Category Archives: Politics

Victory! Victory. Victory?

Chicago DOMA Ruling Rally

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8 are a big win, but we need to be careful not to trick ourselves into thinking that the war being waged against LGBT families is over. June 26th will be remembered as a turning point as long as we remember that no one has equality until we all have equality.

If you had asked me a month ago, I probably would have told you that I expected to be dancing in the streets when the Supreme Court handed down decisions in the marriage cases. I was confident that DOMA would be struck down and that marriages would begin again in California. And I’m extremely happy about those rulings, but I find it more difficult to generate that level of dancing in the street excitement.

I stayed up into the early hours of the morning on Election Day in 2008. I was absolutely convinced that Proposition 8 would be defeated in California. It would be a turning point! It would be the first time that voters defeated a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and I knew — absolutely knew — that California could do it. Would do it. I drank lots of tea, watched returns on tv, cried when Obama won, and waited.

Eventually, of course, it became clear that I was wrong. Prop 8 passed. I was stunned. I didn’t know how to react. Logically, I didn’t think I should feel so … defeated. I mean, I didn’t even live in California anymore. I lived in Massachusetts. I was already married. I can’t have been alone in that feeling, because I’m pretty sure that many of our marriage victories in the last few years are a direct result of the shock LGBT felt after losing on Prop 8.

Where are we left, though, after this week?

Well, some Americans are less equal than they were when the week began. By gutting the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court has diminished our democracy. Within hours of the decision, Texas began to implement an extremely restrictive voter id requirement. It’s going to mean that fewer citizens, fewer legitimate voters, will be able to vote. The most fundamental right we have in a democracy, and it is being stripped away.

In the marriage cases, the answer is less clear.  Some of us, those who live in states where we were already somewhat more equal, have become … even closer to equal. My family now enjoys the same legal protections as every other family, as long as we remain in a marriage equality state.

Immediately, or pretty close to immediately, we should begin to receive some pretty sizeable tax refunds from the federal government. We filed protective claims on our taxes back to 2008, the year we got married. That means that we should be able to receive refunds for the extra taxes we’ve paid in the last four years. Without getting too specific about our finances, that’s about $10,000 in total, mostly because I’m a stay-at-home dad and don’t have income, while my husband does.

For the future, it’s hard to say what the economic benefit is for us. It depends on when I return to the workforce and what kind of money I’m able to make when I do. It’s unlikely that it would have continued to cost us $2500 annually, because the number was going down each year. What this means in terms of social security is unclear, too, and will also depend on what the next thirty years holds for me in terms of a career. What is clear, though, is that the same rules will apply to us that apply to our neighbors. No more special rules just for us.

It looks like yesterday’s ruling may be most important for binational couples, since they were the ones at risk of not even being able to live with their spouses. For couples in equality states, and those with ready access to travel to an equality state to get a marriage license, it seems like this will be a real remedy. We need to make sure that the LGBT community creates a system to assist economically disadvantaged couples in non-equality states to access this remedy. The gap between deportation and a life together might be as small as two airline tickets and a marriage license fee.

We cannot allow ourselves to forget, for even a moment, issues like employment discrimination, economic justice, housing discrimination, violence, access to the full range of physical and mental health services. LGBT people are impacted disproportionately by disparities in those areas, and yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions do not provide a direct remedy for any of those painful, damaging injustices.

Some of you are rolling your eyes at me right now. It’s because I said “direct” remedy, implying that there is an indirect remedy of some kind to be found in yesterday’s ruling. I think there is, and it gives me enormous hope. I think (and Antonin Scalia agrees with me, so … yay?) that yesterday’s decision on equal protection grounds opens doors for an awful lot of equal protection claims to be made not only in marriage, but also in employment, in housing, and in health care.

Plenty of people do not believe in marriage. I think an admirable case for marriage as oppression can be made. (To summarize, but please go read it anyway: the fight for marriage equality draws money and attention away from other LGBT issues, and that marriage is primarily an economic tool that perpetuates capitalism, thereby disadvantaging those we claim it is helping.) It’s not that I disagree with those arguments. I don’t. I just think it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll see enormous structural changes made to any of those institutions in our lifetimes, and I think that seeking more justice within those systems is more likely to meet success.

But there’s another reason, too. I live in Massachusetts. I grew up in Massachusetts, just down the road from where I live now. But I left for a while. I went to college in upstate New York. I moved to California with my boyfriend. He graduated from boyfriend to partner and we moved across the country again, to New Jersey. I came back to Massachusetts and he became my husband.

I am not sure if I can even begin to explain the difference between the Massachusetts where I went to high school, ten years before marriage equality, and the Massachusetts where I live now with my husband and sons, ten years after marriage equality became a reality.

On the surface, it looks pretty much the same. My parents live on the same street, in the same house. Every morning, I drop my children off at school, and I drive down the same street that I drove down on the evening I came out to two of my closest friends.

But it’s not the same. Marriage equality is more subversive than it sounds. In small ways, my commingled sock drawer chips away at assumptions.

Ten years ago, reasonable people could oppose marriage equality in Massachusetts and remain reasonable people. In much of the United States, reasonable people can oppose marriage equality and remain reasonable people. But you can’t reasonably oppose civil equality in Massachusetts anymore. Declaring your opposition places you on the fringe. It makes you the bigot down the street. And most people don’t want to feel like bigots. They’re either forced to embrace their bigotry, and watch while people hurry their children away from them, or to change their minds. Or at least close their mouths.

I think you’ll like what the DOMA decision does for life in the United States.

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Some of My Best Friends Are Straight

There are plenty of days when the only gay person I talk to is my husband. On a day like today, when he’s out of town at a conference and I’m home with the kids, I don’t even get that. I’m relatively certain that I didn’t speak to any gay people today.

I dropped the kids off at school this morning, said good morning to some parents and some teachers. There’s a dad who is possibly gay, by which I mean that I get a vibe and have seen no evidence that he’s married to a woman. We see each other at both of my sons’ schools most mornings, but I didn’t run into him today. There’s a foster mom who I’m pretty sure is a lesbian, and if she has a foster child and if that child is in kindergarten, first, or second grade, we usually cross paths. I saw her car this morning, which has more bumper stickers than any other car in town. But I didn’t see her.

I took my sons to therapy this afternoon. They’re both straight women. One of them has a sister who is a lesbian, but it’s not like we’ve met. Does that count?

We had dinner with my parents. They’re straight, too.

It’s possible that the guy who made my coffee this morning is gay, or the woman at the drive-through pharmacy window.

Obviously, it’s also quite possible that any of these people I have assumed are straight, based on their marriages to people of the opposite sex, are bisexual.

When I was in school, I had lots of gay friends that I saw every day. When I had a job, I had plenty of gay coworkers that I saw every day.

Now, though? I live in the suburbs, in the Republican part of Massachusetts (that’s really a thing!), and I only see my gay friends on Facebook.

For gay men, Austin and I became parents extremely early. I’ll be thirty-five next month, and my sons are five and seven. Not a single one of my gay friends from high school or college is a parent yet. That will change next month, when a friend from high school and her wife are due to have a baby. Another friend from high school just announced that she’s expecting a baby later this year, too. I haven’t seen either of these women in seventeen years, though, and that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.

What I’m trying to say is that most of my interactions are with straight people. Strictly based on the numbers, it’s pretty likely that both of my children are straight, too.

And on 364 days out of 365, that’s fine.

But sometimes it’s exhausting.

Maybe it’s exhausting today because I’ve been by myself with the kids since Sunday afternoon, and I’m just exhausted.

Maybe it’s exhausting today because gay people were unceremoniously dropped from immigration reform, and it’s a vivid reminder that we really are second class citizens, begging for scraps from the table.

Maybe it’s exhausting today because I’m filled with anxiety waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on the marriage cases this summer. What if we lose? Prop 8 broke my heart on election day in 2008 because it seemed like that year we maybe had a chance to change the momentum. And this year has been going so well for marriage equality, but what if it’s all just leading up to an enormous, heart-breaking loss at the Supreme Court this summer?

Whichever of those straws broke this camel’s back, today I am tired of straight people.

Not some straight people, not just ignorant straight people or bigoted straight people. All straight people.

Because here’s the reality: we can never really be sure of you. Not all the way. Sometimes people who look like allies throw you under the bus. Maybe you believe in my equality, but only until it’s inconvenient. Maybe you think it’s kind of sort of understandable that gay people were dropped from the immigration bill, because isn’t it better for the greater good to be served?

Tomorrow, I’ll go back to liking you. Tomorrow, I will try to politely explain how what you said devalues gay people and assumes our lives don’t have quite the same value as yours. Tomorrow, I will pretend it’s not annoying when you ask a question about my wife. Ha ha, of course it’s not annoying, and of course you assumed that I married to a woman! Why would you have ever considered any other possibility?

But tonight? I’m tired of you.

I’m Sick of Hearing You’re Sick of Politics

voting day in a small town

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but there’s a presidential election tomorrow.

If you look at my twitter timeline or facebook feed, you might think that the worst thing a person could do, in advance of a presidential election, is to talk about politics. Apparently it’s boring, or they’ve heard it all before, or they just don’t care that much.

Well.

I wish that I had the option to put politics aside. I really do. I’d much rather read a new book or spend some time playing the new Assassin’s Creed game (it looks like fun, but I’m letting my husband finish it first) than read about what horrific things the Republicans have said and done today.

But the stakes are too high.

I wish that politics were an optional pastime in the United States. It would be great if it were something that only hardcore wonks talked about, because choices between political candidates were about complex, arcane economic policies. I wish that the implementation of something like quantitative easing was how elections were won and lost.

It’s not, though.

Instead, our elections are about basic values. They’re about my family’s basic right to exist. They’re about a woman’s right to choose. They’re about whether or not your neighbors get to enforce their religious strictures on you and your family.

Maybe those basic civil rights don’t feel like a big deal to you. Maybe they don’t have a big impact. Maybe you feel like your family is protected, regardless of who is elected to Congress or the White House.

I wish I had the luxury of being sick of politics.

I don’t, though. Instead, I wake up on a Sunday morning, and the first thing I do is read the poll numbers. It looks like marriage equality has a real chance in Maine and Washington. I’ll be ecstatic if it succeeds in either, and I’ll pretend that a failure doesn’t feel like a punch to the gut.

I joke about it with my husband, but when I walk by a house with Republican campaign signs in the yard, I wonder, “Do the people in that house hate me?” In my head, I’ve ranked them. When I see a Scott Brown sign, I’ve decided that the occupants are probably just ignorant of the dangers. They probably don’t hate me. A Mitt Romney sign? He’s been pretty clear about what he thinks about the rights of gay people, so those neighbors are more likely to hate me and my family. And when I see a sign for Sean Bielat? Then I know it’s someone to avoid.

Last December, Austin ended up in the hospital unexpectedly. It turned out that he needed to have his gall bladder removed. It was all pretty routine, but after the surgery, he had a fever and needed to stay in the hospital for a few extra days. We’d been supposed to take the kids to Disney World with my parents. Instead, we were hoping that his fever wouldn’t come back and he’d be able to come home.

What I can’t shake, though, is the what-if questions. What if he’d felt sick a few days later, when we were already in Florida? Here in Massachusetts, we’re married. Would a hospital in Florida have treated us the same? Under an executive order from President Obama, they have to. (Sort of. Mostly.) But executive orders are flimsy. They can just change. And you can be pretty sure that President Romney wouldn’t let an executive order granting hospital visitation to same sex couples stand.

That’s just one tiny thing, in a sea of others. Things that impact lives.

So I’m sorry that you’re sick of hearing about politics. I am, too, for different reasons.

But really? Too fucking bad.

Why Zach Wahls Is My Hero

If you’re the kind of person who reads my blog, you’ve probably already seen Zach Wahls’ fantastic speech at the DNC from last night. Just in case you haven’t, here’s the prepared remarks:

I’m a sixth-generation Iowan, an Eagle Scout, and I was raised by my two moms, Jackie and Terry.

People want to know what it’s like having lesbian parents. I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m awesome at putting the seat down. Otherwise, we’re like any other family. We eat dinner, we go to church, we have chores. But some people don’t see it that way. When I was 12, watching the 2004 Republican convention, I remember politicians talking about protecting marriage from families like mine.

Now, supporting a view of marriage as between a man and woman isn’t radical. For many people, it’s a matter of faith. We respect that. Watching that convention on TV, though, I felt confused, frustrated. Why didn’t they think my family was a real family?

Governor Romney says he’s against same-sex marriage because every child deserves a mother and a father. I think every child deserves a family as loving and committed as mine. Because the sense of family comes from the commitment we make to each other to work through the hard times so we can enjoy the good ones. It comes from the love that binds us; that’s what makes a family. Mr. Romney, my family is just as real as yours.

President Obama understands that. He supports my moms’ marriage. President Obama put his political future on the line to do what was right. Without his leadership, we wouldn’t be here. President Obama is fighting for our families — all of our families. He has our backs. We have his.

Now, there were plenty of positive mentions of marriage equality during the Democratic Convention. And that’s awesome. To me, it felt important. Having marriage equality included in the Democratic platform really makes me hopeful for our future. I can die a happy man if I never have to hear another anti-gay politician say, “My views on gay marriage are the same as President Obama’s.”

But Zach Wahls is doing something a little different.

Zach Wahls is advocating on behalf of my children. My sons are six and four. They’re far too young to advocate for themselves, so that task falls to Austin and me. And I think in general we do a pretty good job of it. But we sure don’t speak as eloquently as Zach Wahls, nor can we speak from the perspective of a child of gay parents.

When he spoke about being twelve and watching the 2004 Republican Convention, I felt a little knot in my stomach. My sons are young enough that they have never heard a negative comment about their family. They don’t know that some people don’t think we’re a family. They don’t know that some people believe their dads are harming them. They don’t know that some people hate Austin and I because we love each other.

But the day they learn that is getting closer, and it’s unavoidable. That’s why I’m so touched to see Zach Wahls speaking on behalf of his clearly amazing mothers, on behalf of his family, and on behalf of families that look like his.

Now, living in a house of four men, my sons are really unlikely to be as good at putting down the seat as Zach Wahls. But I would be very proud if they grew up to care about others and speak on behalf of those who cannot.

 

Why Blocking Chick-Fil-A Is Fine

Yesterday, James Peron wrote a thoughtful piece on the Huffington Post about shutting down Chick-Fil-A the right way. His basic argument is that the appropriate way to hit Chik-Fil-A is through boycotts, and that when people like Mayor Menino of Boston say they will try to block Chick-Fil-A’s expansion efforts, it smacks of First Amendment violations, threatens our freedom, and hurts everyone. His argument is solid, and you should really go read it. I’ll wait, and we can talk some more in the next paragraph, once you get back.

Ok, so now we’re all caught up, right? You’re probably feeling a little bad about having smiled when you read Menino’s letter now, since it tramples the Constitution and threatens the very foundation of our free society. But don’t worry, because I have some good news for you — it doesn’t.

What Peron’s piece (and everyone who is making a similar argument) seems to miss is that business deals are complicated things. It’s not like buying a house, where someone has a building to sell, you make an offer, you agree on a price, and suddenly there’s anti-gay chicken sandwiches being sold from the kitchen where your mom measured your growth on the door frame.

Opening a new business (or expanding an existing business) is a complicated negotiation, and it often requires buy-in from the larger community. And that buy-in is entirely optional. It’s up to a community to decide whether or not they want to help a business expand.

I’ll give you an example. I live in a moderately-sized suburb in southeastern Massachusetts, and we have a couple of large industrial parks here in town. On the whole, these office parks are a boon for the community. They pay taxes. They provide jobs. Pretty good jobs, even. They participate in the community.

A couple of years ago, one of those companies, a medical product supplier, wanted to expand. Expanding here in Massachusetts may not have been the most efficient way for them to expand. I’m sure that it’s cheaper to run a business in a state where the cost of living is lower, where there are fewer regulations, or where the taxes are lower. But they’re already here, so expanding in Massachusetts was an attractive idea, if they could make it work.

So this company came to the town and made some requests. The biggest thing they wanted was a pretty long term tax break. They made presentations, they talked to our selectmen (a town council, if that’s an unfamiliar term to people outside Massachusetts). Eventually, they hammered out a deal and brought it to the town meeting, presented it, and the people who live here in town voted on it.

If the business didn’t have a good reputation here in town, that negotiation could have gone sour at any number of points. The selectmen might have decided to oppose a deal, and that would have been the end of it. If they had, that would be ok. It wouldn’t be stifling free speech, it would be not going out of your way to help a business. Which, last I checked, isn’t in the Constitution. There’s no Amendment Nine and Three Quarters, where you have to run through the wall to help local businesses you don’t like.

And that’s the story with Mayor Menino and Chick-Fil-A. If Chick-Fil-A wants to lease a property, get the required permits, and open up their hateful little shop in Boston, there’s probably very little Tom Menino can do to stop it. But that’s not how business works. For Chick-Fil-A to open a new location in Boston, they’d probably need favors. They’d want permits expedited. They’d want an exemption from some sort of zoning regulation so that their big red ugly chicken sign could be lit up at all hours of the night. They’d want to be part of a job training initiative or something for hiring and training new workers.

At the end of the day, that’s all that Mayor Menino has done. He’s made it clear that he’s not going to do Chick-Fil-A any favors. He’s the mayor, not some sort of dictator. When he says that he’ll block Chick-Fil-A, he’s saying that he will not do any of the optional things he could do to help them open a Boston location.

And that’s just fine.

Andrew Sullivan Confuses Cowardice and Bravery

If you follow gay political news, you can’t have missed the story of the very short tenure of Richard Grenell as a spokesman for the Romney campaign. In brief — Romney announces gay spokesman, right-wing goes nuts, liberals go “hey look at all the hateful things this guy has said in public!”, new gay spokesman says literally nothing (on any topic!) for two weeks, new gay spokesman resigns.

Today, Andrew Sullivan writes about how hard it is to be a gay Republican:

It’s sometimes hard to explain to outsiders what level of principle is required to withstand the personal cost of being an out gay Republican. I’ve only ever been a gay conservative (never a Republican), and back in the 1990s, it was brutal living in the gay world and challenging liberal assumptions. I cannot imagine the social isolation of Grenell in Los Angeles today, doing what he did.

And his reward for such loyalty, sincerity and pugnacity? Vilification.

“Loyalty, sincerity, and pugnacity?” Really?

Sullivan, and most gay conservatives and/or Republicans, seem confused by the distinction between gay people and society as a whole. For example, although most gay people identify as liberal or as Democrats, our society is fairly evenly split. So while a gay Republican might feel ostracized by other gay people, they can take some comfort in knowing that about half of the country shares their political views.

But it’s the anti-gay (and usually anti-woman) views of these gay conservatives that is the most troubling. Grenell, for example, liked to tweet about how Rachel Maddow should wear a necklace, or how Callista Gingrich needs to learn her place.

These are not brave things to say. They are cowardly things to say. When you say that a lesbian woman looks like a man, you’re really saying, “I am insecure about my own gender presentation, and people who are closer to the middle of the spectrum than the ends make me feel even less secure about myself.” Talking about how much more manly you are than another gay man doesn’t make you brave. It makes you a sad, scared person who still struggles with his own internalized homophobia and lashes out at other gay men in order to feel better.

Maybe someday there will be a gay conservative who legitimately thinks that liberal financial policies are destructive, makes fact-based arguments, and fights within his own party for the dignity of all LGBT people. A person who makes a distinction between political policy and allowing people the right to live their own lives. That (still fictional!) person could be called loyal, sincere, and pugnacious.

The person Andrew Sullivan is describing? He’s just another anti-gay, anti-woman man who tries to hide his own insecurity by ingratiating himself to people who hate him.

Westward Ho, Gay Pioneer!

My junior year of high school, which feels like it was about a hundred years ago, there was an exchange student from Amsterdam at our school. She and I were friendly, but she really hit it off with my best friend. The two women have kept in touch ever since.

They don’t see each other often, but they get together whenever they’re both on the same continent. Last week they were able to introduce their spouses and children to each other and had a chance to catch up.

At some point, the conversation turned to people they knew in high school, and my friend mentioned that my husband and I have adopted two children. Our friend from Amsterdam smiled, and then stopped the conversation for a moment so she could explain the following to her husband:

“It’s noteworthy because in America, gay men do not often adopt children. It’s not like at home. Here, having adopted children makes Mark a civil rights pioneer.”

The story makes me laugh for a few reasons. First, that someone from Amsterdam might need to have it explained that gay people parent less frequently than straight people. Second, the idea that parenting could make me a pioneer when people have been parenting since the dawn of time. And third, because the whole process seemed so matter-of-fact!

When my husband and I applied to become adoptive parents, the woman I spoke to on the phone at the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families said something awkward. I can’t remember the exact words, but she said something about how different social workers have different levels of experience and comfort working with same-sex couples. It was, literally, the first and last time I heard anything like that during the whole process.

In our training class, three of the ten couples were same sex couples. We weren’t even the only gay male couple in the group. One of our social workers was a lesbian. The foster family that our sons lived with when we met them is a lesbian family. It was a complete non-issue every step of the way.

Still, it’s interesting to hear someone else’s perspective. Obviously, the Netherlands is light years ahead of the United States in terms of gay rights, and that translates to increased visibility of LGBT people, especially in urban areas like Amsterdam. But I’m not sure if gay rights in Massachusetts really lags so far behind in reality as it does on paper.

(And I soon as typed that sentence, I got mad at myself. It does lag behind, even in Massachusetts, because of federal law. One of my husband’s friends has spent the last five years terrified that his partner of nearly two decades will be deported back to Mexico. And I would be irresponsible if I didn’t say that federal laws like DOMA have a disproportionate impact on some families over others. As white people, with a husband who has a good job and a house in the suburbs, I’m able to feel like we have full equality much of the time.)

Well, I can at least say that social attitudes have changed more quickly than the law.

Lies Michele Bachmann Told Me

Usually, I do a pretty good job of not taking insane bigotry personally. You know, when some politician says that gay people are disordered or dysfunctional. I mean, I find it offensive, but my internal monologue says something more like, “What an idiot!” and less like, “I can’t believe he said that about me!”

Lately, Michele Bachmann is getting under my skin, though. Maybe it’s because she’s everywhere, or maybe I’m just having an off week. Maybe my normally automatic defenses are malfunctioning because I’m in shock that a candidate this ridiculous is getting so much mainstream attention.

So first, let’s recap just a few relevant pieces of Bachmann’s rhetoric. Back in 2004, at the National Education Leadership Conference, Bachmann said that being gay is “part of Satan.” Which is pretty extreme really. It puts her in pretty extreme company, with people like Fred Phelps and Sally Kern. And she doesn’t think that families like mine are families. We’re just a group that somehow formed a … group, I guess. Also, she’s pretty happy with the way “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has worked, so she would reinstate it if she were president.

But don’t get confused. We’re satanic, not families, and are a risk to the security of our nation’s armed forces, but Michele still loves us. Why, she “ascribes honor and dignity to every person, no matter their background.” Isn’t that nice? I’m a dignified sort of satanic.

Knowing all of this about Bachmann, it really made me scream last night when I read a Politico story about how she lied about going to a family reunion. I mean, she spends all this time talking about how God tells her how to live her life, and spends all this time saying how people who don’t live like she does are basically satanic, and she can’t even be bothered to stop making up lies about things that don’t even matter? I mean, come on.

My husband and my children may not be a family in Michele Bachmann’s eyes, but at least I teach my sons that lying is unacceptable. I consider that to be a family value.

Open Letter to Scott Brown

Sent this letter to our illustrious (cough, cough) senator today:

Senator Brown, I can’t begin to express how disappointed I am that you couldn’t be bothered to participate in the Massachusetts delegation’s “It Gets Better” video. The idea that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth ought not to kill themselves seems like something of universal appeal.

But then I did some research, and saw that not a single Republican elected official has appeared in an It Gets Better video. I thought you promised us that you would make decisions for yourself, but here you are, walking in lockstep with your party.

Massachusetts is better than this, Senator. You ought to be better than this. Stop playing politics. Start using your position of tremendous influence to make a difference in the lives of our young people.

You’re hoping to be re-elected, aren’t you? Represent the people of Massachusetts instead of the people of Minnesota’s sixth district!