The Final Verdict: Pt. II, Winners and Whiners Emerge from the Supreme Court

The Final Verdict2

By Walter Beck

This article is dedicated to Brother Tom Morgan and Bryon Fear

I was at work; on my first smoke break of the day, a lit Marlboro hanging from my lip and a Stephen King novel open in my hands when I felt my phone buzz. I looked down at the text message. It was from my lawyer buddy Todd, he said “WE WON—MARRIAGE EQUALITY REQUIRED FOR ALL 50 STATES!” It was 10:02 AM on June 26th.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court found in Obergefell v. Hodges that all states must recognize the legitimacy of marriage equality. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy said,

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embod­ies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people be­come something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be con­demned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civiliza­tion’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

The majority opinion of the Court found that denying the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” In terms of marriage and the Fourteenth Amendment, the majority wrote;

“Applying these established tenets, the Court has long held the right to marry is protected by the Constitution. In Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1, 12 (1967), which invali­dated bans on interracial unions, a unanimous Court held marriage is “one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” The Court reaffirmed that holding in Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U. S. 374, 384 (1978), which held the right to marry was bur­dened by a law prohibiting fathers who were behind on child support from marrying.”

But the most beautiful part of the majority opinion rested in its views of the concept of “traditional marriage”; the Court recognized that throughout history, the definition and meaning of marriage has changed, even in the United States. Justice Kennedy wrote in the opinion,

“The ancient origins of marriage confirm its centrality, but it has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society. The history of marriage is one of both conti­nuity and change. That institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time.”

Continuing, “These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution of marriage. Indeed, changed understand­ings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new genera­tions, often through perspectives that begin in pleas or protests and then are considered in the political sphere and the judicial process.”

That is the biggest blow to our opponents; the undeniable fact that marriage has grown, changed, and ultimately evolved as society does the same. And as the majority opinion points out, those changes have not lead to the complete dissolution of marriage within a society; rather they have added the bonds of many new couples, strengthening the institution.

Of course, being that this was not a unanimous ruling by the Court, the Justices who dissented had their opportunity to present their views as well.

Chief Justice Roberts, along with Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas, writes that fundamentally there is no Constitutional question at stake here. The United States Constitution does not address the issue of marriage equality and the question of it is beyond the Court’s authority,

“If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex mar­riage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the oppor­tunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”

With all due respect to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, that is 100% bullshit. Now, does the Constitution specifically address the issue of marriage in and of itself? No, it does not. But, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment was cited in the famous case Loving v. Virginia, which overturned the ban on interracial marriage in the US. And furthermore, writing for the majority in this case, Justice Kennedy cited the Loving case as precedent for where the Constitution has authority on questions of marriage.

Surely the Chief Justice knows that the Supreme Court looks to how they’ve ruled on previous cases for directives on how to apply the Constitution to a case in question.

The most damning dissent came from the Court’s most conservative member when it comes to the concept of LGBT rights, Justice Scalia. Like his fellow dissenters, Scalia sees the ruling as a dangerous overstep of judicial power. But rather than at least extending a bit of a congratulations to the happy couples, as his fellow dissenters did, Scalia goes straight for old school paranoia, intoning with doom;

“It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact—and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create ‘liberties’ that the Consti­tution and its Amendments neglect to mention. This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected commit­tee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extrav­agant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most im­portant liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.”

Furthermore, Scalia insults the integrity of the majority of the Court, accusing them of arrogance, closing his dissent with, “Hubris is sometimes defined as o’erweening pride; and pride, we know, goeth before a fall. The Judiciary is the ‘least dangerous’ of the federal branches because it has ‘neither Force nor Will, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm’ and the States, ‘even for the efficacy of its judgments.’ With each decision of ours that takes from the People a question properly left to them—with each decision that is unabash­edly based not on law, but on the ‘reasoned judgment’ of a bare majority of this Court—we move one step closer to being reminded of our impotence.”

Scalia has moved from the realm of simple conservative crankiness and straight on to the highway of pure tin-foil hat Alex Jones-style paranoia, echoing the worst of the crazy right with intonations of “judicial tyranny!” To me, that smells like a big fat case of “sore loser” on Scalia’s end. He is no fan of queer folks and when he cries and whines about the “voice of the people”, he’s only crying and whining because his side lost.

Regarding that whole “voice of the people” argument that the dissenting Justices made (they all made at least a courtesy note of it), what is the line? For example, the Supreme Court in the 1950’s struck down this country’s segregation laws, yet many of those laws were enacted by the “voice of the people”, either through popular vote or a state legislature. Would Scalia dare say that the “voice of the people” was ignored by an unelected court in that case? What about Roberts? Would he point to the lack of the Constitution’s mention of segregation laws as a reason to thumb his nose at those who wanted equal treatment?

I would like to say no, but since they’re trying to appease a conservative crowd, who the hell knows?

It boils down like this; yes, we have a democratically-based government where the votes of the people or the votes of their duly elected legislature matters, but you cannot put the rights of a minority to the votes of the people or the legislature. That is the very point of our Constitution, to guarantee rights for all citizens of this nation, be they in the majority or not.

Outside of the realm of the Supreme Court with both the majority striking down laws barring marriage equality and the dissenters tearing their legal hairs out over questions of judicial restraint, the views of the people were just as divided.

Of course the most important view is that of Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in this case. Jim’s husband Arthur died of ALS in 2013 and Jim was not recognized as his legal spouse on the death certificate in their home state of Ohio. Speaking to Katie Couric about his feelings when the majority of the Court ruled on marriage equality, Jim said, “It was an incredible experience to hear a Supreme Court justice talk about how my marriage, my relationship, how John and I matter. How we deserve respect and dignity and I started to feel a lot more like a full, equal American at that moment.”

Not everybody out there felt such love and dignity over the opinion. In the Deep South, there is rumors of side-stepping the Court’s ruling, with officials in Mississippi debating on whether or not they should stop issuing marriage licenses all together rather than having to issue them to gay and lesbian couples. In Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal said that until the Fifth Circuit Court issues their decision regarding marriage equality, he is not bound by the Supreme Court to recognize it in his state.

In both Mississippi and Louisiana, the officials cited “religious liberty” as their main reason to tell the Supreme Court to go fuck themselves, as did former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who earlier this week said, “I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”

The angry, desperate voices of these southern lawmakers reminds me of the same desperate anger that southerners had during the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s where governors and state legislatures insisted that their Bible-based views of segregation were beyond the reach of even the highest court in the land.

Note to Huckabee, Jindal, and Mississippi governor Phil Bryant, the southerners lost that argument too and you will ultimately lose this one.

Well brothers and sisters, this ultimately marks the end of one long and often ugly battle. We’ve gone from one state having marriage equality (Massachusetts, 2004) to now by the gavel of the Supreme Court having it all across America. Sure, some of our opponents are gonna stomp their feet and cry and whine to their constituents and sponsors, but they will lose. June 26th, 2015 was our day; two years to the date after Winsdor v. United States struck down part of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), we have done it, we have won this fight.

So tonight, break out a bottle of your favorite champagne and celebrate with a drink or two or three or another bottle. I have a magnum of my favorite, Barefoot Bubby Pink Moscato, chilling on ice next to my desk and as soon as this gibberish is finished, I’m gonna pop the cork and drink very deeply. We have more battles ahead of us, no doubt, but this is a time to celebrate, we have all earned it.

Speaking of champagne, I have one last thing to do before I close out this business, I need to go down to Walgreen’s and get a bottle of Cook’s Extra Dry California Champagne and send it to Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) with a note attached that reads “Well you lost. Good luck on finding a new job, you bastard.”

The Final Verdict (?): Part I, Court in Session

The Final Verdict I

Two years ago, I was standing outside the capitol building in Indianapolis as part of a nationwide solidarity demonstration as the Supreme Court heard the oral arguments in Windsor v. United States. We were having our day in court and seemed that before the summer was over, we would finally be finished with the question of marriage equality.

But it wasn’t to be; the Court ruled more narrowly in Windsor than anticipated and while they struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on Fifth Amendment grounds, under the Due Process Clause, they did not strike down state laws barring marriage equality, only holding that the Federal government must recognize marriage equality in those states that had it.

In his dissent, Justice Anthony Scalia spoke prophetically “As far as this Court is concerned, no one should be fooled; it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe.”

Fast forward two years to April 28th, 2015, the Supreme Court is once again taking up the issue of marriage equality in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. The question for the Court is whether or not a state may refuse to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple or whether or not a state can refuse to recognize such a marriage if it is performed in a state where such a marriage is recognized.

The legal strategy for this case is different than it was for Windsor, as Windsor argued on a strictly Federal level the primary Constitutional question was based around the Fifth Amendment and whether or not the Federal government denying recognition to a same-sex couple violated the Due Process Clause. Since Obergefell is based around states’ recognition or lack of recognition, the primary legal argument is based around the Fourteenth Amendment, specifically the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause.

Mary Bonauto, speaking on behalf of the Petitioners, didn’t waste any time in her opening argument before the Court in addressing the question of the Fourteenth Amendment;

“The intimate and committed relationships of same-sex couples, just like those of heterosexual couples, provide mutual support and are the foundation of family life in our society. If a legal commitment, responsibility and protection that is marriage is off limits to gay people as a class, the stain of unworthiness that follows on individuals and families contravenes the basic constitutional commitment to equal dignity.

Indeed, the abiding purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment is to preclude relegating classes of persons to second-tier status.”

The questioning by the Justices was divided about where it was expected; Chief Justice Roberts tried the old claim that what the Petitioners were seeking to do was “redefine” marriage. I suppose it never occurred to him that words grow and change as time passes, just like any other part of human society. Justice Scalia tried desperately to prove that gay marriage never existed in previous societies and of course, tried to raise old fears about “religious liberty”. Ms. Bonauto stood her ground on that point and assured the Justice that the First Amendment was still in effect in this country.

The more liberal side of the Court tried to show some sympathy with Ms. Bonauto’s arguments, Justice Sotomayer particularly asking as it related to the question of protected class status, how LGBT people were treated not only in this country, but around the world.

Justice Kennedy, a long time legal defender of LGBT rights, seemed a bit unsure in his line of questioning, realizing that approximately ten years had passed since Massachusetts had become the first state with marriage equality, roughly the same time frame between Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia, but still saying “it’s very difficult for the Court to say ‘Oh well, we know better’.”

John J. Bursch spoke for the Respondents in the case, his opening remarks to the Court seemed to be focused on who exactly gets to make the decision regarding marriage equality, speaking;

“This case isn’t about how to define marriage. It’s about who gets to decide that question. Is it the people acting through the democratic process or is it the Federal courts? And we’re asking you to affirm every individual’s fundamental liberty interest in deciding the meaning of marriage.”

Mr. Bursch’s argument shows a shift in tactics from what our opposition used to proclaim. Their arguments against us in terms of marriage usually revolved around some deep personal loathing they had for us, a deep loathing that was obvious to everyone, even if they tried to sugar coat in that stale old “love the sinner, hate the sin” bullshit.

But with the decline in the sway of the Religious Right, maybe they’re realizing that that tactic no longer pays the dividends that it once did, so they have to try another approach. In this case, they are trying to appeal to the value of democracy, stating “Hey, this is the way the people voted, you have to respect it!”

However, it seems some of the Justices didn’t fall for that, particularly Justice Breyer who lacerated Mr. Bursch’s arguments in matter of minutes, pointing out that many of the Jim Crow-era laws were passed by popular vote, that didn’t make them right or just.

Mr. Bursch tried another angle; this one almost as equally ridiculous, he tried to make the claim that the reason the state has an interest in restricting marriage to heterosexual couples was because the state has a compelling interest to protect the welfare of children. A weak argument and Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayer were quick on the attack, asking Mr. Bursch if he would ask couples seeking to marry if they intended to have children and asking him about elderly couples who get married well past the age of fertility.

In his closing arguments, Mr. Bursch tried desperately to maintain his original argument of democracy, claiming that the state has no hard feelings towards LGBT folks, it’s just that this is a question that the people should decide and to hell with the courts.

The case certainly ran hot and not just during the actual Court proceedings, in a rare instance, a protester interrupted the Court by shouting out “If you support gay marriage, you will burn in hell! It’s an abomination!” The protester was forcibly removed from the Courtroom.

But what will the final decision of the Justices be? Even with the transcript and audio of the proceedings, it’s very difficult to tell. Justices Sotomayer, Kagan, Ginsburg, and Breyer certainly seem to be on our side, Scalia stands in firm opposition as expected, Justice Thomas and Alito remained relatively silent during proceedings. Chief Justice Roberts could be a swing vote, but it’s doubtful, given his conservative leanings. The swing vote may come down to Justice Kennedy, who throughout the history of his time on the Court and as it relates to LGBT issues, has generally been on our side.

Perhaps the more important question shouldn’t be whether or not we win, but how narrowly we will win. Windsor was decided in our favor, but on pretty narrow grounds, granted, it opened the floodgates to states to recognize marriage equality, prior to Windsor only ten states had marriage equality, now thirty-seven states have it, many due to Federal circuit judges citing Windsor as precedent, but Windsor wasn’t the final decision. If the stars align and the gods are smiling, the fight over marriage ends here.

But what if it doesn’t end here? While many are looking to the Windsor case, we would be wise to also remember Hollingsworth v. Perry, the California Prop 8 Case. The Court ultimately decided that the parties didn’t have proper standing to warrant a decision by the Court and the case was remanded back to the Ninth Circuit with instructions to dismiss the appeal for lack of standing.

Granted, in that case, it worked out in our favor, but what if the Court reaches a similar decision here? Not granting a final ruling and simply punting back to the lower courts; it may put many gay and lesbian couples’ marriages at risk because the majority of states have attained marriage equality due to Federal Circuit Courts citing Windsor as precedent. If the Court rules to punt this case, we may be fighting this one fight for another few years.

The bottom line is the time for legal theory has come and gone, if the Court merely wanted to “uphold the will of the people” as Mr. Bursch asked them to do, they could have done that months ago by denying certiorari to the Petitioners. It would have taken only four justices to do that. Instead, the fate of hundreds of thousands of families now hangs in the balance, real flesh and blood families. Not only that, but in light of the Windsor ruling and subsequent lower Federal rulings, states around the country have adjusted their tax codes and paperwork to meet the courts’ decisions. To throw all that away and reverse the course would be disastrous, not only would the tax codes and paperwork have to be completely reset, but it would be the first time in recorded history that an entire class of people would have their families torn apart by a Supreme Court ruling. Such a disaster would be a giant shit stain on the Roberts Court and all the bleach of press releases and explanations couldn’t lift that stain a lick.

So what’s it gonna be your Honors? Are you gonna rule on the right side of history or are you going to piss all over the front of your robes in front of the whole damn country?

To be continued…

Transgender (In)Visibility: Ohio on the March

Transgender Invisibility

What if there was a party and nobody showed up? It certainly seemed like the mics, cameras, and headlines across the country were silent on March 31st; just another day passing, nothing special going on, no reason to unfurl the banners and dust off the song books.

For those of you who missed the memo, March 31st is International Transgender Day of Visibility, a time where our trans siblings around the world take the day and take the streets to hold their heads up high and kick out the jams.

Well it seems like every LGBT media outlet missed the memo, the event was held worldwide with marches reportedly taking place as far away as Ireland and Scotland, and there wasn’t single mention of the International Transgender Day of Visibility in any of the major American LGBT news outlets, there wasn’t a piece from the Huffington Post or LGBT Nation, not a word from the Advocate either.

That’s bullshit. There’s no nice way to put it, that’s bullshit. We’re supposed to be a community, united and strong, and here on an occasion where our trans siblings were putting on their marching boots, out on the streets, showing their neighborhoods, states, nations, and the world that they were here, they demanded to be heard, seen, and recognized, our major news outlets were silent. They turned their backs on their own siblings.

As far as myself goes, I was lighting a smoke when I got a message from H. Klote, the media person for GetEQUAL. She told me she had a story for me, but it wasn’t a local Indiana story. I told her that was fine, I covered whatever sounded interesting. She put me in contact with Zoë Lapin, an independent organizer who organized the march with strictly local sources, and told me that across the river in Cleveland, Ohio, the trans siblings were marching loud and proud.

Since I was unable to travel to Cleveland to witness this local march first hand, I got in contact with Zoë, who agreed to give me the ins and outs on this rally taking place in the heart of the Midwest.

****

Walter: Tell me a bit about this march and how it all came about. How you organized it strictly within your local community?

Zoë: The event came about primarily out of a lack of activity and awareness around the day of visibility, locally. The transgender community in Cleveland has been working tremendously to promote visibility, education, and outreach in the entire city but there was no focus on anything surrounding the day of visibility. Much like the original intention of the holiday, I felt it was extremely necessary to share the spirit of the day and join in solidarity within Cleveland and with the global trans community. I organized the event exclusively within the community because it has been the community putting in the work and reshaping the culture here. I reached out to Jacob Nash and Sue Doerfer, two community leaders whom I regularly work with in promotig efforts of trans equality and liberation. I asked them if anything was being done for visibility day and after learning there wasn’t, I simply decided to try to make it happen. Unfortunately, this was about 3 weeks ago (a valuable lesson for organizing next years event) but I took the task on with high ambition and a determination to make this event an example of solidarity, community, healing, and liberation.

Walter: You organized it in three weeks? That takes a lot of dedication, will power, and black coffee.

Zoë: Hahahaha yes.

Walter: How was the turnout? Do you have rough estimates?

Zoë: The turnout was pretty great, I felt! There were about 50 attendees, a diverse representation of identities, expressions, and all walks of life.

Walter: Fuckin’ A, I dig it! What were the events that happened during the march? Did you have any speakers or maybe a big group sing-along?

Zoë: The event consisted of speakers from members of the trans community and allies. Cleveland City Councilman Jeff Johnson was one of the first speakers giving a powerful testimony about his own path towards understanding trans people and becoming an (unexpected) ally. The speakers were of all perspectives-students, leaders, veterans, immigrants, parents, actors, organizational directors. We had 10 speakers altogether, along with ASL and Spanish interpreters. Speeches were all of promoting awareness, education, solidarity, and community-every narrative was just powerful. Hahaha about sing-alongs, the location of the event is actually in front of the justice center, at one point in the evening I wanted to “shake the walls” of the justice center by getting the audience to repeat “TRANS LIVES MATTER” as loud as possible. We also showed a message of healing by giving a joined “we love you” to the memories of the trans and gender non-conforming people whom have lost their lives-rather by another hand or their own. It was necessary to do I felt, especially when we had 3 trans women murdered in Cleveland in 1 year (2 actually in the same week), back in 2013.

Walter: You had a local city councilman speak at the event? That’s pretty major. I don’t know how things swing in Ohio, but here in Indiana, it would usually be pretty rare to get an elected official to speak at an LGBT related event.

Zoë: I’m honestly still in shock by it, there are a number of advocates for the community on the council and more and more are becoming public about their advocacy and support for trans rights.

Walter: It sounds like your event was a smash, especially given such a short organizing time frame. How was the local media coverage? I mean I’m a freelancer working for a national rag; did any of the local TV stations or newspapers pick up on your event?

Zoë: I reached out to the local media about the event but none of the media outlets were in attendance. I was able to utilize social networking, however, and that was essential in getting awareness out about the event.

Walter: Social media is a necessary item in the tool box of any activist, be they working grassroots independent or with a state or national organization.

Zoë: I completely agree.

Walter: Given the wide array of voices present in this event, especially in such a Midwestern spot as Cleveland, Ohio, does it give you hope in the future of the trans community and the movement? To bounce off that a bit, where do you see the future of the movement? It seems that nationwide, much is still needed to be done to lift up our trans siblings.

Zoë: Absolutely! Much needs to be done, on all levels. I hope that more and more grassroots organizing efforts happen at the local level and that they are getting adequate support from national organizations. I think that national organizations are going to reach out more and more into the community and diversifying their leadership. I think the movement as a whole, will be one of complete solidarity, in which the issues are addressed with intersectionality, accountability, and full representation.

Walter: Well I don’t think I could put it any more succinctly. Any final words of wisdom for the readers?

Zoë: Yes, if you want to promote inclusion, you have to internalize inclusion. When you are speaking out for liberation, equality, and visibility-you need to represent those things. Intersectionality isn’t just another word; it’s a direction-a direction that we always need to be aware of, in any effort. You have to be willing and ready to reach out, you have to not only hold others accountable, but hold yourself accountable-and be willing to be held accountable.

****

Despite the fact that Zoë was organizing a rally of visibility, the rest of the queer press didn’t give a damn, they were apparently too occupied with toasting to the marriage victories across the country; meanwhile our trans siblings are still taking way more shit than any human being should. Brother Gavin out in Arizona said it best in a rant posted earlier;

“I know folks who still can’t take a piss without freaking out, myself included, because the education isn’t out there. I know people who live in states where they can be canned for being who they are.”

Step up your game, LGBT news media, don’t ignore our trans brothers and sisters. They deserve better than that and if you call yourselves queer journalists, you will do better.

I would like to applaud Zoë, lack of press coverage be damned, she organized her locals, went out there and was heard by all willing to listen, even a grungy looking unshaved underground journalist.

Hollow Victory: Damage Control and the Continuing Fight Against the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Hollow Victory

Well I think my governor may have grown tired of being a national punchline for the last week. After the protests, the boycotts, and the potential loss of millions of dollars in state revenue from conventions, concerts, and job opportunities, Governor Pence signed an amendment to SB 101, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”, which is designed to clarify the bill. The amendment, passed by the statehouse and signed by the governor on April 2nd, reads as follows:

“This chapter does not: (1) authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or United States military services; (2) establish a defense to a civil action or criminal prosecution for refusal by a provider to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military Service.”

Governor Pence certainly seemed happy with himself, in a press release issued shortly after signing the amendment, he said, “Now that this is behind us, let’s move forward together with a renewed commitment to the civility and respect that make this state great.”

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma likewise patted himself on the back, saying “We’re here to announce that it’s fixed.”

But not all of Pence’s cronies were happy, Micah Clark, head of the American Family Association of Indiana, said “Our legal advisors tell us that it actually changes our law in a way that could now erode religious freedom across Indiana.”

Clark’s statement is very telling about the original intention of the bill. Even though Governor Pence and his posse in the statehouse swore up and down that this bill had absolutely nothing to with discrimination against LGBT folks, Clark is insisting that this amendment essentially guts the bill, rendering it useless for its intended purposes. Do you have a bit of a wild card in your stacked deck, Governor? Did Clark state the truth against your better judgment?

The response from our allies has been mixed as well. Noted actor and LGBT advocate George Takei was quick to claim victory, writing on his Facebook page “I am very happy to replace ‪#‎BoycottIndiana with ‪#‎IndianaForAll, with the hope that Hoosier hospitality once again can flourish. This has been a difficult and soul-searching week for many on both sides. But from here we move forward, together, towards an inclusive society where religious beliefs and individual civil rights can exist in harmony, side by side. This is a great day for Indiana, and for the entire nation.”

But Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff didn’t appear to be so fast on going back on his promise to reduce his business in Indiana due to the law. In an interview on CNN, he told the reporter that he was looking to help employees move out of the state, saying “I just got an email on the way to studio from another employee who said, ‘look I don’t feel comfortable living in this state anymore, you have to move me out,’ and I gave him a $50,000 relocation package and said, ‘great, you’re clear to go.’”

So is this amendment the fix we needed? Does it put an end to the fight here in Indiana?

Nope; first off, while the new amendment does offer a first in Indiana history, the first time LGBT people received civil rights protection on a state level, it applies exclusively and only to this bill, only to SB 101. There are still no state-wide civil rights protections for LGBT folks on a general level.

Furthermore, while it appears to limit the potential damage, it’s not as all-encompassing as it might seem. Look at another part of the governor’s press statement issued shortly after signing the amendment, “The law also enhances protection in religious liberty cases for groups of individuals and businesses in conscience decisions that do not involve provision of goods and services, employment and housing” [bolding done by the journalist]. What does that mean? What else does a business potentially cover outside of the provision of goods and services and employment? I think there’s still something extremely fishy there.

The biggest thing with this “fix” is that if it is a victory, it feels like a hollow victory to me. It feels like a cheap shuck carnival trick, a bit of political maneuvering, nothing more. We had Governor Pence on the run, he was cancelling appearances all this week, seemingly locked in his office, pulling out his hair, screeching “Holy shit, what have I done?!” It has been rumored that Pence has his eye on the White House and it felt like we had dashed those hopes for him, crippling his political career once and for all.

And now, with a quickly signed amendment and a press conference, it seems like Pence is breathing easy for the first time in a week. He thinks the media circus is over and picketers will pack up their signs, banners, and flags and go back about their business. He thinks the newspapers and television stations will quit sticking a notebook or microphone in his face, demanding to know just what the hell he was thinking.

We could give him that. We could count this as a victory, be grateful we got the half a loaf that we did and move on. But I think that would be a fatal mistake on our part.

Look, we got the amendment to explicitly add sexual orientation and gender identity under the protected classes and it’s great that we were able to do that. But why stop there? Why just be happy that our equality applies only to this bill and not to state law as a whole? Why be happy with a little PR victory and the fact that we got Micah Clark to gnash his teeth in public when he felt he lost?

Our foot is in the door and now the ball is in our court, what are you gonna do, brothers and sisters? Are you just gonna be happy with what you got and have a cocktail over it? Or are you gonna say, “You know what? Fuck half the loaf, we’ve been getting that for too long, it’s time we got a whole loaf for once, goddamn it!”

The national press can move on to another story and the Gay Inc. groups that leeched themselves onto this cause can put out their press releases and raise a glass of champagne to their “victory” in Indiana. But this is one journalist that ain’t moving an inch, this is my home, I got my foot in the door and now I’m gonna push the door wide open.

Who amongst you is gonna stand alongside me? Who else is gonna demand nothing short of full equality in the state of Indiana and the total dismantling of RFRA?

Stand up and be counted, brothers and sisters, Indiana still needs you.

Hoosier Hospitality: Notes from the Anti-RFRA Rally in Indianapolis, IN

Hoosier Hospitality

My governor, Mike Pence, managed to make our state the laughing stock of the whole damn country earlier this week when he signed SB 101, the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Celebrities and companies quickly managed to make their outrage known with calls to boycott the state and calls to remove Governor Pence from office. My Facebook wall and messages began to run hotter than hell by Thursday afternoon, mere hours after Pence signed the bill.

I had heard there was a demonstration going on downtown on Saturday at the statehouse through some activist friends and immediately made plans to attend. The first order of business was to hook a ride, then get the signs and Colors ready. Getting a ride was no problem, I called my buddy Dave who had stood the line with me when we protested against Westboro Baptist Church when they came to our fair city on the occasion of the Super Bowl (I guess God hates the NFL?). He was anxious to get on the lines again and we immediately set up a 10:30 AM rendezvous on Saturday morning to go into it and kick ass.

Unfortunately, when I called Dave as I was driving home from work on Friday, he sounded sick and was out for the weekend. It took some scrambling on my end and a few panicked phone calls, but finally I contacted Kathleen, a fellow worker from the Indiana IWW. I knew she would be going to the rally. She agreed to pick me up at 11:15 in the morning after she finished up some union business down in Bloomington.

I got up around 9:00 AM and turned on the coffee maker. After about an hour, I called Kathleen to make sure things were still on. She assured me they were, but she was running just a wee bit behind. I said that was no problem, we would still have plenty of time.

She was running a bit more behind than planned; we finally hit the road to Indianapolis at 12:30. She apologized profusely, but I assured her it was alright. We would be cutting it razor’s edge close and unfortunately for my friends who wanted to tag along they would be on their own. We lit a cigarette and sped off.

We hit the picket sight at around 1:15, we missed the opening blast; apparently the Indianapolis Gay Men’s Choir came out and sang some songs. But that was it as far as what we missed.

We hooked up with Sebastian, Cassius, and Millie. I gave them picket signs to hold as they requested. I tied my flag around me cape-style and then called Brother Tom from Ohio. He said he was gonna be there and wanted to meet up. I told him I was by the big statue with the guys. Soon he sauntered up, holding his GetEQUAL clipboard. We had known each for years online through mutual friends in the activist community and now we were meeting in the flesh on a picket line. Christ, how much more poetic can you get?

We were at the back edge of the crowd and couldn’t hear a thing; Tom said he knew a way to get closer so we followed him to a spot in the thick of the crowd. Unfortunately, we still couldn’t hear anything; the sound system wasn’t powerful enough to carry the calls for revolution through the crowd.

And Jesus, what a crowd! I’ve been doing queer related pickets throughout the state for the last twelve years and I had never seen anything like it. Here in Indiana, if you get a couple hundred folks, it’s a big event. There was probably 2,000 Hoosiers standing on the statehouse lawn, waving signs, waving flags, united in the voice that our governor sucked and this “religious freedom” bill was a load of bigoted horseshit.

It wasn’t just the size of the crowd, it was the mix; there were mothers, fathers, little children, there were stone obvious street activists like Tom and I, there were college students getting their first taste of action, there were atheists and preachers (one group held up the flag of the Episcopal Church, the local diocese had just issued a press statement against the bill). It was beautiful, a wide mix of folks who wanted to show the state and the country that the bill was a complete affront to the Hoosier Hospitality our state was famous for.

Bad sound system or not, the crowd roared, cheered, sang, and chanted. I continued to run into old friends on the picket line, college buddies, fellow union members, comrades in the Socialist Party, I even ran into Suley, an old counselor friend from the Krietenstein days. It was great to see so many buddies out on the line to stand up for equality in our home state.

The rally came to an end shortly before 3:00 with a call to keep up the fight and meet up again on Monday for another action. The news cameras got their footage and the newspapers got their photos, the message was clear, we weren’t gonna let Governor Pence get away with this bullshit without a fight.

One thing that really struck me about the rally was the lack of a counter-demonstration. If you listened to Governor Pence and his cronies, it was only a small minority that was against the bill, most people supported it. Well gee, if the RFRA had such broad support, I didn’t see it anywhere on the lawn of the statehouse that Saturday afternoon. There was supposedly one guy standing off to the side holding a sign against us, but I didn’t see him.

After the rally fizzled out, with a few stragglers still singing some songs and jawjacking about the next event; my group agreed that we needed to get some lunch. Tom said he would give me a ride home since Kathleen had to get on to Terre Haute to hash out some union related business. I waved bye to Kathleen, then myself, Tom, Tiffani, Sebastian, Cassius, and Millie walked off to get some chow.

On the way to Tom’s car to drop off the picket signs, this lady came up to us and asked if there were any signs laying around. She was with the Indianapolis Public Library and wanted some signs for a display to mark the event. We directed her towards the statehouse lawns where there were still a few stragglers, but before she left, I gave her one of my signs for her display.

We ended up at this joint called Sahm’s (pronounced “psalms”) just a block from the hotel Tiffani was staying at. We managed to find a table big enough for our group and then sat down. The waiter came around for drink orders and while everyone else stayed dry, ordering Cokes and tea, I ordered a shot of Wild Turkey. The rally was finished and the stress was starting to seep out of my head, a shot of bourbon would be the perfect toast.

Sandwiches soon arrived and we spent the next hour or so gorging ourselves and telling war stories from work and picket lines. I suppose to some it may have seemed like we were agitated, but it was a table of six militant queers, unwinding from a demonstration and letting their hair down.

After lunch, Sebastian, Cassius, and Millie went to their car to drive home and I went with Tom and Tiffani to get a ride back to Avon. On the way, Tiffani got a phone call from another coordinator in GetEQUAL. I didn’t catch the whole bit, but from the tone of it, it sounded like Tiffani was pleased with how the demonstration went. I smiled a bit inwardly, feeling pretty proud that my home state’s action against bigotry would impress somebody from Texas.

Tom and Tiffani hugged me goodbye and got on the road at around 6:00. It had been a long day and I needed desperately to unwind. My brother knocked on my door, brandishing two bottles of Thunderbird wine. We gorged on the gutter hooch and I passed out shortly before midnight.

I woke up the next morning nursing a wino headache and ABC’s This Week on the TV. George Stephanopoulos was interviewing none other than Governor Mike Pence. Pence was supposedly on the show to “clarify” SB 101, instead he ended up making a total ass out of himself on national television. Stephanopoulos asked him point blank if the law was discriminatory, if the law was designed to be used against LGBT folks and Pence kept giving him the run-around. Stephanopoulos grew increasingly flustered and said straight-up “Governor, it’s a yes or no question.” Pence still gave him the exact same run-around, accusing opponents of the bill of misreading it, of not understanding it. If Pence wanted to clarify the bill, he did a piss-poor job of it and left George Stephanopoulos even more confused.

The appearance on This Week wasn’t the only media clusterfuck the Governor caused that weekend; he was interviewed by the Indianapolis Star on Saturday and with several thousand people standing right outside the statehouse, he said he didn’t anticipate the backlash of the bill. Well gee, Governor, you signed a piece of legislation that opens the door to discrimination hardly a year after a proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality in Indiana (an amendment you supported) failed in the statehouse. You and your supporters have been looking for revenge against LGBT Hoosiers and you wonder why everybody’s so upset with you?

I love Indiana, I grew up here, my friends and family are here, my life is here; I’m proud that my state had a reputation for hospitality. Unfortunately, my governor unzipped his fly and took a long steaming piss on the legendary reputation of Hoosier Hospitality. Thanks a lot, Governor Pence; you turned our state into the laughing stock of the country.

An Open Letter to Conservative Christians

Open Letter
Walter Beck
Picket Lines
Drag Bars
Queer USA

March 18, 2015

The Family Research Council
American Family Association
National Organization for Marriage
Bryan Fischer
Scott Lively
Tony Perkins

Dear Conservative Christians,

I am a young American queer activist and I have been on the front lines since I was a teenager. It’s been a long, thrilling twelve years in the trenches. And of course, you gentlemen and your constituents have been my opponents throughout this time. As you are well aware, the Supreme Court is set to rule on the marriage issue in June and the smart money says that the ruling will go our way; which is why I’m writing to you.

You have no doubt been thrown into a panic by the slew of legal rulings in our favor and the changing cultural dynamic. And believe me, on a certain level, I sympathize with you, you gentlemen have been power brokers in American politics for the last thirty years and it can be hard to give up that sort of power without a fight.

So in a last ditch effort to maintain a semblance of control and power, you have been sponsoring, calling for, and lobbying for so-called “religious freedom” bills in various states throughout the country, claiming these bills are necessary because you have been viciously persecuted by us queer folks. To double down on the PR panic spin, many of these bills have been rushed through as “emergency” legislature.

Well, we have spent the past decade or so trying to play diplomatically with you gentlemen, trying to allay the public of all the fears you pump into them. We have maintained a strictly squeaky-clean, non-aggressive image, even shunning some of the more radical elements of our community in a vain attempt to maybe convince you to tone it down on the paranoia.

Our efforts have failed on that level and this is one queer activist who’s taking the gloves off and is done lathering on the soft soap with you bastards. You continue to speak of us in the most degrading language imaginable, comparing us to people who practice necrophilia and bestiality; you continue to compare us to child molesters, reiterating long debunked claims of “recruitment”; and a few of you have openly compared us to Nazis, trying to blame us for the Holocaust, one of the most horrific events in human history.

And now you’re the ones who want to claim that you’re “persecuted”, yeah well, listen up, cupcake, you self-righteous hateful bastards don’t know the first goddamn thing about persecution! You don’t. Who do you drudge up to offer proof of such persecution? A few local businesses that were found guilty of violating civil rights laws? A couple of reality TV stars who got put through the media shredder for speaking bigotry? That’s all you have? Please! Those who were so “persecuted” seem to be making a pretty decent living on the conservative speaker circuit, raking in thousands of dollars in speaker fees, and getting more free publicity than they could have ever dreamed of; seems to me like “persecution” was the best thing that ever happened to them.

You assholes wanna know about persecution? While that phony redneck Phil Robertson was whining to Fox News about how persecuted he was for comparing us gay folks to people who practice bestiality, I was reading obituaries and articles about young brothers and sisters such as Leelah Alcorn, Zander Mahaffey, and Ash Haffner who were murdered by society because they felt they weren’t loved enough, that nobody cared if they lived, died, or grew mushrooms in their crack.

Those young brothers and sisters certainly weren’t the first that we had to bury way too soon, we’ve also had to lay to rest brothers and sisters such as Tyler Clementi, Ryan Halligan, and Jamie Hubley. In the aftermath of tragedy, we tried to make things better by urging states to pass stricter anti-bullying laws and what did you do? Hmm? You tried to eviscerate such laws by making sure there were “religious protections” in them. Yep, that’s exactly what you did. Before these young brothers and sisters were even cold in the ground, you were testifying before state legislators claiming that if a student beats one of our young brothers or sisters in the face with a Bible, that it should be excepted from such anti-bullying laws. That’s right; you went out of your way to protect the bully.

And it ain’t just in the legal realm that you have pissed on the graves of our fallen brothers and sisters, your shock troops, your street preachers seem to delight in the death of another one of ours. I remember when I was a student at Indiana State University and we were holding a candlelight vigil for the fallen, there was a street preacher by the name of Brother Larry who just had to come to the event, waiving his Bible and yelling his bigoted rhetoric. I’ve seen similar reports about other street preachers doing the same thing. Hmm, seems like there’s not much difference between you guys and the Westboro Baptist Church, does it? You can’t even let us mourn and bury our dead in peace.

But it’s more than death, isn’t it? You go out of your way to make our lives a living hell even as we walk the streets. Your politicians that you bought and paid for will whine into the nearest microphone about it’s “a hostile environment for people of faith” out there, but let’s cut the shit, alright? It’s still a hostile environment for us and it’s one that you created. You got a story for me about a kid who was kicked out of his home because he told his parents that he was a Christian? You got a story for me about an employee who was fired because her co-workers found out that she went to church on Sunday? You got a story for me about a state where Christians can’t get legally married simply because they’re Christians? Hmm? You got any of that for me? Nope, I didn’t fucking think so.

The old die-hards of your movement may fall for this phony PR spun “persecution” bullshit that you gentlemen are slinging, but the American public isn’t. The raw, naked truth is out and open for anyone to see, you’ve been kicking us in the groin for the last fifty years and you’re trying desperately to get a few more shots in before you’re shuffled off to the graveyard of American politics. Our bloody and bruised bodies have fought too long and too hard to let you get away with it anymore.

But you know what I think really burns you guys up? It’s all the battles you’ve lost over the last decade. The hundreds of thousands of us that you didn’t get to see in the grave or in the hospital. We repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, even though you howled at the top of your lungs about how it would “destroy” the military. Shit, guess what? That didn’t happen. Our military is doing just fine and now our service men and women can march without fear or shame. No more will they face the hell of denying themselves to serve their country. And while we still don’t have marriage equality on a national level, Federal judge after Federal judge has thrown out various state statutes and state constitutional amendments, doubling the number of states with marriage equality over the last year from 18 to 36 (and more states added all the time); we now have happy couples in over half the country raising families, just as happy as clams in high tide. Oh man, that just has to fry you, doesn’t it? All those gay and lesbian couples raising kids and being all-American families. I know, you swore up and down that “God’s wrath” would be upon this country if we were allowed to get married. Well gee fellas, we’ve had marriage equality in some parts of the country for over a decade and I ain’t seeing any plagues yet. As Tom Waits once said, is God away on business? Or maybe God decided you guys were full of shit from the get-go and doesn’t really mind that we’re becoming more free and happy with every passing day. Maybe God saw you for the con artists and hucksters you really are. Ever think about that?

Welcome to the end game, gentlemen. It’s D-Day, the writing’s on the wall. As the Good Doctor once said “the fat is in the fire”.

I’ll see you on the last front of your culture war,

-Walter Beck

The Pink Panthers Movement

Guerrilla Warfare: The Splintering of the Fight for Equality

Guerrilla Warfare
“Strength and muscle and jungle work…” –Warren Zevon

We’re coming up to a crossroads on the equality front, brothers and sisters, and I don’t think we’re quite ready for what’s ahead of us. For nearly the last decade, we’ve depended on a united national front to secure marriage rights for all across the nation and very soon, I believe we will reap the rewards of that long hard battle when the Supreme Court bangs the gavel in June. I’ll write about that when the time comes.

It’s not just on the marriage front; we also depended on national organization when it came to the repeal of DADT and the seemingly endless fight to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (the battle still rages). We’ve learned to unite as one and so far, it’s paid off pretty well, even if some of the best street fighters don’t always get their due.

While we’ve been reaping the rewards of a united movement, the backlash has begun to hit us. It started in Arizona, with the attempts to pass bills barring trans folks from using public restrooms (failed) and an attempt to pass a “religious freedom” bill which would allow folks to dodge anti-discrimination laws by claiming a “sincerely held religious belief” (also failed).

Many of us, me included, thought that was the end of it, Arizona is one of the most conservative states in the country and if they couldn’t get such bills passed, no state could. They tried a state approach and it failed, the battle was over, chalk another one up to our side.

But other states are more hard-headed than Arizona, in the year since Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the Religious Freedom Bill, other states have taken up similar bills though few of them have succeeded.

In North Carolina, Senate Bill 2 would allow magistrates to opt out of issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples if the magistrate had a “sincere religious belief” objecting to such licenses. The bill would also allow registers of deeds and deputy registers to opt out of issuing marriage licenses. Within the text of the bill, there is no definition of “sincerely held religious objection”. None, no legal definition of what such an objection entails. Senate Bill 2 remains in the North Carolina Statehouse and has not been made law yet.

Arkansas tried for more subtle language with SB 202. The bill became law just a little while ago and it prohibits local towns and counties from protecting classes not already covered under state anti-discrimination law. The bullet of the bill reads “A county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state shall not adopt or enforce an ordinance, resolution, rule, or policy that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law.” Guess who isn’t covered under Arkansas anti-discrimination laws? LGBT folks.

West Virginia has virtually copied the text from the Arkansas bill in their own HB 2881; “No county, municipality or other political subdivision may adopt or enforce a local law, ordinance, resolution, rule or policy that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law.” The West Virginia bill has not been made law yet.

The most maddening state of the bunch has undoubtedly been Oklahoma, where Representative Sally Kern has introduced two bills directly attacking LGBT citizens. There is no coded language, no attempt at double talk; the bills say it in black and white.

House Bill 1599 states “No taxpayer funds or governmental salaries shall be paid for any activity that includes the licensing or support of same-sex marriage. No employee of this state and no employee of any local governmental entity shall officially recognize, grant or enforce a same-sex marriage license and continue to receive a salary, pensioner other employee benefit at the expense of taxpayers of this state. No taxes or public funds of this state shall be spent enforcing any court order requiring the issuance or recognition of a same-sex marriage license.” And if a state judge decides to issue a marriage license anyway, the judge will be dismissed on the spot “If a judge violates this act, the judge shall be removed from office pursuant to Section 1 of Article VII A of the Oklahoma Constitution.”

House Bill 1597 is even more insane, and serves to directly attack us: “No business entity shall be required to provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges related to any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, group or association.” Under this bill, a business owner wouldn’t even have to claim a religious belief; they could straight up say “We don’t serve queers, now fuck off” and they would be fully protected under this bill.

Neither of these bills has become law yet.

So where does that leave us? Well as you can see, while we’ve been fighting as a united national front for our equality, our state legislators have been trying to slip a fast one on us by introducing bills to undo our efforts of the last ten years. They’re realizing that there’s little hope of winning on a nation level, so they’re trying to do it piece by piece, state by state.

We’re gonna have to learn how to do it locally and grassroots again, brothers and sisters. I’m in Indiana; I won’t be able to help a sister in Oklahoma fight against Sally Kern’s bigoted insanity. Likewise a brother in Arizona won’t be able to help me if my state legislation decides to pull this bullshit (which by the way, they have). Sure, we can still offer each other moral support, but the hard fact is, the backlash is occurring locally, so it must be fought locally. We’re gonna have split up into the jungle and do it guerrilla style.

But how? Many of us have forgotten how to fight locally since we’ve gotten used to fighting nationally. The first point is find your local allies, your friends, your classmates, your co-workers, hell, it could be your favorite bartender. Find people in your area who are just as tired of this crap as you are, organize them, have a discussion group, a meeting, whatever you wanna call it. Start scoping out your state’s legislation website and find bills related to this cause, usually they are related to “religious freedom”, anti-discrimination, or marriage. Local news is also a prime resource for this, they will often report on legislation being considered before an official bill is drafted.

The second point is finding your local legislator; they’re certainly more answerable to you than your congressional representative or senator. Go on your state’s website and find the contact information for your local legislator, there is usually an email address and phone number listed. Call them, email them, and let them know that you give a damn about LGBT folks in your area and that you won’t stand for them being treated as second-class citizens. Just as a personal note, I prefer a phone call, it’s harder to ignore than an email.

If you need some handy information on how to organize locally, I recommend Naomi Wolf’s Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries. It’s not LGBT specific, but it’s a pretty good field manual and should help you on your way.

Remember, our Revolution started with a local fight. The Stonewall Riots were sparked based solely on a local issue, the NYPD raiding gay bars. A group of locals got fed up with that and said “Enough!” And well, you know the rest of the story.

Community organizing and grassroots street work are the only way we’re gonna roll back this backlash against us. It’s gonna take some good local sweat and muscle here, you’re gonna have to get to know your neighbors and know your local laws. Roll up your sleeves, brothers and sisters, and let’s show these bastards that we ain’t finished by half yet.