Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The State of Gay Marriage: Historical Perspective

July has been a rough month for the gay rights movement, with significant marriage-related losses in New York, Georgia, Tennessee, Nebraska and Washington.

But LGBT people and fair-minded supporters should not be overly discouraged by, nor should opponents of equality take any comfort from, a string of court rulings that, more or less, rely on the insupportable supposition that heterosexual marriage and procreation – indeed, as the plurality in the Washington decision put it today, “limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers procreation, essential to survival of the human race” – is threatened by legal recognition of existing same-sex partnerships.

In 1948, California became the first state where a court overturned a prohibition on interracial marriage. The dissent in that decision is well worth reading in light of the more recent anti-gay rulings.

A sampling of phrases from that dissent finds objections to miscegenation that, when references to race are replaced with sexual orientation, are identical to opinions being put out by the courts today.

“Such laws have been in effect in this country since before our national independence and in this state since our first legislative session. They have never been declared unconstitutional by any court in the land although frequently they have been under attack. It is difficult to see why such laws, valid when enacted and constitutionally enforceable in this state for nearly 100 years and elsewhere for a much longer period of time, are now unconstitutional under the same Constitution and with no change in the factual situation. It will also be shown that they have a valid legislative purpose even though they may not conform to the sociogenetic views of some people.”

“The right of the state to exercise extensive control over the marriage contract has always been recognized. The institution of marriage is the foundation of society, and the community at large has an interest in the maintenance of its integrity and purity. Marriage, as creating the most important relation in life, as having more to do with the morals and civilization of a people than any other institution, has always been subject to control of the legislature.”

“Twenty-nine states in addition to California have similar laws. Six of these states have regarded the matter to be of such importance that they have by constitutional enactments prohibited their legislatures from passing any law legalizing marriage between white persons and negroes or mulattoes. Several states refuse to recognize such marriages even if performed where valid.”

“The argument based upon equal protection does not take into proper account the extensive controls the state has always exercised over the marriage contract, nor of the further fact that at the very time the Constitution of the United States was being formulated miscegenation was considered inimical to the public good and was frowned upon by the colonies, and continued to be so regarded and prohibited in states having any substantial admixture of population at the time the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted….It seems impossible to believe that any constitutional guaranty was intended to prohibit this legislation.”

I’m not aiming to fully equate the struggle for racial equality in America with the LGBT civil rights movements, as clearly the experiences of each group are not wholly analogous. Still, it’s helpful to see that the legal shell-game practiced by social conservatives with the aim of squelching fairness and equality hasn’t changed in sixty years.

The California case, Perez v. Sharp, was not the first anti-miscegenation lawsuit. In fact, as the dissent heartily points out, similar suits had recently failed in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Virginia, Indiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas and Pennsylvania.

More importantly, it took another nineteen years before the Supreme Court declared all anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. The battle for marriage equality is far from over, but already we can see clearly how it will end. Justice will prevail.

Washington Says No to Equality

Moments ago, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the state ban on same-sex marriage does not violate their constitution. I'm particularly disappointed, since I was born in Washington.

More later when I have read the opinions.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Irrational Basis

In November 2000, 70% of voters in Nebraska approved an amendment to Article I of the state constitution, known as “Section 29,” which stated:

Only marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in Nebraska. The uniting of two persons of the same sex in a civil union, domestic partnership, or other similar same-sex relationship shall not be valid or recognized in Nebraska.
This new law was sweeping for a couple of different reasons. First, more than just banning same-sex marriage, it barred civil unions and domestic partnerships, and even forbid any protection for any relationship whatsoever between two people of the same gender.

Secondly, as an amendment to the constitution, it established a significant barrier to same-sex couples wishing to seek any type of protection for their relationships by placing the law out of reach of the courts or a legislative majority, instead requiring a new constitutional amendment that could only be achieved by a legislative super-majority or popular referendum. Gay people in Nebraska are unlikely to be able to pull together that kind of support.

A coalition of civil rights organizations sued the state and won in district court, claiming Section 29 violated the federal constitution’s Equal Protection Amendment, as it allows heterosexual couples to lobby to seek legal recognition and protection for relationships other than marriage. Further, they alleged that Section 29 is nothing less than a bill of attainder, a legislative act which serves no legitimate purpose other than to punish an unpopular group.

On July 14 of this year, however, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, and Section 29 stands.

It is important to understand that this was not a “marriage” lawsuit; the plaintiffs in this instance, same-sex couples from Nebraska, were not seeking the right to marry, nor did they assert that one existed. It was an equal protection claim, namely that one specific group of people (gays and lesbians) faced different and more difficult barriers to seeking legal protection of non-marital relationships than another group (heterosexuals) did, and furthermore that this barrier constituted an unjust act of legislative punishment.

Yet the Eighth Circuit ruled that Section 29 was valid because it furthered a legitimate government interest: “the steering of procreation into marriage.”

The broad language of Section 29, forbidding recognition of any relationship whatsoever between two people of the same gender, has sweeping consequences. In 2003, a state senator introduced a bill that would allow both same-sex and different-sex couples in committed relationships make decisions for each other at the end of life about funeral arrangement and organ donation. The state attorney general, Jon Bruning, issued an opinion that the law would be unconstitutional in light of Section 29, so the bill stalled in committee and was never put up for a vote.

Section 29 prevents things like hospital visitation rights, medical leave to care for a sick partner, bereavement leave, medical insurance, inheritance rights, and eligibility for certain tax breaks, not to mention the ability to lobby for the end of discrimination in marriage.

All of these protections, apparently, threaten the Nebraska government’s ability to successfully “steer procreation into marriage.”

In a ruling striking down a similar constitutional amendment in Colorado in 1996, the Supreme Court said such a law would violate the equal protection amendment if it “imposed a broad and undifferentiated disability on a single named group….[and if] the reasons offered for it seem inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class it affects.”

Discrimination cases usually trigger a “heightened” or “strict” scrutiny form of analysis, depending on the group that is being targeted. In this instance, however, the Eighth Circuit said “the Supreme Court has never ruled that sexual orientation is a suspect classification for equal protection purposes.” A “suspect” class is one that is politically impotent (70% opposition in Nebraska), has a history of being discriminated against (duh), and has immutable characteristics (such as race or gender). For the LGBT community, of course, the last is problematic because the issue of whether sexual orientation is “immutable” is not generally settled.

The Eighth Circuit then claimed to apply “rational basis” – meaning, a legitimate government interest justifies the law. Yet like New York State’s top court earlier this month, the Eighth Circuit casually forgot to discuss just how allowing same-sex couples to lobby for protections would impede “steering procreation into marriage.”

Having found that Section 29 was “rational,” it was then an easy jump for the Eighth Circuit to knock down the claim that Section 29 was a bill of attainder.

A bill of attainder is a legislative act (or, in this instance, a voter initiative) that applies to “named individuals or easily ascertainable members of a group” and inflicts punishment without judicial trial. Section 29 disenfranchises same-sex couples from the political process by making it more difficult for them than for opposite-sex couples to lobby for protections for relationships outside of marriage.

Notably, during the campaign in support of Section 29, activist Guyla Mills of the Defense of Marriage Amendment Committee distributed literature arguing that Section 29 was needed “to send a message to society….that heterosexuality and homosexuality are not morally equivalent.” Supporters of Section 29 had also been quoted as saying “homosexuality is a sin and should not be sanctioned even by ‘quasi-marriage’ unions.” If the real purpose of Section 29 had, in fact, been to “steer procreation into marriage,” wouldn’t it have been better to produce literature to “send a message to heterosexuals that procreation belongs within traditional marriage”?

Even though it is obvious that the objective of Section 29 was to make political access more difficult for gay people, not to encourage procreation within marriage, the Eighth Circuit found that “the political harm to [gay people] is not punishment in the functional sense because it serves the nonpunitive purpose of steering heterosexual procreation into marriage, a purpose that negates any suspicion that supporters of § 29 were motivated solely by a desire to punish disadvantaged groups.” [emphasis added]

Still, gay folks and fair-minded allies in the heterosexual majority should not be overly disheartened by our enemies in high places. Simply put, procreation within traditional heterosexual marriage is not threatened by legal recognition of same-sex relationships or full participation by LGBT people in the political process. If this is the best legal argument opponents of fairness can put forward, then we are close to victory indeed.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Ora pro nobis, nunc et in ora mortis nostrae

So, I came home this afternoon following church and coffee with someone who, with a bit of luck, might become a recurring character on this blog, and was about to head out to a friend's open house, when I heard yelling and screaming from the apartment next door.

This in itself was nothing surprising, as my neighbor...well, how do I put this without saying too much or drawing too many neighbor appears to be troubled. I have the sense that he is trying to get himself back on his feet after some problem or other, and it's something of an uphill road for him. He has been in my prayers.

The walls in this old building are pretty solid, but I can still understand voices when they are raised past a certain level. What I heard this afternoon hit me like a truck.

No. Worse. My guts have been ripped out. I have been exposed to grief, sudden and cruel, in its rawest, ugliest, most painful form.

A man's voice, screaming in agony.

"My son, my son, oh my God, my beautiful son, he's dead, dead! Look what they did to him, oh my God!"

I wish to the highest powers that I were making this up.

I do not know the details of what has happened, and for obvious reasons I prefer not to speculate. But what I understand is that the person in the apartment is not my neighbor.

The entire family showed up, screaming and wailing outside my door, pounding on the walls in frustration, "Why?" It is unbearable here.

Many thanks to my good friend DJRaindog, who happened to be in the neighborhood when I called, and took me for a walk in the nearby park and a drink (or two) in the bar on the corner, and also thanks in advance to Fabulous Jackass and his partner who are having me over for dinner and escapism tonight.

So, a request, not for me, but for all in this world who suffer untimely grief, most especially those who live to witness the death of their own children: keep them in your thoughts, wish them peace.

Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgeh’n,
Als sei kein Unglück die Nacht gescheh’n!
Das Unglück geschah nur mir allein;
Die Sonne sie scheinet allgemein!
Du must nicht die Nacht in dir verschränken,
Musst sie ins ew’ge Licht versenken!
Ein Lämplein verlosch in meinem Zelt!
Heil! Heil sei dem Freudenlicht der Welt!

Sunday Photo Blogging: Kittens! (again)

I know I promised I wouldn't turn into Crazy Cat Lady, but...well, here are more pictures of my kittens. They're getting so big! Posted by Picasa

** In other news, I am relieved to report that Matthew of "Matthew in Beirut" and his family arrived safely back in the United States yesterday after evacuating from Lebanon, via detours to Syria and Israel.

See? She looks just like Katee Sackhoff. My cat is fierce and she knows it, rrrrau! Posted by Picasa

A good spot for checking out the world. Posted by Picasa

Arrgggh, daddy, I was sleeping, go away. Posted by Picasa

Daddy said we couldn't play in plastic bags anymore, so he went to the Banana Republic sale. Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 21, 2006

How Religion Will Save the Planet

From the brand new August 2006 edition of National Geographic:

"Environmentalism has often been a somewhat grim business. (There is, after all, plenty to be grim about.) But a convivial environmentalism, one that asks us to figure out what we really want out of life, offers profound possibilities.

Perhaps the most important of those possibilities is a new link with communities of faith in this country. Though they don't always live up to their ideals, churches and synagogues and mosques are among the few institutions that can posit some idea for human existence other than accumulation. They understand that it's not just, as Bill Clinton's campaign asserted, "the economy, stupid." Their political help is crucial for making the necessary legislative change -- maybe the best news of the year was that some 90 prominent evangelical leaders broke ranks with Pat Robertson and his ilk to announce that they wanted to fight global warming, and fight it with their particular set of tools. "This is God's world," they said, which is a shocking idea for a culture that's come to think of everything as ours.

It's precisely this ability of religious leaders of all stripes to see individuals as part of something larger than themselves that's so important. And also their commitment to taking care of the needy, because of course there are lots of people in the world who aren't rich. If we can't help them figure out some path to dignity other than our hyper-individualism, the math of global warming will never work."

-- Bill McKibben, environmental activist, essayist and author of the best-seller The End of Nature


Thursday, July 20, 2006

My Date with Liz

I didn’t want people to get the impression from the post below that my voice lesson with renowned soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was some kind of mutual Aryan love-fest.

Madame Schwarzkopf, former card-carrying member of the Nazi Party, was known during her stage career more for her meticulous interpretive artistry than for her vocal gifts. After retirement, her reputation centered more on legendary stories of ruthless masterclasses; even prima donna assoluta Renee Fleming suffered under what one author called Schwarzkopf’s “confidence-shattering tutelage.”

When I told my teacher back in New York that I was going for a lesson with Schwarzkopf, she said, “Oh boy…”

I walked in and introduced myself in German, and she responded by greeting me in English. The accompanist, also a member of Zürich’s young artist program as an apprentice coach, explained to her that the studio preferred that its members speak in German as much as possible, to strengthen their skills.

She raised a skeptical eyebrow and asked, in English, “How long have you been studying German?”

“Oh, about four months now,” I said.

“Pfft! Then we will speak in English, for I guarantee that my English is superior to your German, and this lesson will be for nothing if you do not understand what I am trying to teach you. Du kannst ja im Migros Deutsch üben, gel? Now, what have you brought for me today?”

“I would like to sing ‘Wohin’ from Die schöne Müllerin by Schubert –“

“I know who wrote Die schöne Müllerin. You DARE to sing Schubert for ME?”


“Then you are either very brave, or VERY stupid. Very well, let us begin.”

Her big issue with me was a good legato, which is an Italian word which means the binding of each note to the next using a solid and steady stream of breath, not punctuated by any aspirant h’s. Unfortunately, the first line of ‘Wohin’ is riddled with them.

If you’re not careful, “Ich hört ein Bächlein rauschen wohl aus dem Felsenquell” comes out, “I-hich hört ein Bächlein rau-hauschen wo-hohl aus dem Fe-hel-se-hen-quell.”

We probably spent 10 minutes with me going, “I-hich –“ “No.” “I-hich –“ “No.” “I-hich –“ “No, again.” “I-hich – “ “No.” “I-ich…” “Yes! That was right, why did you stop?” “Sorry.” “Again.” “I-hich –“ “No.” “Argh. I-hich – “ “No.” “I-ich..” “Yes! Again!” “I-ich hört ein Bächlein rau-hau – “ “NO!”


For 90 minutes. It’s a three page song. We never got to the end.

When time was up she said, “For your age, you are singing this very, very well, however, I must tell you to put it away until you are at least 40.”

Now, Die schöne Müllerin, about a young man who goes off in search of love and adventure, is typically one of the sets of songs that all young baritones start with, so this came as something of a surprise to me.

“You are too young to understand it.”

The accompanist, who was normally a total asshole, surprisingly came to my defense. “But he’s about the same age as Schubert was when he wrote it.”

“Yes,” said Madame. “But Schubert was a genius…and he,” she paused, looking at me, “er ist überhaupt kein Genie.” That much German I understood.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Champagne Taste on a Homeless Budget

This morning on the A train I had a performance by a homeless comedian during the ride from 125th to 59th. Mostly he was offensive and not particularly funny, a lot of "My wife so fat..." jokes. But one thing he said nearly made me fall out of my seat.

"My wife tell me she want a bottle of champagne. So I go down to the store, and get myself a $3.99 bottle of cooking wine, and then I put a Alka-Seltzer in it."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Five years ago today, I shook the dust of Zürich off my feet after nearly a year of the most intense frustration and disappointment as a member of the Internationales Opernstudio, the Opernhaus Zürich young artist program.

While trying to think of an appropriate story to share out of the vast catalogue of disasters that befell me that year, I happened to have lunch today with an old friend who, coincidentally, had recently auditioned in Düsseldorf for an agent I once sang for.

The agent heard me in a concert in the opera house in Zürich and invited me to Düsseldorf to sing for her there; the directors of the opera studio impressed upon me that this was a tremendous opportunity and a great compliment, as she was very influential in securing resident contracts for singers in many of the top houses in Germany. I was also the only member of the studio to receive such an invitation.

So, on a bitterly bleak weekend in January, I headed north to Germany. One of the much-touted perks of studio membership was their agreement to pay travel expenses for any auditions in Europe. They got around this atypical Swiss generosity by generally doing absolutely nothing at all to secure auditions for studio members and then, in this case, deducting the border tax and mandatory reservation surcharge when reimbursing me for the train ticket. There was no meal stipend, nor would they pay for hotel.

Düsseldorf is seven hours by train from Zürich; my audition was scheduled for 3:00 on a Monday afternoon. In order to make this audition on time, I would have to take the Zürich-Amsterdam Eurostar, leaving at 6:30 a.m., and arriving at 1:30 p.m., then wander around in the freezing cold with no place to go – and no place to warm up, freshen up, etc. – then try to catch the 4:45 return, getting me back to Zürich shortly before midnight. Altogether, 14 hours on the train, with a break in the middle for 10 minutes of singing and three hours of hanging out in northern Germany in January.

I did not think I could reasonably be expected to turn in a good audition under such circumstances, so I asked if I could have extra money for a hotel the night before. They thought I was being extravagant.

So I decided I would just splurge and take a little vacation. Now, it must be said, my salary in Zürich was 1200 franks a month, which in those days was about $700. Nonetheless, I opted to take the train up on Saturday morning and spend the weekend there, coming home after the audition on Monday. I managed to find a very cheap hotel near the train station, which I think cost about 35 German marks a night.

The room was small and basic, and very, very cold, which isn’t good for a singer, with shared bathrooms down the hall. The men’s room was just a toilet; the “shower” was in the ladies’ room, but it was – no kidding – a tub with no curtain and a garden hose with a sprinkler attached to the faucet. I never did figure out if men were actually allowed to use the “shower,” but foreigners can always plead idiocy, especially Americans.

My official letter of invitation had specified that the room would be available for one hour prior to the audition to warm up and practice, a stipulation I was totally relying on. Of course, I had to check out of the hotel at noon the day of the audition, which still left me with two hours in the freezing cold with no place to go, so mostly I window-shopped in the train station.

When I arrived at the hall – a lecture space in the back of a library rather unusually on the second floor of a building where the ground floor was occupied by a XXX theater and store – there were about 50 other people there, all dressed up, toting their trademark black audition binders, mostly women.

I had been formally invited to a cattle call.

The warm-up space was the audition room itself, and all 50 of us had been expecting to be able to use it for an hour; moreover, there was no “schedule” for the audition, we were told to just work it out amongst ourselves. I had two minutes to “warm up,” which was pretty useless, and then I went out to negotiate my audition time. I said I just needed to catch the 4:45 train; other than that, I didn’t care. Some of the girls had real knock-down, drag-out diva fits. I tried to be entertained, but mostly I was angry; I felt that I had been very, very misled about these circumstances. The lobby was ice-cold, so I spent about an hour wrapped up in my coat and gloves, with my scarf over my mouth so that I could breathe recycled warm air and muffle my humming to keep the voice warm while not disturbing the auditions in progress.

Finally it was my turn; normally I opened with a Mozart concert aria, “Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo,” but in my non-warmed-up, frozen, angry state, I didn’t think that was a wise choice, so I offered the similar, but less demanding Count’s aria from Le nozze di Figaro, in which I had great confidence, having just understudied the role in Santa Fe.

“That doesn’t show anything, what else do you have?” barked the agent.

Now, I’d had people stop me before I reached the end of a piece, or ask me to start in the middle, but I had never even heard of anyone rejecting the first aria. The Count may not show much in the way of sustained high notes, but it requires exemplary diction, great acting, and despite its relatively narrow range, would clearly reveal an unhealthy voice or poor technique. Furthermore, as Figaro is one of the most frequently performed operas, Counts are always in demand, even if they’re not hard to find.

So instead I offered “Bella siccome un angelo” from Don Pasquale, which in terms of vocal demands is not really any different than the Count, but apparently it was acceptable. It got off to a rocky start, as I was completely cold, but by the end I felt okay.

Then there was a pause. “Okay, let me hear the Count.”

Huh? So I sang it. It wasn’t the best I’d ever done, but it was in the ballpark.

Another pause.

“What can I do with you?”

[Me, blinking blankly, a la Homer Simpson.]

“I mean, you’re useless, absolutely USELESS to me. You have no technique whatsoever. I can’t send you to a German house, you’d never last a whole season! THANK YOU!” she bellowed.

“Okay, well…,” I stuttered, struggling to find the words, “thank you,”as I picked up my binder and headed out of the auditorium. “Useless,” she muttered again, as I passed her.

Now, you might think I was angry or embarrassed or insulted, but the truth is, I actually found this hilarious. I was struggling to maintain my composure. What a sick, twisted bitch, I thought, bringing people here at their own expense under the impression that they have been “invited” to sing for an influential agent so you can torture them. I knew one thing: I wouldn’t want to work for an agent like that, so I was glad she DIDN’T like me.

And as for her criticism, the very next afternoon back in Zürich, I had a voice lesson with no less of a taskmaster than Elisabeth Schwarzkopf herself, who told me, after working with me for 90 minutes on Schubert, “You have a beautiful voice and a flawless technique.”

Take that, bitch.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Procreation, Again

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the gay rights movement.

On July 6, the top court in New York State upheld the limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples, and within hours, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned an earlier ruling and reinstated a ban on same-sex marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships. Then late last week, on July 14, Tennessee’s Supreme Court allowed a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to stay on the November ballot, and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a Federal District Court’s ruling that Nebraska’s constitutional amendment banning recognition of same-sex relationships was unconstitutional.

Can any conclusions be drawn from this string of losses about the future of same-sex marriage and the validity of the LGBT community’s legal claims?

Perhaps, but certainly not the assumption that gay marriage is dead. In fact, quite the opposite: most of these decisions were made by courts which chose to sidestep the main issues raised by the suits, instead offering lengthy defenses of the rationale for promoting opposite-sex marriage.

What these rulings have in common is what I earlier termed “flawed assumptions, outmoded stereotypes [and] legal misconstructions.” They are so badly reasoned that at some point, an inevitable high court ruling will bring them all crashing down at once, and they will be held up as shining examples of the intellectual paucity of conservative legal thought on civil rights matters, bigotry masquerading as a technical tapdance.

The Nebraska decision, about which I hope to have more to say later, is particularly glaring in this regard. The lawsuit was not a case arguing for the recognition of same-sex marriage, but rather a challenge on equal protection grounds to an amendment to the state constitution which not only banned same-sex marriage, but also “the uniting of two persons of the same sex in a civil union, domestic partnership, or other similar…relationship.”

The Eighth Circuit ignored the obvious political disenfranchisement of same-sex couples (in fact, they went so far as to say “access to the political process” was fundamental but not absolute, putting LGBT folks in the same political pariah category as convicted felons) and talked up the “government interest in ‘steering procreation into marriage’.”

That’s all well and good, but as Judge Kaye’s dissent in the New York ruling pointed out, it’s not enough to establish compelling interest, there must be a rational basis for the deprivation of a right (in this case, not marriage, but access to the political process, which is what makes America a democracy in the first place) that logically furthers the state interest.

And again, the Eighth Circuit fails to explain even remotely just how legal recognition of relationships that already exist -- and have always existed -- jeopardizes that interest, beyond pointing at “the traditional notion that two committed heterosexuals are the optimal partnership for raising children.”

If that “optimal partnership” is a state interest sufficient to satisfy rational basis review for the denial of fundamental rights to same-sex couples, then I wonder just why it is that advocates of Nebraska’s amendment did not also add legal restrictions on the many opposite-sex couples who flagrantly and deliberately fall short of that ideal.

Furthermore, just what is it about gay marriage that causes heterosexuals to lose interest in each other?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Sunday Photo Blogging: Nye Beach at Sunset

One last set of photos from my trip back in May, all taken at Nye Beach just north of Newport on the central Oregon coast. Posted by Picasa

A rainstorm at the horizon. Posted by Picasa

Looking north toward Yaquina Head and the lighthouse. Posted by Picasa

I wonder if this rock has an actual name; I just referred to it in my mind as the Wizard's Hat. Posted by Picasa

I love how the light reflecting on the wet sand turned it a deep prussian blue, with that area of gold. Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 14, 2006

Technical Difficulties

For two days now, I've had no internet access at home because of problems with the cable. I can't even get through to TimeWarner customer service, so I'm sure there are many, many New Yorkers on the line, most of whom are much better at telling people off than I am.

Anyway, to my personal friends and family: if I don't answer emails this weekend, it's because I can't get to them.

Blogging may be light or non-existent.


For those of you who remember the really great blog "Matthew in Beirut," which is now defunct because of work-related security concerns, please keep the author and his family in your prayers because they are still in Beirut.

And, just because I'm selfish that way, I could also use happy thoughts right now.

Thank you.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Preference vs. Orientation

One of the keys to understanding the current legal impasse over gay marriage is the distinction between “sexual preference” and “sexual orientation.”

In last week’s ruling on same-sex marriage, the New York State Court of Appeals defended its decision to uphold the status quo by arguing, “A person’s preference for the sort of sexual activity that cannot lead to the birth of children is relevant to the State’s interest in fostering relationships that will serve children best.”

Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that heterosexuals indulge in many sexual practices that “cannot lead to the birth of children,” and even, by means of birth control, intentionally thwart the procreative capacity of vaginal intercourse. I want to focus on the use of this word “preference.”

I have a preference for Diet Coke. Now, when I go into a store, there are many beverage options available to me. But I almost always have Diet Coke. It’s what I like.

I think there is something wrong with people who like Diet Pepsi. Yes, I have tried Diet Pepsi, and I didn’t like it. I suspect people who drink Diet Pepsi either have never tried Diet Coke and, therefore, don’t know what they’re missing, or, there is something wrong with them that could probably be cured by therapy. They were probably raised by parents who gave them Diet Pepsi. Or possibly they came from broken homes, or were abused by priests. Or maybe someone gave them Diet Pepsi while they were at camp as a teenager. Any or all of these explanations are plausible.

But sexual attraction is much more complicated than that. I might have a “preference” for certain activities, sure, but I don’t really have a choice when it comes to a partner. My interest in men is innate and is part of who I am as a person. It’s not like I’m dining in some sort of sexual restaurant and can decide whether I’d rather have the Penis or the Breasts & Vagina Combo. Where I’m sitting, the Combo isn’t even on the menu.

I suspect heterosexuals feel the same way. Many heterosexuals might enjoy the kinds of activities that can’t lead to conception, but they’re not interested in doing them with a partner of the same gender. A choice is not really a valid “choice” if one of the options is something you would never, ever want.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

An Evening in New York


I stopped by the barber on the way home tonight; I've been going to the same guy on Christopher Street in the West Village for about 10 years now. He's Ecuadorean and speaks English, but sometimes he and I have no idea what we're talking about. Tonight I think we reached a singular impasse.

David: So, what's new with you?

Me: (proudly) I got kittens!

David: (somberly, seriously) Oh, no, I'm sorry. Did you have to take a test?

Me: (puzzled)

David: No? You didn't have to go to the hospital?

Me: (wondering what the FUCK he thinks I said) Nnnnnooo....I got them from a rescue service, for my birthday.

David: Oh, okay, take care of yourself. Let me know how you're doing, okay?


There are two kinds of trains on the A line. One has molded plastic individual orange and yellow seats; the other is more of a long, corrugated tin can with benches along each wall. On the way home from the barber (after stopping at the clearance rack at Banana Republic on 8th Avenue because I wanted new pants) I was on one of the tin cans.

The tin cans have better air conditioning, but because it's just a bench instead of individual seats, people tend to hog the space. Case in point: I got on at 14th Street and had to stand as there were no seats, but one of the guys seated in front of me, at the end of a row by the door, got off at 34th Street. The guy who had been sitting next to him moved over toward the end, but only halfway, leaving not enough room for a person on either side of him. Hot and tired and slightly irritated (it was a great day at work, oof), I just decided to sit between him and the next guy, which meant I sort of landed on him, but as soon as he moved his selfish ass over (literally), there was plenty of room.



Then I had to stop at the grocery store on my way home. (Click here and here for Andy's earlier adventures at this store.) They were out of flushable cat litter. This is one of the things I truly, deeply hate about grocery shopping in New York: if you want something specific, you have to be prepared to accept that you can't find it in this city where supposedly you can find anything, 24 hours a day. Reduced Fat Wheat Thins? Out. Low-Fat Emmentaler? Out. Flushable cat litter? Out. My breakfast drink of choice? Out. California Pizza Kitchen-brand BBQ chicken pizza? Out. Buitoni Sweet Italian Sausage Tortelloni? Out. This store was once out of Diet Coke.

Let's not even talk about the produce. If you're looking for the bin where onions cleaved by the harvesting machine go to rot and sprout, try the Associated on Fort Washington.

Since I only got two of the things on my list (ice and tonic water), I could go through the express lane, 10 items or less.

The woman at the register was arguing with the clerk, claiming an item she was buying was on sale, but the register was scanning it at full price. The clerk called the manager over.

Clerk: Jose, she say this on sale.

Woman: I'm sure I saw it in the circular in the newspaper.

Jose: I don't know. Maybe.

Woman: Well, don't you have the circular here?

Jose: Yeah, in the office. (A pause. The woman looks at him like, "Well...?" and he goes away and comes back with it.) Yeah, it's on sale.

Woman: (triumphantly) See?

The next woman, in front of me, has 12 items. I am irritated and consider saying something, because the sign CLEARLY says "10 items or less," but decide it's just not worth it. Karma, I say to myself. Those who are first will be last. So the clerk rings up all 12 items. $28.12.

Woman: Oh, I only have $25. Let's see...let's take off that yogurt.

Register: $27.23.

Woman: Oh. Umm, well, I guess I don't need the cereal.

Register: $23.28.

Woman: Oh, now I can afford the yogurt, let's put that back on.

Me: (aside) I hate her sooo much, it, it the, it, flame, flames, FLAMES on the side of my face, breathing, breathle...heaving breaths, heaving....

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Viva Italia!

Viva Italia forte ed una
colla spada e col pensier!
Questo suol che a noi fu cuna,
tomba fia dello stranier!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Random Cat Blogging

Ummm...have you seen my sister anywhere? Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 07, 2006

Hernandez v. Robles

The decision handed down yesterday by the New York Court of Appeals on same-sex marriage was legally perverse and just plain offensive, arguing for state-sanctioned discrimination on a set of flawed assumptions, outmoded stereotypes, legal misconstructions and the contention that the rights of minorities should be regulated by the whim of the majority.

“It is not for us to say whether same-sex marriage is right or wrong,” wrote Judge R.S. Smith in the conclusion of his ruling, but that doesn’t stop him from elaborating for pages on reasons why the Legislature should continue to discriminate against New York citizens on the basis of sexual orientation.

“The right to marry is unquestionably a fundamental right,” concedes Smith. “It is undisputed that the benefits of marriage are many. The diligence of counsel has identified 316 such benefits in New York law….Beyond this, [married couples] receive the symbolic benefit, or moral satisfaction, of seeing their relationships recognized by the State.”

This acknowledged fundamental right, however, can “rationally” be denied to same-sex couples because the State has a compelling interest in promoting marriage as a stabilizing factor in heterosexual relationships. How exactly legal recognition of same-sex marriage would act as a destabilizing force or would discourage procreation is not something he chooses to make clear.

Judge Smith says his arguments in opposition to same-sex marriage are “derived from the undisputed assumption that marriage is important to the welfare of children.”

There are thousands of children living in same-sex parented households in New York State. Is their welfare not important?

It’s not just gay folks who should be offended by this ruling, but the heterosexual community as well. Consider this argument: “It is more important to promote stability, and to avoid instability, in opposite-sex than in same-sex relationships. Heterosexual intercourse has a natural tendency to lead to the birth of children; homosexual intercourse does not….[homosexuals] do not become parents as a result of accident or impulse. Thus…promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships will help children more.”

Got that? Two heterosexual people too irresponsible to avoid an unwanted or unanticipated pregnancy should be encouraged by the State to join into a permanent legal relationship – for the welfare of the child they didn’t plan to have – and same-sex couples should likewise be denied this legal recognition because “these couples can become parents by adoption, or by artificial insemination or other technical marvels,” and therefore are presumably more stable and do not need encouragement from the State.

“A person’s preference for the sort of sexual activity that cannot lead to the birth of children is relevant to the State’s interest in fostering relationships that will serve children best.”

Translation: people who can’t have children biologically shouldn’t get married because if they do, it wouldn’t be good for the children they can’t have.

“Intuition and experience” – those bedrocks of legal reasoning – “suggest that a child benefits from having before his or her eyes, every day, living models of what both a man and a woman are like.”

What is a man like? What is a woman like? Is there any way to answer that question, biology aside, without resorting to stereotypes? Furthermore, this reasoning implies that the Legislature's real imperative is to ban heterosexual single parents.

All of this, despite the fact that procreative intent and capability are not defining characteristics of civil marriage. (See Griswold, Turner, and Scalia’s dissent in Lawrence.)

The silliness goes on and on and on, and I encourage you to read it for yourself.

I also strongly encourage you, at the very least, to read Chief Judge Judy Kaye’s compelling and moving dissent in this ruling. “Marriage is about much more than producing children, yet same-sex couples are excluded from the entire spectrum of protections that come with civil marriage – purportedly to encourage other people to procreate.”

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Where's Waldo?

See if you can spot a familiar face! (Photo by The New York Times, accompanying article here; thanks to TinMan for pointing it out to me!) After work tonight, I and hundreds of other New Yorkers, including heterosexual families, politicians and members of the clergy, gathered in Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village, just a drag queen's throw from the historic Stonewall Inn where the movement began, to express our anger at the Court of Appeals' insulting, shameful, disgraceful ruling. It would have been enough for them to have said, "We hold that this decision should be made by the state legislature." I wouldn't have agreed, but I could see it as a reasonable outcome. Not content with that, however, they had to denigrate at length the dignity of families all across the state in brutal idiocy. I will have more to say after I have a chance to digest the details of the ruling further.

Also, if any concerns arise about the preceding post, honestly, I don't mean to insult Little Cicero. But seriously, read the decision. It sounds exactly as if he wrote it.


The New York State Court of Appeals, the state's highest judicial authority, today rejected arguments on behalf of same-sex marriage.

I am still reading the ruling, and will have more to say later. So far, I can only say it is one of the most outrageously blind, uninformed, idiotic things I have ever seen.

Little Cicero would love it.

UPDATE: The complete text of the ruling may be found here.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

There Goes the Last Lingering Thread of My Heterosexuality

It's a good thing I learned touch-typing in junior high, because I'm now blind.

[Warning: the following true story may be inappropriate for viewing by younger readers.]

So today on my way home from work, I get on the A train at Broadway-Nassau. Usually there are seats available, but they all get taken before we get to the next stop, Chambers Street. Today there were still seats.

A very, very obese woman wearing only a t-shirt -- not even shoes! -- gets on, and sits directly across from me and opens a large bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.

And I mean, ONLY a t-shirt. Helllp! She started up a conversation with a petite woman standing near her.

Big Lady: You work out a lot?

Small Lady: (politely, as if she didn't hear) Excuse me?

Big Lady: You exercise a lot? You so skinny.

Small Lady: Oh, well, thank you...actually, I just had a baby.

Big Lady: For reals? How much you weigh?

Small Lady: Uhhh...116?

Big Lady: How much weight did you gain with the baby?

Small Lady: Oh, about 35 pounds.

Big Lady: Wow. I gained 100 pounds. This is the fattest I've ever been.

Small Lady: (as we pull into West 4th) Okay, well, this is my stop.

Somehow I suspect it really wasn't her stop. West 4th is a busy station, so there was a pretty big shuffling and rearranging of passengers. Two stylish young Japanese tourist women end up next to me. Now, it's been many years since I had to use my Japanese, but I think I got the gist of the conversation.

Girl 1: Oh my God, don't look now, but I can totally see that woman's hoo-ha.

Girl 2: No way, which woman?

Girl 1: That big lady, right there.

Girl 2: Oh my God!

Girl 1: Right? Who leaves the house wearing a t-shirt and earrings, but no underpants?

Girl 2: Or shoes!

Girl 1: Why do I feel like I'm having a vision of Star Jones' future?

Girl 2: Oh my God, you are such a beyotch, that's hilarious.

Girl 1: And like, the best thing, is that we can totally sit here talking about her omanko, and no one here has any idea because we're speaking in Japanese!

Girl 2: Totally.

Monday, July 03, 2006

A Spirited Conversation

Recently I came across the phrase, “The Holy Spirit works in conversation.” I can’t remember exactly where I read or heard it, though I did search through the usual suspects (Slacktivist, Father Jake & Thunder Jones). I haven’t written anything but fluff on this blog in a while, but I’ve been having very serious conversations about faith on some other blogs, and I urge my readers who are interested in spiritual matters to check out the relevant posts on Glennalicious (here and here), Obliquity and At the Mountains of Madness.

As someone who is passionate about both a progressive political agenda and Christianity, and further as someone who sees that not as an oxymoronic condition but rather one of natural harmony, I realize that I’ve picked some tough battles and some worthy…well, I don’t want to use the word “adversaries,” but I face strong arguments from people on either side of my political/religious spectrum, not all of which I have good answers for.

I was very fortunate to be educated in a religious tradition that taught that starting off with “You’re going to Hell!” is not a great or remotely effective way to win people over to the faith. Likewise, it was a religious outlook that not only tolerated but encouraged as essential questioning and doubt. Hence, I have always aimed to teach people about Christianity not by criticizing them and threatening them with eternal torment, but by simply being the best person I can, educating them when appropriate about my beliefs, and contradicting misperceptions.

I think I’ve been fairly successful in this regard; none of my close friends in New York are religious, and my moderate attitude has earned me praise and respect from bloggers like Glenn and Spencer, neither of whom could exactly be called Jesus freaks.

One of those misperceptions is that Christianity is a conservative, oppressive, superstitious, vehemently anti-intellectual religion with a doctrine that conveniently manages to mirror exactly the Republican party platform. Of course, there’s good reason for nonreligious types to believe that Christianity is every bit that unpleasant and idiotic: the radical right has worked hard to encourage that perception.

While other churches are suing school districts to get Intelligent Design into the science curriculum, I attend a church which just elected a scientist (and a woman!) as its presiding bishop. Some Christians read Left Behind; I read When Bad Christians Happen to Good People.

I wholeheartedly believe that humility is an essential Christian virtue, and so while I frequently say I disagree with certain interpretations, I refrain from judging people as “wrong” unless I can point to something that is, actually, wrong. In that spirit, my personal goal with my religious writing on this blog is only to encourage understanding that Christianity is diverse. Usually my targets are evangelicals like the folks at the American Family Association, but sometimes I have to take on secular types, too.

Recently, over at TinManic, and again at Glennalicious, I had occasion to respond to comments from Homer. Now, I don’t know Homer, and commenters on his blog assure me that he’s a cool person, which I have no cause to dispute. However, the particular statements he made were generalizations that not only don’t apply even to a bare majority of people of faith (and among all the great faith traditions on the planet, he made zero attempt at distinction), they were factually incorrect. As a person of faith, I felt an obligation to respond.

Unfortunately, Homer has taken my responses as a personal attack, though I did not mean them as such. Well aware that the Gospel requires turning the other cheek, I felt I couldn’t let his statements go unanswered. I hope Homer will accept my genuine apology since he thought I meant to belittle him personally, but I also hope that in the future he will temper his statements with the recognition that there are very few generalizations that can be accurately made about a group as wildly diverse as the global faith community, and also that some of us are on his side.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Dating Advice from Glenn

Last night I met up with Glenn and some of his friends at Suite, the fabulous gay bar up near Columbia University.

Since Glenn is an experienced relationship guy and I am chronically single, he gave me some advice.

1: Don't say to guys you've just met, "I have two pussies."

2: Establish clearly on my blog that I have no aspirations whatsoever to turn into "Crazy Cat Lady." I am stopping at two.


Glenn also has written a fantastic meditation on faith and (self-) righteous indignation: "The opposite of faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is certainty."