The Tennessee hardware store owner who put up a “No Gays Allowed” sign on his store’s front door, says he did so “to let the homosexual people know that there are Christian people that are willing to take a stand.”
Believe me, homosexual people are fully aware that there exist Christian people who are willing to take a stand for exclusion, bigotry, and hate. That particular message from some Christian people receives no shortage of sunlight, and has been on display time and again as we homosexual people fought for our jobs, our homes, our relationships, our children, our dignity, and even, too often, our lives.
It’s a message we hear nearly every day from Christian people not just standing in pulpits and sitting in pews, but from Christian people running for president, serving as president, on the playground, sitting in legislatures, baking cakes, governing states, being interviewed on the nightly news, arranging flowers, passing constitutional amendments, serving pizzas, and now, even, from Christian people who just don’t even want to let us buy an Allen wrench. Because somehow selling us a tube of caulk is an affront to baby Jesus.
It’s a message that’s increasingly tone-deaf, mercifully, and more and more often offset by messages of love and understanding from other Christian people, but it’s not one every LGBT person doesn’t hear ringing in the recesses of their psyche every. single. day.
Apropos of my previous post, it is in Texas where we’re seeing most of these attempted recusals from official duties, and where the state’s attorney general has taken the position that “religious liberty” should be a shield for public servants refusing to serve same-sex couples in the conduct of official government business. Yet in 1983, the then-attorney general of Texas said that the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution would not allow a justice of the peace, who “is clothed with the State power” and “acts in the name and for the State,” to refuse to civilly marry an interracial couple.
“Once a justice of the peace undertakes to exercise the authority to marry people granted him by article 1.83 of the Family Code he may not, consistent with the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution, refuse to conduct a marriage ceremony for the reason that the parties are not of the same race.” https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/…/…/1983/htm/jm0001.htm
Why isn’t the current attorney general applying the same legal reasoning as his predecessor did, 30 years ago?
An increasing number of news reports that there are clerks’ offices that are refusing, citing religious grounds, to issue civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples has me boiling mad.
1. If you are a public servant, paid with taxpayer funds, you must serve all the public. You don’t get to pick and choose. Same-sex couples and LGBT individuals pay taxes, too. You work for them no more or less than you do for any other citizen in your community.
2. We’re talking about issuing a “civil” license (and in some cases, conducting a civil ceremony). There is no religious component to a marriage license or to a civil ceremony; in fact, the times I’ve been deputized as a deputy marriage commissioner in California, I’ve been instructed that as a temporary representative of the government I may not conduct a religious ceremony or use religious language. So there is no valid religious reason to refuse to grant a civil marriage license to someone.
3. Why do we never hear of clerks refusing to issue marriage licenses to the previously divorced, or to atheists, or to interfaith couples? (And why when a clerk in Louisiana tried to refuse to give an interracial couple a marriage license, citing her religious belief, did Gov. Jindal suggest that what she did was illegal and that she should be punished? The same Jindal who now says that clerks should not be punished for refusing to follow the law regarding same-sex couples’ rights?) Why do their “sincerely held religious beliefs” only come into play with the person walking into their government, taxpayer-funded office is gay? These are not principled Christians so much as they are bigots and hypocrites attempting to use religion to justify one particular prejudice above all others.
4. Why should public servants be able to keep their jobs when they say they will stop doing one of their major functions? In private industry, if an employee refuses to do his or her job, there are consequences, including no longer having that job.
5. One clerk in Arkansas has decided to resign rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She, at least, I applaud for doing the right thing (even as I still believe she is a hypocrite for never having refused to issue marriage licenses to other people that her religion surely considers to be sinners) when she realized she was not willing to do the job that the public pays her to do. I have no patience with or respect for the many others, though, who are not willing to resign, but who think that they should be able to refuse to serve one segment — and only one segment — of the public.
There should be no accommodation for public servants who are unwilling to serve all of the public. Asking someone to go to another county, or to a different office, or to come back on a different day when the non-bigoted clerk is on duty, is no different than asking someone to sit at a different lunch counter, drink from a separate water fountain, or move to the back of the bus, practices that once were justified, by some, as religiously motivated. Has history taught us nothing?
On a tangent to my previous post about whether today’s opinion requires clergy to marry same-sex couples (as I noted, it doesn’t), it’s been asked whether the ruling allows public officials (clerks, magistrates, etc.) to opt out of issuing marriage licenses or marrying same-sex couples, when that otherwise would be their responsibility, if they have religious objections to doing so.
This issue isn’t as clear cut, and it’s likely that the courts will have to settle it. Recently, North Carolina’s legislature passed a law specifically in this regard — and overriding the governor’s veto — allowing government officials to opt out of performing marriages or registering licenses for same-sex couples, as long as they opt out of doing so for any and all marriages and as long as there is someone available to ensure that a same-sex couple isn’t turned away. In New York a clerk refused to issue licenses to same-sex couples, and she was allowed to keep her job as long as there was a deputy clerk available to ensure same-sex couples weren’t turned away.
Some may feel that it’s a worthwhile accommodation, as long as the couple still can get a license, or still can find a government official to marry them. I strongly disagree. Personally, I think there should be no religious exemptions for public servants. Civil marriage is not a religious rite, and those who are paid by the public to serve the public should have to serve all the public. There’s just no religious justification, in my mind, that allows someone to refuse to issue a civil marriage license, especially when that person is working to uphold the law and on the taxpayer’s dime.
Letting a government official pick and choose whom they serve sends a government-endorsed message that some members of the public are more equal than others, that some citizens of the country are more worthy, that some people are unclean. We abolished separate lunch counters and drinking fountains; we shouldn’t institute separate clerk’s desks. That’s just not a message or a practice the government should endorse.
You’ll hear some people–some of them even candidates for the U.S. presidency–saying that today’s majority decision by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming a right to marry is a blow to religious liberty, asserting that religious organizations will be forced against their will to marry same-sex couples.
That is a lie. This decision is solely about civil marriage, and changes nothing for churches (or synagogues, mosques, etc.). The First Amendment continues to guarantee people the right to believe that marriage equality is a sin, and that LGBT people are going to hell. And the majority opinion even explicitly makes that clear. What the First Amendment does not allow is for some religious organizations to require that civil law comport with their religious beliefs.
Churches, synagogue, mosques routinely refuse to marry people for all kinds of reasons, and the law has never punished them for doing so, nor will it now. Some rabbis won’t marry interfaith couples. Many Catholic priests won’t marry the previously divorced. A southern church just within the last couple of years refused to marry an interracial couple. I have no problem with religious organizations and clergy making those decisions, nor does the law or the Constitution, and nothing changes in that regard today.
So please don’t believe the lie that marriage equality is a violation of religious liberty, or that the government will start putting clergy in jail if they won’t marry same-sex couples.
In my previous column I noted I was about to get married. I hope you’ll forgive my ongoing self-indulgence as I write about my nuptials once more. One’s own wedding, after all, doesn’t happen every day. Admittedly, given California’s rollercoaster history regarding marriage equality, some of us have been married multiple times to the same person. Jeff and I even had a post-Prop 8 commitment ceremony that we called a wedding, in defiance of the amendment’s unconstitutional claim that we weren’t legally entitled to the term.
But Jeff and I legally wed just once. At 2:00 p.m., Thursday, September 26 – three weeks ago today and four years to the day from that non-legal commitment ceremony – we made our vows to one another at San Francisco City Hall.
Originally, our congresswoman Jackie Speier was slated to officiate. However, due to the ongoing budget crisis in the federal government, the House of Representatives was called back from their recess originally scheduled for the week we were to marry, and Rep. Speier regretfully had to cancel.
With one week to go before the wedding, our very dear friends and my fellow Bay Times columnists John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney generously agreed to step in as co-officiants. Actually, knowing that John had officiated other weddings, and that he and Stuart were going to be there at our wedding – just as they’d been with us at City Hall after Judge Walker’s decision in August, 2010, when we hoped the stay would be lifted and we would be able to marry; on Valentine’s Day earlier this year when we spoke to a crowd at City Hall about the pain of still not being able to wed; and again at City Hall that joyful day this past June when we finally got our marriage license – we already had asked if he would be willing to officiate in the event the congresswoman were called back to D.C. We had planned to ask Stuart to be our witness.
When John and Stuart arrived at City Hall on the 26th, however, they surprised us by asking if we’d mind if they performed the wedding together. We were touched by the suggestion, thrilled by the possibility, and particularly moved by the symbolism of having these two men stand together to pronounce the words that would make Jeff and me husbands. Four years ago we knew John and Stuart largely only as fellow marriage equality activists, heroes of the California marriage equality movement, and plaintiffs in the court case that first established the freedom to marry in California and set the stage for our own wedding this year. In the intervening time, though, they’d become our mentors, our comrades-in-arms, and our brothers. John and Stuart brought a deeply personal touch to the ceremony, and Jeff and I consider ourselves to be so very fortunate that in the end our two friends were the ones facing us on the balcony at City Hall.
Two days later we hosted a reception at the Cliff House, the location of our 2009 commitment ceremony. Four years ago we’d been joined by about 65 friends and family members. Last month over 110 of our friends and family were present; there were several dozen more people, including at least a half-dozen more kids, who might have been there but for other commitments, distance, or last-minute illness. Four years ago, there was one teenager present and no younger children. Last month nearly a dozen infants, toddlers, and pre-teens, along with a couple of teenagers, attended our reception. Several of these children call us “Uncle Thom” and “Uncle Jeff,” even though we have no biological connection, just a loving one that recognizes family ties beyond those of blood.
We live in a world where love and legal marriage between two men or two women increasingly is not something to hide or to “protect” kids from, but rather something to celebrate, truly a family affair. We live in a world where these kids will grow up to be able to marry whomever they love, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Honestly, not too many years ago I would have said I wouldn’t expect to see that world in my lifetime. But at the Cliff House last month, I saw that it’s already arrived.
The increase in the number of people celebrating with us was due almost entirely to the new friends and allies we’ve made in the past four years through our marriage equality advocacy; we considered our reception, in fact, to be as much a day of celebration for the hard work of so many to return the freedom to marry to California as it was specifically for the two of us. To that end, we asked that in lieu of gifts attendees consider making a donation to Marriage Equality USA; I’m overwhelmed by our friends’ generosity and very proud to note that our equality registry to date has raised nearly $2,700 to help MEUSA in its efforts to win the freedom to marry for the 37 remaining states where couples like Jeff and me still are denied this important civil right.
That includes states like Virginia, my birthplace and my home for over 35 years. Jeff and I left Virginia for California, his home, in no small part due to the extreme homophobia of Virginia’s government and the absolute lack of any protections there for LGBT people in public accommodations, housing, employment, or relationship status.
It remains legal in Virginia to fire an employee, even a state government employee, to refuse service at your place of business, or to refuse to rent or sell a home, for no reason other than that you disapprove of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The current attorney general, once (though thankfully no longer) the front-runner to be the next governor, has called LGBT people “destructive” and “soulless,” while the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor has made homophobic comments that make “destructive” and “soulless” sound almost like compliments in comparison.
Still, things are getting better, even back there in the Commonwealth, if more slowly than we might wish.
Recent news that the legal team headed by David Boies and Ted Olson that defeated Prop 8 is now challenging Virginia’s refusal to treat loving gay couples as anything more than strangers under the law is particularly welcome and heartening. Someday Jeff and I may be able to visit my birth family – his in-laws – with pride and optimism rather than the worry and dread based on the state considering our marriage invalid that so often accompanies our visits back there now. Thousands of couples like us, we hope, will before long have their own relationships treated with the legal recognition that is their human and civil right.
It would be fitting, certainly, if the state that in Loving v. Virginia fought anti-miscegenation laws all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and lost, thereby resulting in bans on interracial marriage being overturned nationwide, were to provide same-sex couples our own version of Loving and the same end to all laws banning same-sex marriages. It’s long past time for the Commonwealth fully to live up to its motto, “Virginia is for lovers,” without the invisible disclaimer, “Void where gay.”
In the midst of the amazing joy of my wedding, I also need to take a moment to recognize one of my life’s sorrows. Ten years ago today, less than a month after his 65th birthday and just days after his 42nd wedding anniversary, my father died far too early from complications resulting from Guillain–Barré syndrome.
One week from today, I expect my life paradoxically to stay pretty much exactly the same, yet at the same time to change utterly, in ways I’m not sure I truly understand or even can fully imagine. I expect my life to change, though, because people whose opinions in such matters I trust, people who already have undertaken the step I’m about to take, keep telling me it will.
An edited version of this piece appeared in the August 22, 2013 edition of the SF Bay Times.
As though wedding planning weren’t stressful enough on its own, California couples making or reviving plans to marry this summer and beyond have been faced with the additional anxiety of wondering whether the issuance of marriage licenses might be halted and weddings once again put indefinitely on hold.
After nearly five soul-crushing years of waiting on the part of gay and lesbian Californians, their families, friends, and allies, the determination by the U.S. Supreme Court that the Prop 8 proponents did not have standing to repeal the district court’s ruling overturning Prop 8 on federal constitutional grounds rightly was celebrated as a victory for marriage equality in California. It had been a long, painful, ugly fight. But the highest court in the land had weighed in. Game over, man.
Not so fast, responded those who had led the fight against civil equality. Despite defeat after defeat in court after court, including the U.S. Supreme Court and, increasingly, the court of public opinion, as recently as last week the Prop 8 proponents still continued their Hail Mary attempts to stifle joy and quash dreams even as their legal options to strip loving, committed same-sex couples of their freedom to marry all but evaporated.