscrimination laws become a smokescreen, an unearned credit, allowing and indirectly enforcing this de facto discrimination. Look at what the chart refers to as “broad family recognition.” Isn’t it discrimination when we’re denied the right to marry, and denied the right to have our un-marriable partners covered by the same health plans, insurance plans, and family leave policies that our heterosexual colleagues receive? Would any other minority accept this as “non-discrimination”? When we are denied absolute parity in rights and benefits, we are being discriminated against.
Many of us work in institutions where we are asked to accept this double-speak. Let’s stop giving credit where it is not due, or at least parcel out our thanks as parsimoniously as these institutions dole out our “rights.” Foreman’s editorial is a necessary indication of where we are now, and how we need to refine our campaign for true equality in rights.
Jeff McMahon, Tempe, AZ
Marriage in Mass. Has Backfired
To the Editor:
I was relieved, of course, when the Massachusetts legislature cast only 45 votes of the fifty (25 percent of the combined House and Senate) needed to put same-sex marriage (SSM) on the 2008 ballot. It would have been another messy fight. But Jo Ann Citron’s article [Sept.-Oct. 2007], “Marriage is Here to Stay in Massachusetts,” paints a much too rosy picture.
Massachusetts’ marriage is a success only if: 1) you think it’s fine to have the name “marriage” but not the 1,138 federal benefits of marriage; 2) you don’t mind that the fight over the word “marriage” has caused Massachusetts to have four constitutional conventions and cost the LGBT community and Massachusetts taxpayers millions without adding one right that civil unions (or “domestic partnerships”) would afford; and 3) you think it’s okay that lesbians and gay men across the country have paid for marriage in Massachusetts with laws and constitutional amendments outlawing both SSM and civil unions.
To say that “We need the judicial branch to construe the issue as one of civil rights” is madness when Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts sit at the top of America’s judicial food chain. In reality, we’ve already lost the fight for SSM, and it’s time to move on to a fight we can win. SSM, with all of the rights, benefits, and obligations of marriage, cannot exist in the U.S. in the near future. Forty-five states have laws or constitutional amendments prohibiting SSM. There have been over 48 million votes cast on this issue in 29 states, and almost 32 million, nearly two-thirds, voted against same-sex marriage. There has already been, in effect, a national referendum, and we lost.
Despite the title, “marriage” in the full sense does not exist in Massachusetts, as it provides no more federal benefits than California’s domestic partner law or Vermont and New Jersey’s civil unions. SSM activists will say, “Separate is not equal.” The analogy to Brown v. Board of Education (1954) is a common error that ignores historical fact. “Separate but equal” was invented by white supremacists in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) to oppress African-Americans. “Domestic partner” was invented by a gay man, Tom Brougham, in 1982, and advanced by GLBT organizations to obtain the benefits of marriage when most lesbians and gay men viewed marriage as a discredited patriarchal institution. Indeed, the acceptance of civil unions is more comparable to Brown than to Plessy.
States have no power to grant the 1,138 federal benefits of marriage, but a national civil union policy would. Democratic presidential candidates support this. Polls show a clear majority of voters support civil unions with all the same rights of marriage, but oppose SSM. There has been no successful challenge to statewide civil union policies—except when they were included in ballot propositions whose primary purpose was to ban same-sex marriage.
All the rights of marriage are attainable under “civil unions,” while the SSM strategy has failed. We must return to the successful strategy of obtaining our rights through civil unions, which has worked well for over twenty years. (I chaired the 1984 Domestic Partner Task Force, City of Berkeley, which wrote the first domestic partner policy enacted into law.)
Leland Traiman, Berkeley, CA
Have the Witch Hunts Really Stopped?
To the Editor:
Kevin Jennings’ triumphalist “Guest Opinion” piece (Sept.-Oct. 2007) touched on the 1920 Harvard purge uncovered a few years ago by The Harvard Crimson and detailed in William Wright’s Harvard’s Secret Court. So far as I know, no one, including Jennings, has yet associated this event with the vicious 1919 crackdown on men soliciting sailors in Newport, Rhode Island, which FDR approved as undersecretary of the Navy. I believe the events at Harvard and at Newport were connected.
Jennings ends his op-ed on a sunny note, suggesting that the “injustice” at Harvard “is part of history and not part of the America in which [today’s gay youths] live, which once and for all will be a land where there is liberty and justice for all citizens.” This hardly acknowledges the current witch hunt for pederasts, now wrongly confused with pedophiles. It blows one’s mind to consider that we’re approaching three million people incarcerated, mostly poor people of color, often for victimless crimes like possession of marijuana or crack (which carries draconian sentences as opposed to those meted out to the rich for their “poison,” powder cocaine), or for petty thefts (three strikes and you’re out), or in perpetuity for what some might consider sexual peccadilloes. Many of these “felonies” would hardly have resulted in incarceration a generation ago.
William A. Percy, Boston
Are Gays Leaving Poland en Masse?
To the Editor:
I am writing in response to your news item about the situation in Poland [BTW, Sept.-Oct. 2007]. I see the situation somewhat differently. In less than two decades of political freedom, Polish gays and lesbians created several organizations, clubs, Internet sites, conferences, festivals, parades, and so on. Just a decade after Poland overthrew Communism, a same-sex union bill was under debate in the Parliament. All this was a fantastic achievement and was overlooked in the Western media.
It is unrealistic to have overly high expectations for countries that have enjoyed democracy for less than twenty years. During this time, the government has had numerous other burning issues on its mind, such as improving living standards for some forty million people after four decades of mismanagement. No wonder minority politics has tended to score very low on the list of priorities. In the eyes of the Polish population, gay issues are often seen as a mere distraction from political and economic reality—as tabloid TV material.
The complexity of the situation in Poland is also due to the traditional influence of the Vatican. Poland is Spain in reverse. In Spain, the Vatican supported the Franco regime. Having won democracy back, Spain belongs today to the most socially advanced countries in Europe. In Poland, the Vatican supported the opposition to Communist rule; hence, the Poles feel naturally indebted to the Church. Even though its leaders are mostly atheists, the gay community at large is mostly Catholic. One of the first decisions of the first democratically elected Polish government was the re-introduction of religion into the public school system—an unfortunate turn of events at the end of 20th century. Another problem is that gay rights is understood in Polish society as an extreme left-wing issue rather than as a matter of basic human rights.
The “mass exodus of gays” to England mentioned in your news item was first publicized in the Polish gay media. None of the articles has ever given any numbers. We are led to believe that a “mass” of homosexuals have left Poland. I suspect their number is comparable to the modest migration of U.S. citizens to Canada. On the other hand, it may be reassuring to know that there was a “mass” of gays in Poland and they represent the country’s “creative talent.” Twenty years ago, there were two or three officially known gays living in Poland—all people of exceptional creative talent.
Many civil liberties are enjoyed in Poland today, but due to its recent history, the country has almost no chance at a gay-friendly government any time soon. It will take years of education and intelligent effort to create a gay-positive environment in Poland. However, to include Poland on the list of “anti-gay” countries along with, say, Saudi Arabia or Iran, as the Western media often do, is to ignore the complexity of the situation in today’s Poland.
Slawomir Dobrzanski, Manhattan, Kansas
In a piece by Natalie Hope McDonald, “AIDS Writing in Crisis Times and Today” (July-Aug. 07), Benoit Denizet-Lewis was described as “an African-American writer,” which is inaccurate; he is white.
In a poem by Esther Ross, “Mortar” (July-Aug. 07), the word “gentile” was changed to “gentle” in a line that should read:
“My gentile girlfriend makes haroset —”.