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25 posts from April 2009

April 29, 2009

Staten Island's well of censorship - Part 2

The NY Times today runs an update to the scandal, Staten Island style, over Holly Hughes' 25-year-old play:

[A]t the College of Staten Island, a mildly ribald farce entitled “The Well of Horniness” will be staged this week by a talented senior named Robert Mahoney. Originally, an excerpt of the play was also going to enjoy a place of honor on Thursday at an undergraduate research conference that serves as a showcase of student achievement. Now it has become something else entirely.

Some college officials got the idea that the word “horniness” in the title might offend the sensibilities of Catholics on Staten Island. It is not entirely clear why this would be so, but there is no doubt that Catholics from Staten Island are an important reservoir of potential students for the college. And students from Catholic high schools were invited to the research conference, to get a taste of possibilities at the college.

So over the last few weeks, this production of “The Well of Horniness” has gone through a cyclone of contradictory decisions — or, as the college’s official spokesman puts it, “discussions.”

Initially, the play was banished from the conference, though officials said it still could be performed in the evening, after the conference had ended. And Mr. Mahoney would be allowed to display a poster about his project, as other students at the conference would do — but while a biology student might be able to mention the mating practices of fruit flies, Mr. Mahoney would not be allowed to include the title of the play.

Mr. Mahoney learned about this last week from Francisco Soto, the dean of humanities and social sciences. “Francisco said we could not do the extract from the play as part of the undergraduate research conference,” said Maurya Wickstrom, an associate professor who serves as a mentor to Mr. Mahoney. “As he expressed it, this is an extremely conservative community. The sexuality might be offensive to nuns, counselors from Catholic high schools, the high school students.”

Bob Huber, a spokesman for the school, said the main concerns were the possible presence of people as young as 14 at the conference. Ms. Wickstrom said that was not what she was told. “That was not part of the meeting that I was in,” she said. “I don’t remember age being mentioned. The issue revolved around the fact that College of Staten Island has a big Catholic constituency.”

That was also what George Sanchez, the chairman of the performing and creative arts department, heard. An associate provost, Susan Holak, told him that “she wasn’t sure how well this would go over with the Catholic schools,” Mr. Sanchez said. “The concern was the title, ‘The Well of Horniness.’ The conference got conflated with an outreach and recruiting event. She mentioned there was a nun who was very conservative.” The school spokesman, Mr. Huber, said: “I have no knowledge of that. The concern was regarding minors attending the conference.”

The associate provost, Ms. Holak, would not speak about the decision except to say on Monday that it would be shown on campus. Holly Hughes, the author of the play, said: “It’s not censorship, other than the fact that no one can see it. Yes, it’s being shown. It’s not being advertised. It won’t be presented during the conference.” Ms. Hughes notes that the play is 25 years old, and that around 1984, The Village Voice — of all publications — would not accept an ad because of the title.

“This is a terrible message to the student,” Ms. Hughes said. By late Tuesday, the school apparently had come to the same conclusion. Mr. Huber said the authorities were now willing to let it be presented during the conference. On Tuesday, Mr. Mahoney said he was scrambling “in chaos” to round up his actors and crew of 15 in time.

And it’s not yet known whether the Catholics of Staten Island would be more offended by the play itself, or the notion that they could not tolerate mention of the word “horniness” and the condition it describes.

April 28, 2009

Larry Kramer's latest: keep gender away from gay studies

The always provocative, occasionally astute Larry Kramer used the occasion of a Yale gay alumni event to blast the university for "misusing" a grant from his brother made in his honor, by building up a gender studies program rather than focusing on the study of gay (apparently male) history.  Following are comments on the speech, from Inside Higher Ed. After the jump is Kramer's speech in its entirety.

HT: Minna Kotkin

...The speech caused a bit of confusion [at Yale] because that university's history department has two big-name gay studies scholars who write gay history: George Chauncey and Joanne Meyerowitz. So the idea that literary theorists control gay studies at Yale in a way that diminishes gay history bothers people there and elsewhere. Via e-mail, Chauncey said that the program named for Kramer did end after five years, but that it ended "as planned, when the funding did," and that it left gay studies "much stronger than it had been before."

Added Chauncey: "I teach courses at Yale every year on lesbian and gay history, and I share Larry Kramer's belief in the importance of gay history, even though we often disagree in our interpretation of that history. But LGBT studies is an interdisciplinary field which includes much more than history, and I am proud that the program at Yale offers courses in anthropology, sociology, film, literature, musicology, and other disciplines." Of the link between gay studies and gender studies, Chauncey said that "this is a common pattern across the country, and it seems to me a very good one, since as a curricular matter there are so many links between LGBT studies and gender studies."

John G. Younger, a gay studies scholar who is professor of classics and director of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at the University of Kansas, called Kramer's talk "rambling" and "shrill," and said he disagreed with it. Kramer's list of famous dead gay people is "not history, that's wish fulfillment," said Younger. He said that Kramer takes "such an essentialist view," when "since we're dealing with people, there's always nuance."

Defining people as gay doesn't make sense, Younger said, without some understanding of their cultures and identities and values....

Continue reading "Larry Kramer's latest: keep gender away from gay studies" »

April 27, 2009

New York college censors production of Holly Hughes play

A senior at the College of Staten Island, who was recognized as an outstanding undergraduate director with an invitation to produce a play of his choice at a college festival, was stopped by the administration from producing a play by Holly Hughes, The Well of Horniness. Although the college has now backed down, the timing of their latest position will effectively prevent the play from being part of the festival.  Has freedom of expression not made it to Staten Island?

The following is from Holly:

A senior student at the College of Staten Island, Robert Mahoney, was
invited by the Associate Provost Susan Holak to direct a play as part
of his senior project for The Undergraduate Conference on Research,
Scholarship and Performance - and it was set to be performed on April
30 from 1:30-4 pm event.  Last year, Mahoney directed a Caryl Churchill
play.  Inclusion in the conference is a huge honor for undergraduates.

conference website
http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/UGConference/moreinfo.php

Last week, the Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Francisco
Soto called a special meeting to discuss the presentation of The Well
of Horniness. Dean Soto told the student and a couple of faculty
members that since Conference was to be used for recruiting, the play
could not be presented because because it might offend Catholics.
(Ironically, Soto's own work is on the censorship of gay writer Reinaldo
Arenas.)

Continue reading "New York college censors production of Holly Hughes play " »

Republican grassroots in no mood for shift on gay marriage

Like National Journal's poll of beltway insiders, this Politico article predicts a do-or-die stand by hardcore conservatives in the Republican Party on gay rights and other hot button issues:

...Outside Washington, the reality is very different. Rank-and-file Republicans remain, by all indications, staunchly conservative, and they appear to have no desire to moderate their views. GOP activists and operatives say they hear intense anger at the White House and at the party’s own leaders on familiar issues – taxes, homosexuality, and immigration. Within the party, conservative groups have grown stronger absent the emergence of any organized moderate faction.

There is little appetite for compromise on what many see as core issues, and the road to the presidential nomination lies – as always – through a series of states where the conservative base holds sway, and where the anger appears to be, if anything, particularly intense. "There is a sense of rebellion brewing," said Katon Dawson, the outgoing South Carolina Republican Party chairman, who cited unexpectedly high attendance at anti-tax “tea parties” last week. ...

Rep. Steve King, an outspoken conservative who represents all of rock-ribbed western Iowa and may run for governor next year, said he had held 11 town hall meetings across the state since the early April state Supreme Court decision. "Of those 11 meetings, 10 of them were full. Most of them were standing room. The marriage issue was the No. 1 issue on their minds. No. 2 was the massive federal spending taking place. In every discussion, immigration came up."

"I’ve never seen the grass-roots quite as motivated, concerned and angry," said Steve Scheffler, the head of the Iowa Christian Alliance and the state's RNC committeeman.

UPDATE: The NY Times has more on the desire of moderates to move the GOP to de-emphasizing the issue.


April 25, 2009

Bigger stakes behind the battle over Sebelius

UPDATE April 28: The silver lining of having a swine flu pandemic is that it shamed the Republicans into letting go of their efforts to delay Sebelius, who is now confirmed.

An article in this morning's LA Times offers a pretty chilling take on why the stakes and the slowdown in Kathleen Sebelius' inevitable confirmation to be Secretary of DHHS are more significant than just your garden variety right-to-life political gambit.  The stall has given conservatives in the Kansas legislature time to pass a law that would impose unconstitutional limits on a woman's right to decide (details below), which Sebelius as governor vetoed just a few days ago. More important, it may signal a stepped up effort, supported by a new generation of more conservative cardinals, to enforce bans on communion for Catholic officeholders who don't follow the Church's teachings in their official actions. From there, the next step would be to extend such bans to any Catholic who deviates from the doctrinal line. Republicans see this as their best hope to argue that Americans can't be good Catholics and good Democrats -- even though the Democratic Party aligns with Catholic social teachings on far more issues than does the GOP.

From the LA Times:

...The measure [that Sebelius vetoed this week] would have amended an existing statute on late-term abortions, which Kansas permits after the 21st week of pregnancy only if the mother is at risk of death or severe physical or mental injury. The amendment would have required far more detailed reporting by physicians and would have allowed prosecutors who disagreed with the doctor's judgment to file criminal charges. Husbands who objected to the abortion would have been allowed to file civil suits....

Earlier this year, when Sebelius vetoed another measure that would have allowed a third party to seek a court order restraining a woman from obtaining an abortion -- even if it was necessary to save her life -- Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City forbade the governor to receive Communion unless she changed her views....

For conservatives who've been trying for years to pry Catholic voters out of the Democratic Party, the Holy Grail of political advantage is a long-sought clerical edict that would prohibit any Catholic officeholder who ever has cast a pro-choice vote from receiving Communion. From there, it would be a relatively small step to extend the ban to any Catholic who has voted for a pro-choice candidate. Catholic Democrats would be forced to choose between their party and their church....

Continue reading "Bigger stakes behind the battle over Sebelius" »

April 24, 2009

Soccer moms with vodka - the new bad mom blogs

From The American Prospect, an essay on the trials of making space for real mom moments in an apple pie culture:

A mother tells her child that Häagen Dazs is a special medicine for mommies because she doesn't want to share. Another purposely ruins her daughter's favorite T-shirt with red nail polish. One joins Weight Watchers so she has a place to go by herself once a week. Another mom admits, "I can't wait to wean my daughter so I can get stoned again."

These are some of the "mommy misdemeanors" revealed in the book True Mom Confessions, published this month. In the introduction, author Romi Lassally explains that she launched TrueMomConfessons.com in 2007 as a forum for women to share their transgressions. "Online, under the veil of anonymity and with 24/7 accessibility, I believed that the conversation about the REAL and not the IDEAL of motherhood could flourish," she writes. The book is a compendium of Lassally's favorite admissions, which pour in daily from all over the country.

Welcome to bad-mom culture, in which women don't just own up to their maternal shortcomings -- they flaunt them. Moms have been publicly admitting to their mixed feelings about motherhood at least since 1976, when Adrienne Rich compared herself to a monster in the feminist classic Of Woman Born. ...But with the advent of confessional culture and the ascension of blogs and virtual message boards, bad-mom culture and its gleeful impropriety have flourished.

This is evident even from the names of the Web's many mommybloggers. With their almost macho grandstanding, each one is more rebellious-sounding than the next. A Suburban Mom: Notes from an Asylum and Psycho Supermom make much of their own craziness. Other mothers tout their questionable habits, as with Adventures of Leelo and his Potty-Mouthed Mom and Martini Mom (tagline: "Like a soccer mom ...with vodka"). A recent post on Bad Mom -- not to be confused with Bad Mummy or Bad Mutha Blogger -- states, "It seems like my house will never, ever be completely clean & orderly," requests, "Call me in for dinner when you're done, please?," and features a photo of a coffee mug next to a beer.

In some ways, these maternal rebels are simply reacting to the very real anxiety that women have always felt about being perceived as bad mothers. Though there is a smattering of bad-dad Web sites, the idea is practically redundant: Most any sitcom father makes clear that paternal figures are supposed to be a little bit bad, an antidote to the steadfast mom. A bad mother? Now that's a scandal.

Continue reading "Soccer moms with vodka - the new bad mom blogs" »

April 21, 2009

Race, sex and lobbying in a purple state

From the Durham News, Pam Spaulding recounts lobbying for equality in North Carolina:

I recently attended the Equality NC Day of Action at the state legislature, where average citizens met with lawmakers to discuss pro-equality bills and urge them to oppose a constitutional amendment bill banning same-sex marriage.

The real story, however, is what happened when a group of us -- black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender North Carolinians -- met with members of the Legislative Black Caucus. It was a shocking experience.

It's hard for some people to acknowledge that LGBT rights issues are social justice issues, but to see this play out in person was disturbing. We stopped in to see Rep. Alma Adams (D-Guilford). She supports the anti-bullying bill and opposes the marriage amendment. However, there was a very strange dynamic going on during the meeting.

We let actual constituents of the lawmaker take the lead. In this meeting, it was a young gay white man from Adams' district. Longtime social justice advocate and fellow Bull City resident Mandy Carter and I, and at least four other black LGBTs were present when the constituent asked if Adams, as chair of the black caucus, would speak with her colleagues who support the marriage amendment.

The answer she gave was pretty astonishing.

1. The amendment "isn't going anywhere," therefore there isn't any point to discuss it with those caucus members. (It is buried in four committees in the House; on the Senate side it was assigned to a committee that hasn't met since 2001);

2. It's not her job to try to educate those black members who support the amendment about why it's an affront to our state constitution;

3. Adams actually said, "your issues are not the black caucus's issues" -- social justice for black LGBTs is not a matter of their concern, even as several black LGBTs stood right there before her. We were all stunned into silence. The lawmaker was apparently unaware of the recent letter released by NAACP national board chair Julian Bond and President Ben Jealous that fully supports LGBT rights, including the right to marry.

Ironically, the Legislative Black Caucus's own Web site says: "Justice - Assure equal protection under the law for African-Americans, other racial/ethnic minorities, the mentally ill and the poor."

I guess that means "except if you're black and LGBT."

We also met with a member of the black caucus who supports the marriage amendment, Rep. Earline W. Parmon (D-Guilford; my rep on the caucus, Larry Hall, was unavailable). She is in favor of the Healthy Youth Act and the anti-bullying bill. But on marriage, she parts ways, citing these reasons:

1. It's a "personal issue" for her. (as opposed to representing her voters' interests)

2. "I'm a minister." (church-state separation, anyone?)

3. "I'm not against anyone, one to one."

That last statement suggests she only wants to "protect marriage," but is sympathetic to same-sex couples' legal concerns. Yet the amendment would eliminate any legal recognition. No civil unions, no domestic partnerships, nada:

"Marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state."

If either lawmaker stepped into a time machine that took them just a few generations back in time, they couldn't vote, never mind hold office, or even marry a person of the same race, let alone another race -- all justified by the Bible.

The day taught me that spending face time with our lawmakers is essential, and for black LGBTs it's critical. We left committed to return because lawmakers need to see us and hear our stories.

You can read my full report, with video and photos, here: http://tinyurl.com/c5ynol

Porn in 19th century NYC

Kudos to Donna Dennis (Rutgers-Newark) whose book on 19th century erotica snared a review in the April 5 NY Times Sunday book review section. Licentious Gotham: Erotic Publishing and Its Prosecution in Nineteenth-Century New York describes how, by the 1840's, "flash weeklies" had appeared in the city, catering to a sexually cosmopolitan audience.

Here's an excerpt:

Dennis traces the ways in which provocative material was passed off as edifying, like the guides to the city’s prostitutes that purported to steer unknowing rubes away from their clutches. And she also notes that prohibitions of one sort of racy material only led to another innovation, often more popular than the first. From closer restrictions on sexually explicit writing came the success, in the mid-19th century, of the novelist George Thompson, who combined graphically violent scenes set in urban dystopias with coy peekaboo references to sex. Thompson stopped short of describing those scenes but encouraged the reader to imagine them, while mocking the authorities for compelling him to draw the curtain.

April 18, 2009

Reading political tea leaves on gay marriage: party strategists moving on

According to this week's survey by National Journal of its "political insiders" (and they really are insiders - National Journal supplies the names in each group), a 59% majority of Democratic Party strategists thinks that the Dems should support same-sex marriage. There's very little difference between inside and outside beltway views among the Dems (see details after the jump). Interestingly, the insiders beyond the beltway are slightly more supportive of supporting same-sex marriage than the beltway types. Among the Repubs, there is a big split between those inside and those outside the beltway: only 38% inside the beltway would advise their party to oppose it; 66% outside the beltway would. 

Lots going on in this poll.  Americans overall currently fall with the Repub insiders who are beltway outsiders, i.e. about 60% oppose s/s marriage. But this poll is not about where public opinion is now - it's about where political strategists think it is heading.  In one sense, it's not very surprising: there's a strong sense across the political spectrum that legalizing gay marriage is inevitable. The split among Repubs is intriguing if only because it seems to predict that the GOP is going to be spending huge chunks of time and energy not only on either engaging or avoiding this issue, but also fighting over which to do.

For a lot of lgbt advocates, the poll functions as one more happy indicator of inevitability. But we also need to to think about what "inevitability" really means. We will probably need 20 years or more to achieve equal status in every state - whether it's called marriage or something else.  (I define equal as meaning that both straight and gay couples have the same status under civil law; not separate but equal.) It won't be easy to get rid of those 29 state constitutional amendments. They aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

So gay marriage may well be inevitable, but the real questions for the next generation of leaders will be how to get the most out of the meantime, not for the coastal couples, but for couples elsewhere whose only option will be to move or to settle for something less.

Continue reading "Reading political tea leaves on gay marriage: party strategists moving on" »

April 15, 2009

Window into the organizing strategy behind the Iowa marriage decision

This morning's Washington Post has a great article on the strategy and field work that led to Lambda Legal's victory in the Iowa marriage case. The article provides well-deserved recognition for Camilla Taylor, the Lambda lawyer who was the brains behind the lawsuit, but who got less attention than she should have when the decision was announced because she recruited a prominent local attorney to argue the case in the Iowa Supreme Court and to serve as the public face of the lawsuit.  

The Post article is also important because it illustrates the kind of pre-litigation groundwork that goes into lgbt rights cases. Some critics of litigation, especially gay marriage litigation, argue that it is naive at best, counterproductive at worst, to try to win rights in court, because judicial opinions can trigger a backlash.  It's true that courts are often not the way to go, but it's also true that lgbt rights litigators have understood that for years, if not decades at this point. The response to this political-legal problem is neither to ignore it nor to relinquish litigation as a tool, but to construct lawsuits in the same way that community organizers construct grassroots movements - by years of studying particular jurisdictions, patient outreach, building networks, recruiting allies, and, ultimately, bringing lawsuits. The Iowa litigation is a great example of that process at work.  And no one views Iowa as over: advocates will continue their work there until the risk of politically overturning the decision is effectively ended, as it has in Massachusetts, where GLAD used exactly the same kinds of approaches. (In fact, the GLAD marriage lawsuits quietly invented this strategy.) These lawsuits illustrate what I call multi-dimensional advocacy. True, it can fail as well as succeed, but it has moved the ball far beyond the stale debate over whether courts are the source of rights.

The Post article is after the jump

Continue reading "Window into the organizing strategy behind the Iowa marriage decision" »

April 11, 2009

Let's hear it for the Nones

From today's NY Times, another indicator of the link between religiosity and opposition to same-sex marriage, not that there was any doubt -

The passage of gay marriage legislation in VermontRelig is momentous, but not necessarily a sign of momentum. Of all the states with pending gay marriage legislation, Vermont may well have been the easiest. Why? Because Vermont is the least religious....

According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (A.R.I.S.) released last month, a whopping 34 percent of respondents in Vermont said that they were not religious (the survey labeled them the “Nones”). That was the most of any state.

These Nones are very liberal voters. The Nones in Vermont voted more heavily for Barack Obama in November than any of the religious groups in the state. (Vermont gave Obama his second widest margin of victory. The widest margin was in his native Hawaii.) And, Nones in general are overwhelmingly in favor of gay marriage; ... they voted nine to one against Proposition 8 in California.

According to the A.R.I.S. survey, only 14 percent of New Yorkers fall into the Nones category. (There is a higher percentage of Nones in West Virginia than in New York.) And, a Quinnipiac University poll released this week found that 51 percent of Democrats in New York supported civil unions or no legal right at all for gay couples over gay marriage.

 

April 09, 2009

Republicans holding Johnsen and Koh hostage to sustain torture cover up

A post by Jack Balkin at Balkinization:

Over at the Daily Beast Scott Horton tells us that behind the fierce Republican opposition to the the Koh and Johnsen nominations is a desire to prevent the Obama Administration from revealing key torture memos.

Senate Republicans are now privately threatening to derail the confirmation of key Obama administration nominees for top legal positions by linking the votes to suppressing critical torture memos from the Bush era. A reliable Justice Department source advises me that Senate Republicans are planning to “go nuclear” over the nominations of Dawn Johnsen as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel if the torture documents are made public. The source says these threats are the principal reason for the Obama administration’s abrupt pullback last week from a commitment to release some of the documents. A Republican Senate source confirms the strategy. It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.

The interesting question is why Republican senators are so deeply threatened by the additional confirmation that the United States engaged in torture. It cannot be diplomatic embarrassment about the names of the countries that cooperated; these can be redacted. It cannot be the revelation of particular techniques; these have been thoroughly vetted in the press in the past several years.

The real resistance, it appears, is to the public disclosure of an official government document approving specific techniques that amount to torture. This degree of specificity and the government's request for approval of specific techniques does not appear in the original torture memos already released to the public. It is one thing to read a memo reading the torture statute ridiculously narrowly; it is another to read a memo stating that the OLC has been asked whether techniques X, Y, and Z violate the criminal law and reaching the conclusion that the law permits them or else the law is unconstitutional. Reading such memos brings us much closer to a specific government order to engage in torture.

Perhaps Senate Republicans and their allies they fear that, if such documents ever came to light, pressure for public investigations-- including a truth commission-- and even the appointment of a non-partisan special prosecutor to investigate possible criminal prosecutions would become inevitable.

Continue reading "Republicans holding Johnsen and Koh hostage to sustain torture cover up" »

Nate Silver predicts majority support for gay marriage "at some point in the 2010's"

At 538, Nate Silver is debating various conservatives over whether legalization of same-sex marriage is basically all over but for the shouting. Here's his analysis of 15 years of polls with data specifically on point:
Gaym  
...[G[ay marriage has gained about 8 points of support since November 2003, while civil unions have gained about 13 points of ground. Because of sampling variance and vagaries of question wording from survey to survey, the trend isn't always perfectly smooth. But the overall trend is fairly manifest; the rate of increase in support for gay marriage and civil unions has if anything accelerated since the Massachusetts decision.

This does not mean that gay marriage is "inevitable". The public's views on abortion have been stuck at more or less the same numbers -- with a narrow majority/plurality taking the pro-choice position -- for literally decades.

Support for gay marriage, however, is strongly generational. In a CBS news poll conducted last month, 64 percent of voters aged 18-45 supported either gay marriage or civil unions, but only 45 percent of voters aged 65 and up did. Civil unions have already achieved the support of an outright majority of Americans, and as those older voters are replaced by younger ones, the smart money is that gay marriage will reach majority status too at some point in the 2010's.

April 08, 2009

Hutchinson: LGBT victories attributable to independent activism, not party loyalty

The always engaging Darren Hutchinson (law prof at AU) argues that the burst of progress in recent days comes from thinking beyond conventional liberal notions of change:

.... GLBT equality movements have engaged in relatively savvy political and legal action, which has led to their recent victories. No other liberal social movement can claim the rapid success that GLBT organizations are currently experiencing.

Labor groups are struggling to get Democrats in Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. Also, the decision by the Obama administration to push the auto industry into bankruptcy and consolidation -- rather than giving car manufacturers trillions of dollars like banks have received -- will undoubtedly require drastic concessions by labor.

While women's rights groups celebrated the enactment of the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the statute really does not guarantee equal pay at all. Instead, it is simply a procedural measure that reinstates the more flexible statute of limitations rule that most courts applied in employment discrimination cases until 2006, when a divided Supreme Court imposed a more restrictive rule. The Ledbetter legislation is an important advance. Nevertheless, while gender equality advocates gushed over President Obama's ceremonial signing of the law, Congress tabled a more expansive proposal that would have relaxed the extraordinarily tough evidentiary burdens on plaintiffs in pay equity cases.

Pro-choice groups are another important Democratic Party constituency. In recognition of their electoral significance, President Obama reversed the "Global Gag Rule" during the early days of his presidency, but it remains pretty clear that he will not seek to reverse the Hyde Amendment and to legalize the use of federal funds for domestic abortion services.

Blacks and Latinos voted heavily for President Obama, but race and civil rights have not formed a visible part of the new administration's domestic agenda. Although the economy is certainly relevant to people of color -- who are disproportionately poor and unemployed -- most of the government's policies dealing with the economy have transferred wealth to powerful financial institutions. By contrast, only a few reforms have been implemented that provide immediate consumer-based relief. This glaring dichotomy explains the passionate response of the public to executive bonuses and compensation.

Finally, civil libertarians celebrated the President's executive orders banning torture, closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and shuttering the CIA prisons. But they have been largely unsuccessful convincing the Obama administration to abandon highly criticized policies of the Bush administration -- such as asserting a highly expansive state secrets litigation defense, adhering to the use of rendition by the CIA, denying civilian attorneys access to the Guantanamo Bay detention center, holding out the possibility of "harsh" interrogations, and asserting broad power to detain indefinitelyno longer uses the term "enemy combatants").

Although President Obama stated during his campaign that he would seek the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, he has not taken any affirmative steps to do so. Prior to his inauguration, press statements by anonymous members of his staff indicated that he would not move quickly on DADT. Recent comments by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates affirms these earlier accounts. But Gates took a similar stance during the Bush administration, which caused some GLBT rights advocates (including this blogger) to question his nomination by President Obama. Needless to say, DADT is officially on the back burner.

Also, President Obama has not altered his position on same-sex marriage: He still believes that marriage should be limited to heterosexual couples. Rather than accepting his position or lobbying him to change his mind, GLBT rights groups have pursued other avenues of relief, including some that could force his hand. For example, a recent lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of DOMA. Plaintiffs in the case entered lawfully recognized same-sex marriages under Massachusetts law. They seek equal access to federal benefits which DOMA denies, rather than a federal right to same-sex marriage.

The precarious status of the economy could help generate public support for efforts to alter the discriminatory distribution of federal benefits which DOMA mandates. Also a strong plurality to majority of the public supports "civil unions" and "equal benefits." Because this litigation advances an idea that enjoys popular support, it might succeed.

In any event, this case (along with an ongoing one that challenges the legality of DADT) could test President Obama's commitment to his campaign promises related to GLBT rights. Retreat from those promises could prove politically embarrassing and damaging. ...

Loyalty to a political party has never secured social change. Instead, political activism and litigation -- combined with political opportunities created by shifting economic and social conditions and international affairs have all led to substantial changes in policy across United States history.

Political commentators often distort history by vastly overstating the role of presidents and understating the importance of social movements to the history of policy innovation. Today, our society inflates the role of Lincoln in bringing about abolition, the centrality of Roosevelt to the New Deal and end of the Great Depression, the role of Kennedy in the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the role of Johnson in the passage of the anti-poverty and Great Society programs.

Although presidential leadership and vision were critical to the accomplishment of these policies, these dramatic changes would not have occurred without the engagement and agitation social movements. Presently, GLBT movements apparently "get" this aspect of history....

April 07, 2009

Vermont legalizes gay marriage by super-majority vote of legislature

Bilde Together with the Iowa Supreme Court's unanimous decision, this was the week that made the inevitable, well, inevitable. VIdeo of the debate and vote is here

UPDATE: The newspaper of record is recording this week as a "watershed." The Washington Post is reporting on the angst among Republican strategists about how to handle the issue.  A Quinnipiac Institute pollster is skeptical that there will be much national impact, especially in Congress. A Dallas Morning News columnist calls for resistance to gay marriage, which he describes as "ideological fantasy and bloviation." Washington Times columnist and super conservative Cal Thomas admits the new reality: "The battle over gay marriage is on the way to being lost."