Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Know Thy History

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit that challenged Iowa's ban against gay marriage, react after hearing that after the Iowa Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage, Friday April 3, 2009 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit that challenged Iowa's ban against gay marriage, react after hearing that after the Iowa Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage, Friday April 3, 2009 in Des Moines, Iowa. Getty Images.

Gay marriage advocate Beth Robinson, center, holds back tears following the passage of a gay marriage bill in Montpelier, Vt. , Tuesday, April 7, 2009. Vermont has become the fourth state to legalize gay marriage. The state legislature voted Tuesday to override Gov. Jim Douglas' veto of a bill allowing gays and lesbians to marry. The vote was 23-5 to override in the state Senate and 100-49 to override in the House. Under Vermont law, two-thirds of each chamber had to vote for override. At left is Sherry Corbin and at right is Susan Murray.

Gay marriage advocate Beth Robinson, center, holds back tears following the passage of a gay marriage bill in Montpelier, Vt. , Tuesday, April 7, 2009. Vermont has become the fourth state to legalize gay marriage. The state legislature voted Tuesday to override Gov. Jim Douglas' veto of a bill allowing gays and lesbians to marry. The vote was 23-5 to override in the state Senate and 100-49 to override in the House. Under Vermont law, two-thirds of each chamber had to vote for override. At left is Sherry Corbin and at right is Susan Murray. Getty Images.

I'M RE-READING Randy Shilts' And The Band Played On right now and last night I got to the chapter entitled "Dancing In The Dark". It's opening section, which you can read in its entirety here, is a great reminder of where we've been. Here's a lengthy excerpt:

December 9, 1982
SAN FRANCISO CITY HALL

The reporters walked swiftly down the long, oak-paneled hallway leading into Mayor Diane Feinstein’s office. She had called the press conference today because once again the San Francisco Board of Supervisors had enacted a law that no other municipal governing body in the nation had even considered, and the mayor did not like it one it. At issue was Supervisor Harry Britt’s “domestic partners’ ordinance” more indelicately called the “live-in lovers’ law,” which recognized the legitimacy of unmarried relationships, most notably homosexual relationships. The law extended to domestic partners of city employees the same benefits as those granted to spouse of married employees. The ordinance also established a legal procedure through which unmarried couples could record their relationship with the city clerk’s office and gain some form of legal recognition for their partnership. Given the times, Britt had also rafted a clause that gave unmarried partners the same visitation rights as spouse in city hospitals and bereavement leave to attend a lover’s funeral. Mayor Feinstein had decided to veto the law.

“On a personal level, this legislation causes me deep personal anguish,” the mayor told the reporters. “I would like to be able to sign legislation that recognizes the needs of single persons, but such legislation must not divide our community.”

By “divide our community,” Feinstein was talking about the maelstrom that had enveloped the proposal in recent days. Just one day before, Roman Catholic Archbishop John Quinn made a rare foray into city politics by publicly prodding Feinstein too veto the law, saying that “to reduce the sacred covenant of marriage and family by inference or analogy to a ‘domestic partnership’ is offensive to reasonable persons and injurious to our legal, cultural, moral, and societal heritage.” Te proposal, Quinn said, was a “radical repudiation of fundamental values and institutions.”

Virtually every other religious leader had also lined up against the measure. The Episcopal bishop noted that “marriage as an institution has been under such heavy pressure,” while the Board of Rabbis of northern California also urged a veto, with the group’s president saying he would “look askance upon any legislation that would attempt to equate nonmarried adults, heterosexual or gay, to what our society deems as marriage between a man and a woman.” Speaking for the city’s black churches, the city’s most politically powerful black minister, the Reverend Amos Brown, cast the issue in racial terms when he insisted that, “We, as blacks, particularly, come out of the extended family. It’s the only way we’ve been able to make it.”

In her veto message, Feinstein talked about the bill being poorly drafted and not specific enough, but the real issue, everyone knew, was whether homosexual relationships would be granted the same legitimacy as heterosexual relationships. To Bill Kraus, who had begun engineering the ordinance’s passage before leaving Britt’s office to work for Congressman Phillip Burton, there was no other point to the measure. Its intent was to frame into law a basic tent of the gay liberation movement – that homosexuality as a life-style is equal to and on a par with heterosexuality. The veto, of course, was simply a reaffirmation of the fact that, as far as church and state were concerned, gay people had not yet achieved that equality; moreover, the veto underscored that the notion that homosexuals and their relationships should be granted such recognition was still repugnant to this society. Gay relationships were meant to be dirty secrets, and nothing more.

(…)

A prevailing morality that viewed homosexuals as promiscuous hedonists incapable of deep, sustaining relationships ensured that it would be impossible for homosexuals to legitimize whatever relationships they could forge. Prejudice has a way of fostering the very object of its hate.

In December 1982, at a time when gay people more than ever needed to be encouraged into relationships, they were told their partnerships were valueless by institutions that later scratched their heads and wondered why gays didn’t settle into couples when it was so clear their lives were at stake.

In the section, there's talk about speculation that Feinstein, who was pro-gay, vetoed the bill in order to lure the 1984 Democratic National Convention to San Francisco where she might have been named vice-presidential candidate. I found that an interesting piece of history, if true. Especially since Geraldine Ferraro ended up on the ballot. But even if not, it's clear religious institutions tied Feinstein's hands. Thus, her "personal anguish."

One doesn't have to be a fanatic to take action that kills people.

Iowa and Vermont make my heart sing. A unanimous court decision and a legislative override. All in a week.

This is some history.

1 comment:

em said...

This is some history, indeed. Craig, This post helped me to see my own history woven into the time period.
In 1983 we began a new youth program within the UMC in Wakefield. We were given free reign with respect to curriculum. We allowed the kids to direct the discussion and found they responded best to a well rounded christian education, including the study of other religions, secular as well as Christ's teaching.
Without an agenda we found the need to put together a class on human sexuality and Christianity, myths,and exploration of theory.
From my present viewing point, I am surprise we got away with what we did! This was a fairly large congregation and we ended up growing an ecumenical group.
This was the first time we were allowed to discuss mother nature with discernment and understanding. The young people were refreshing although I knew one of our young men, gay, had not come out to his own minister and felt trapped between his eagle scout label and feeling forced to hide his nature, which can be extremely harmful, as you know.
I had never taken the time to reflect on how the history we all lived through affected our spirits depending on our level of sensitivity to others.
Growing up, my family used to say about me that you could not count on my definition of beauty, that I could describe an new friend as beautiful and they would all say I was crazy, I thought there was something wrong with me, at the time.
I am moved to respond to this post further on our blog. This history has helped me understand why it is still hard to form new relationships, as a couple. I cannot imagine feeling what I felt as I read this post.
I think I felt it back then and it shaped our ministry.
Hope all is well


Yes We Can
:-)