The Supreme Court and us: A personal note

My Love was out of the country in meetings last fall.

I called her repeatedly over the course of half an hour, interspersed with texts, asking her to call me.

Finally, she returned my call.

My Love (extremely exasperated): This better be important. I’m in the middle of a critical meeting here.

Me: A federal court just threw out the same-sex marriage ban in [our state].

[silence]

Me: Did you hear me? We can get married at home.

Voice in the background: Is everything all right?

My Love: I’m just going to go over here in the corner and dance and cry for a few minutes, OK?


I’m just going to go over here in the corner and dance and cry for a few minutes, OK?

The Supreme Court and me: A response

Heather at Lez B Vegan Moms has some reflections on my post about the Supreme Court’s impending gay marriage decision.

Heather is (unlike me) an actual lawyer law school graduate.

I particularly agree with one of her thoughts: Marriage is three different things:

  • a collection of legal rights and obligations
  • a commitment between two people
  • a ceremony, religious or not

It is a category error to confuse the three things, as opponents of gay marriage often do. As Heather says, I don’t need a lawyer for the latter two. I don’t need God for the first.


PS: She called my post “very intellectual”! My dear, I’m just an engineer.

PPS: Heather’s post reminds me that my hero is Roy McDonald, a conservative Republican from a conservative, Republican upstate district, who committed political suicide by voting for the New York gay marriage law. Roy said,

[Y]ou try to do the right thing. You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, f*** it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing. … They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I’m trying to do the right thing, and that’s where I’m going with this.

Dad

I should have posted this yesterday, of course. Dad will never see it (I hope!), so I’m not sure that matters.


In my memory, Dad lives in my Mother’s shadow. Mother is a force of nature. Dad is quiet, quietly amused at the passing parade.

But the older I get, and the more I look back at my life, the more I see of Dad, the more he becomes a main character.


Dad’s response to almost everything my Mother says is a slightly ironic, slightly exasperated, “Yes, my dear.”


Dad started me in Engineering. When I was little, we built things with wood blocks. He got end scraps from the lumberyard, mostly 2x4s, but lots of oddities, too. We built bridges, railroads, skyscrapers. He taught me about thrusts and vectors, corbelling and arching, catenary and centering, friction and balance.

He’s not an engineer. He’s got a college degree, but not in a scientific or quantitative discipline. Our discovery of engineering was purely experimental and empirical.

He gave me my favorite toys – wooden Brio trains. The Brio box has been in every place I’ve ever lived. I currently have a track set up in my Love’s apartment. I learned lattices and graphs and curves and grades.


Dad taught me the most important thing about Engineering and life:

When I was very young – maybe 5 years old – I was upset about something that had gone wrong. (A common experience in my life. If I start to wonder about what would happen if I did X, I normally try to find out. Experimentally. One of the nice things about having learned Physics, Math and Engineering is that I can get a first approximation before risking life and limb.)

Dad showed me a video tape of Galloping Gertie: The Tacoma Narrows bridge shook itself apart under a wind load. It’s studied by every engineer and physicist in the world. (Really: Please watch the video: It’s amazing. Think of how that would impress a curious 5 year old.)

Dad explained to me that we all make mistakes. Not all of them have results as spectacular as Galloping Gertie. Blame and guilt and fault are irrelevant. They are about the past, and the past can’t be changed. The important thing is to learn from our mistakes and use them for a better future. And engineers and physicists have learned a lot from Galloping Gertie.

I learned the most important lesson in Engineering before I started kindergarten.


When I was in kindergarten, the principal called my parents. I was engaging in some experimental activity. (I may have conscripted some other children as experimental subjects. My memory is hazy on specifics.) The teacher told me to stop, I would get hurt. I told her that the best way to learn was from your mistakes and she was stupid if she didn’t let me make mistakes.

I had to sit in the principal’s office while he explained this to my parents. On the drive home, Mother told me off. Dad just grinned. Mother chewed him out for encouraging bad behavior.

Dad: “Yes, my dear.”


Lindsay at Solo Mama reminded me of another event with Dad.

In catechism and confirmation class, I was a trial to our priest. The priest told my parents that I was refractory and that he would tell that to the bishop.

I said (to my parents) that the priest was an ignorant fool and, if the bishop backed him, the bishop was a stupid jackass.

Mother called me “Young Lady” (the highest level of censorious address, worse than being called by my full name) for only the second time in my life, then sent me to my room to consider how I should confess and apologize.

The last thing I heard before I closed the door to my room:

Dad: Well, he is a stupid jackass.


Dad was raised Catholic. My Mother was raised Protestant, but converted to marry Dad. The old saying, “Converts tend to be zealots”? That’s my Mother.

Dad has always been an indifferent Catholic. Mass every Sunday. Kids through catechism, first communion, confirmation. But it has always been a bemused (and, I think, amused) detachment at my Mother’s heartfelt Catholicism.

I knew how my Mother would react if I came out of the closet. (In the event, I was wrong, thank goodness.)

I didn’t know about Dad. I assumed he would not be happy. I assumed that he would back Mother. And he did.


I didn’t come out to Dad. Mother outed me to him before I got the chance. After my Love outed us to Mother, Mother took me back in the living room.

Mother: Your daughter is a lesbian. That was her girlfriend.

Dad: Yes, my dear.

Mother: Don’t “Yes, my dear” me. Your daughter is a lesbian.

Dad: Yes, my dear. I knew it the minute they walked in the door. Anyone could tell those two girls are in love. I’ve spent the last six hours trying to guess what you were going to do when you figured it out. If you don’t give her your unconditional love, I’m filing for divorce.

Mother: I gave her my blessing, and I don’t want anyone giving her any trouble about it.

Dad: Yes, my dear.

The Supreme Court and not-so-conflicted me

I showed my post from yesterday to my Love’s lawyer. He reminded me that there are two issues before the Supreme Court in the gay marriage cases:

  1. Can a state limit marriage to a straight couples?
  2. If it can, must it nevertheless recognize gay marriages from another state?

My thumb-sucker missed an important distinction:

  1. The first issue is about individual rights.
  2. The second issue is about the federal system in the United States.

I addressed my hesitations about the first issue yesterday. My lawyer friend points out that I should have no such qualms about the second issue.

We have a federal system. Most of the law that governs our everyday life is state law. Contracts, property, responsibility for injury, criminal law, … all are governed primarily or exclusively by state law.

State law governs marriage.

Except for one important aspect: A federal system requires rules for recognition of legal status created by other states. Does Massachusetts have to recognize an adoption from Texas? Does Oklahoma have to enforce a contract signed in Kansas? Can a citizen of Minnesota own a retirement home in Arizona? Does Mississippi have to recognize a marriage from New York?

This doesn’t involve the things that were bothering me yesterday. This isn’t philosopher kings trampling democracy. It’s about the respect states owe each other, owe the federal system and owe each other’s citizens. It’s about the ability of an individual to freely move about the country without fear of losing legal status.

I’m not so conflicted about that. In fact, I’m not at all conflicted about it. If my Love and I marry, we’re married, right?

We dream of a wedding in our home state. I’ll happily settle for a legal wedding here in New York and a religious ceremony at my Love’s family ranch. And, someday to move back and raise a houseful of riotous kids, secure that our home will be our home and that our kids will be our kids.

The Supreme Court and conflicted me

This was a hard, painful post to write.


I have a selfish interest in the Supreme Court cases on gay marriage.

I have a conflicting philosophical interest.


I don’t believe in natural rights (aka “fundamental human rights”). Natural rights are a matter of faith, not a matter of fact or logic. There’s nothing natural about natural rights.

I believe we have moral obligations to each other. Fear of damnation didn’t guide my conscience. I needed analytic moral philosophy to inform my moral compass. It’s the only thing besides Engineering that I studied systematically. (I have a half-drafted post on the topic.)

I also believe that our political organizations have moral obligations to us. As Machiavelli observed, political moral obligations – the obligation to do justice – are different from individual moral obligations.

Perhaps I’m just playing with words, making a semantic distinction. But I don’t think so. “Rights” are an invitation to argument by assertion, to sloppy thinking, to wishful thinking, to confirmation bias. Natural rights theory doesn’t tell me that Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao were evil. Moral philosophy and philosophy of justice, does.

Rights (other than those granted in law) are just assertions. Thomas Jefferson was a hypocrite and a fool. But in the most famous statement of natural rights, he baldly admits that they are nothing but assertion: “We hold these truths to be self-evident …” Self-evident. The Mommy Defense (“Because I’m your mommy”) is fine for infants, but it’s not a coherent political philosophy.

Much as I want to believe that I have a fundamental natural right to marry someone of my sex, it’s only personal preference. It has no more intrinsic validity than a belief that I have a right to a pony.


Natural rights – natural law – is particularly abhorrent to me as a lesbian.

Natural law is one of the pillars of Roman Catholic theology. And Roman Catholic natural law results in this:

[T]radition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

Start with the self-evident sexual complementarity: A man has a penis, a woman has a vagina, a penis fits in a vagina and it makes babies. Natural law leads ineluctably to homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.

Protestantism explicitly rejects natural law as an authoritative basis for theology. The quoted sentences, have no authority to a Protestant. But clearly many Protestants – as well as Moslems, Hindus, Jews and atheists – believe them anyway.

Of course, the argument is only valid if one accepts the premise of sexual complementarity and each of the intermediate premises.

There’s no point in disputing natural law, just as there’s no point in disputing religious faith. One either believes it – on faith – or one doesn’t. It’s not logical or empirical. It’s a belief system, not a moral or logical system. Any discussion is proselytizing, not persuasion.

Whether sexual complementarity is a valid premise for a natural law argument is beside the point. People believe it. As belief – not logic or empirical observation – it is impervious to logic and empiricism.

Similarly, arguing that we have a natural right to marry someone of the same sex – or even a natural right to love or make love to someone of the same sex – is just proselytizing. It has no more intrinsic truth than sexual complementarity or homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.


Even if I believed in natural rights, I don’t believe that nine old lawyers in Washington have any special ability to recognize their self-evidence. At least, they have no better ability than my fellow citizens.

If a right is fundamental, why isn’t it universally recognized? If it’s self-evident, it should be self-evident to everyone, no? Adopted by acclamation, no?

It’s no argument to say that people are blinded by bigotry or religious belief. It’s either self-evident, or it’s not.


I believe very strongly in democracy, as strongly as I believe in God.

What heartens me most about the Irish gay marriage referendum? It was adopted by popular vote. My Irish brothers and sisters made their case to their fellow-citizens.

I don’t want to be ruled by philosopher kings.

I want to be ruled by representatives elected by we, the people. I want to be able to throw the bastards out.

I don’t care how wise, how benevolent, how tolerant philosopher kings are. I want to be able to throw the bastards out.

The history of philosopher kings does not inspire confidence. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao – all philosopher kings. Each wanted to create a more perfect society.

I don’t want nine (five, really) old lawyers we can’t throw out dictating to bastards we can throw out.

Yes, some of our bastards are corrupt. Yes, some are stupid. Yes, they may sometimes  – often, perhaps – produce stupid, corrupt, bigoted results. Sometimes they are just bastards.

But they’re our bastards.


There are limits to my preference of bastards over lawyers.

We, the people, adopted a Constitution with rules guarantying that we, the people, can throw the bastards out – guarantying civil rights to African-Americans, guarantying the franchise to women and the poor; guarantying free speech and free conscience; guarantying due process before loss of liberty.

I’m happy with having the courts enforce those rules, where they are clear and have the purpose of guarantying a broad franchise and robust debate.

I’m also happy with having the courts enforce rules guarantying civil rights for African-Americans. Slavery, lynching, intimidation, serfdom, segregation, racism and discrimination are so frankly appalling that everyone must be charged to change it. And again, we, the people – our great-great-grandfathers – fought and died and changed the Constitution to keep the bastards in line.

Leaving aside the simple justice of those rights, the people of the United States explicitly and democratically enshrined them in the Constitution, and fought a Civil War to secure them.

The history of African-American civil rights since the Civil War should surely give pause to those who want to trust nine old lawyers in Washington. Within a few years of the Civil War, the Supreme Court turned the civil rights amendments and laws into a dead letter. A few years after that, the Court blessed comprehensive racial segregation. It was almost a century before the Court repented.


But I can’t applaud a court cutting off a democratic solution to other political issues, even for a cause that I love and personally want.

To be blunt, if we can’t convince enough of our fellow citizens to throw enough of the bastards out and establish a right, we don’t deserve to have five old lawyers do it for us.

Frankly, it’s infantile. We want agency, but we have to get our nanny to protect us from the meanies?

The history of abortion in this country should caution us that cutting off democracy perpetuates and entrenches division.


For 20 years, I’ve watched from deep inside a closet as the Jubilee approached.

We are moving rapidly toward acceptance not only of gay marriage but of a man loving a man or a woman loving a woman. I see it every day that I am at home, in a place where gays do not exist. In a state that voted by two to one, and in a county that voted three to one, to prohibit gay marriage.

This isn’t happening by some gay agenda, but by the shocking realization that we gays are, by and large, OK people. As a rule, we’re no better nor worse than straight people. Maybe what we do is icky, but that doesn’t make us icky – let alone evil.

The most important lesson of the Irish referendum is the power of an appeal to our common humanity. I staunchly believe that, while two-thirds of the citizens of my state may be ignorant about gays, no more than a handful hate gays.

I believe that unity can overcome estrangement. All I want is the ability to have the same hopes and fears and aspirations as a straight woman. I just want to marry the person I love, have children with her and see those children have a better life.

Is it irksome that I have to convince my fellow-citizens to let me have those hopes? Yes.

Not as irksome as having to convince five old lawyers in Washington.


Selfishly, I will celebrate if the Supreme Court finds a right to same-sex marriage.

But I will die, a little, inside.

The movement for acceptance and equality will die a little.

And democracy will die a little.

All right then, I’ll go to Hell: Huck and me

One of the ironies of being told that I’m going to Hell (for being a lesbian) is that it takes away the threat of Hell for my other sins.


My irreligious friends:
Please bear with me over the next few posts.
You might find this interesting, too.


In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck travels down the river with Jim, a runaway slave. Jim is captured. (He is held by a man named Phelps!)

Helping Jim escape would be a sin. Jim is property. Freeing him would be stealing. To prevent himself from that sin – to save his soul – Huck writes a letter to Jim’s owner, telling her where to find Jim.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now.

Before Huck sends the letter, he thinks about all the things Jim has done for him. He starts to think of Jim not as property, but as a human being.

and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.


I’ve not read much literature (that’s my Love’s department), but I’ve read Huck Finn a half-dozen times. Children of an impressionable age – say, younger than 30 years old – should not be permitted to read Huck Finn. Other than the Gospels, it may be the most subversive thing ever written.

We see the screaming irony here: Huck thinks he’s going to Hell for freeing a slave?

More to my point: Huck decides that, if he’s going to Hell anyway, he’d just as well “go the whole hog” of wickedness.


I, a gay Christian, am in Huck’s shoes.

If I’m going to Hell anyway, what incentive do I have to be good? Atheists (gay, straight or other) don’t have any religious incentive to be good, either, but Hell doesn’t frighten them (or Heaven tempt them). When they’re dead, they’re dead. For a Christian, it’s more fraught. There is a real consequence to sin: Hell.

Why should I be good at all? I’m going to Hell anyway. If I obey the civil law (or don’t get caught), what difference does it make how good or bad I am?

It’s bizarrely counterproductive to tell me I am going to Hell. My lesbianism hurts no one, but if I have no fear of Hell, I have no religious hesitation about hurting others.


In coming episodes, guest appearances by
Immanuel Kant, Martin Luther and Fred Phelps …

My Love: Medical paperwork

Last week, my Love called me from her GYN’s office. She was laughing.

Me: What’s so funny?

My Love: You know that long form you have to fill out every time you go to the doctor?

Me: Yeah. I hate them. Bad engineering. Should be a central record and you just need to update it.

My Love: You know where it says, Birth Control?

Me: Yeah. I always put, “None”.

My Love: I’ve always put, “Virgin”. This time, I put, “Lesbian”.

My Love: [Maniac laughter]

She’s weird.

Ireland: Hello, brother

The citizens of Ireland have sanctified gay marriage in their constitution.

Almost two-thirds of voters favored the amendment. Two-thirds. Two-thirds of the most Catholic population on Earth. Two-thirds.

Many things hearten me about this.

At the most selfish level, I want to marry another woman. I want my marriage to be recognized and celebrated.

At a public level, I am gratified that a broad public not only tolerates but accepts and even celebrates my love.

But most heartening is the civility of the Catholic Church’s stance on the referendum. The Church had the opportunity to demonstrate that, whatever its teachings on homosexual acts, hatred and discrimination against gays is wrong, a sin, contrary to God’s will and Church doctrine.

The Church took that opportunity and made good on it.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, kept the Church out of the campaign. Although he personally would vote No, he said, “Marriage isn’t just about two people falling in love. It’s a much more complex. My voting No is not a vote against gay and lesbian people.”

And he backed it up by rebuking priests and bishops who were more intemperate.

True, a lobbying organization of Catholics was the loudest opponent of the amendment. But it was individuals, not the Church.

Its arguments were pathetically self-defeating. The notion that gays cannot be good parents, that their children are somehow stunted, is belied every day.

In the end, was it the fallacy – the obvious wrongheadedness – of that very argument in the face of gay couples’ commitment to love and the truest of family values? Was it His answer to the prayer for the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer?

Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.


Finally, I am most heartened that it supports my belief that our most important battle is won when people – traditionalists, conservatives, fundamentalists – see us not as aliens, but as fellow humans.

Perhaps I’m Pollyanaish. Perhaps I have Stockholm Syndrome. But I have a more intimate knowledge of those who oppose gay marriage than my urban sophisticate friends.

I come from a place where homosexuality does not exist. My Love and I are probably the first out lesbians that most people in our home counties have ever met.

Two-thirds of the citizens of my home state voted for the opposite constitutional provision: that marriage is between a man and a woman. My Love and I come from the most conservative, most rural parts of one of the most conservative, rural states. Almost everyone we know voted in favor of the amendment.

I can’t demonize opponents of gay marriage. They are people, too. My people. They may not understand me, but they don’t hate me. Where I’m from, Westboro Baptist Church is hated far more than a gay couple.

Since my Love came out, she has had nothing but acceptance. Since I came out, I have had nothing but acceptance.

There’s a lot of curiosity – some of it pretty silly – but that is a good thing. Curiosity is incompatible with knee-jerk hate. People don’t try to understand something they hate. People are curious about something they want to understand.


I don’t have a grand agenda.

I just want people to see that He formed me of the same dust of the ground. He breathed into my nostrils the same breath of life, the same living soul. He created me in His image, too. He knows that it is not good that I should be alone, either. He has made a help meet for me, too.

Hath not a lesbian eyes? hath not a lesbian hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?

I want to be seen to have the same yearnings, the same hopes, the same fears as straight people.

A man wants to work for his pay.
A man wants a place in the sun.
A man wants a gal proud to say
That she’ll become his lovin’ wife.
He wants a chance to give his kids a better life, yes
Well hello, hello, hello brother

A gal wants to work for her pay.
A gal wants a place in the sun.
A gal wants a gal proud to say
That she’ll become her lovin’ wife.
She wants a chance to give her kids a better life, yes
Well hello, hello, hello brother

 

Blessings

My Love is an old-fashioned girl. She needed to ask my parents’ blessing before proposing to me.

When we came out to my mother, my mother told us that, if we married, she would not bless or attend our wedding. She could bless our love, but not a marriage. She firmly followed the Catholic Church that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered”. And she would never back away from the Church.

Since then, she has come along amazingly. She and my Love get along famously, partly, I think, because my Love embodies everything my mother thinks a woman should be: Strong, capable, self-reliant, intelligent, neat, conservatively dressed – and feminine.

My mother and my Love’s mother have also gotten to be great friends. My Love’s mother is conservative – politically and theologically – but is sensible, warm, intelligent and good-humored. She is beyond tolerant, beyond accepting, to embracing. She has never believed that homosexuality or homosexual acts are a sin. She’s delighted that her daughter has found love. She has embraced me from our first introduction. And she loves me as if I were her daughter. She has been a terrific influence on my mother.

I haven’t pressed my mother to change her beliefs, and I’ve been careful not to ask her about them. Before I left for New York she told me that she had changed her mind: If we married, she would attend our wedding, and she would make sure that the rest of the family did, too. She didn’t say anything about blessing a marriage, however.

My Love was nervous about what my mother would say when asked to bless my Love’s proposal.

Perhaps amor vincit omnia. My father and mother both gave their consent and blessing.

Our first call as fiancées was to my parents. They were overjoyed.

Silly questions

This is the obligatory lesbian-blog post on silly questions that straight people ask lesbians.

Most posts in this genre are annoyed or censorious. (On the other hand, Loserville has a bemused and amusing list.)

Those questions don’t annoy my Love or me.

We actually like them. (OK, I don’t want to be asked about my sex life. Thank goodness, nobody has asked me anything like, “How do you do it?” I would pity any straight woman who would need to ask that. Or is sleeping with a guy who would need to ask that.)

Perhaps it’s because we’re unusually tolerant of our fellow sinners.

Perhaps it’s because we haven’t gotten a lot of those questions. I’ve only been out of the closet for about six months. My Love has only been out for about a year. We live in New York. We’re both private people. We don’t hide that we’re gay, but we don’t make a point of it, either.

Still, we come from a place where lesbians don’t exist. We’re probably the first out lesbians most people back home have ever met. We have gotten some of those questions from family and friends.

But they’ve never been hostile. Every time either of us has been asked, it’s been in honest good will, honest ignorance and honest curiosity. They may be questions that nobody would ask a straight person, but they know the answer for a straight person.

If they’re not hostile, we’ve already won the most important battle. If they’re tolerant and interested enough to be curious, we’ve won the second most important battle. We’d rather build on that (and have a tolerant little laugh later).

I do not mind ignorance. Maybe there is no cure for stupid, but there is for ignorance.

It’s just people trying to understand something new to them. Do unto them as you would have them do onto you. Tolerate as you would be tolerated.

We need all the friends we can get.