Posts Tagged ‘Same sex marriage’

There’s Always Shell and Sunoco

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

Here’s where it stands.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage. Twelve countries now allow it, the latest being France. Action later this year in New Zealand and Uruguay could make it 14 countries that recognize the rights and humanity of gay people.

 Even the Boy Scouts have chosen to take a timorous half-step into the 21st Century and acknowledge after 103 years that gay scouts and straight scouts tie square knots precisely the same way. No longer will gay kids automatically be barred, or kicked out of their troops. But it will take more time and protest until the scouts finally allow gay men and lesbians to hold leadership roles.

All this has happened in the very recent past, and no one can honestly say he was unaware that the culture was changing. Yet, some institutions have simply folded their arms on the matter of equal rights for all their people and self-righteously declared: Not in my outfit, not in my organization. One such is Exxon Mobil, which finds it impossible to understand that to reject the demands for workplace equality by gay men and women is to cast doubt on the decency and courage of the company’s officers and shareholders.

Specifically, for the 14th year in a row, shareholders have rejected a proposal to formally prohibit discrimination against gay men and lesbians at Exxon Mobil.

As a result, I’ve decided not to contribute another dime to Exxon Mobil’s coffers, but will buy gasoline elsewhere. Finding a substitute should not be difficult. The Times reported last week that most of Exxon’s competitors have included gay people in their policies on workplace discrimination.

Clearly my protest won’t do much to change attitudes and practices at Exxon headquarters in Irving, Texas, but we do what we have to do.

In going over my 2012 check book register, I found that I spent $667.63 at Exxon gas stations. Interesting statistical aside: $667.63 is about what Rex W. Tillerson, the chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil, makes in an hour and a half on the job. Forbes puts his salary at $2.2 million. I don’t know if he works a 40-hour week.

So once again – explanation to follow – I am putting scissors to my Exxon Mobil gas card and sending the snipped pieces to Texas (Attn: Tillerson) along with a note announcing that I will not do business with a company that sees some people as less than worthy of fairness on the job site.

“Tillerson,” I will write. “You want to play games with human rights? Not with my $667.63 so deal me out.”

The first time I returned an Exxon card was after the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989, when the tanker ran aground and spilled 11 million gallons of Alaskan crude into Prince William Sound. The skipper was found guilty of a negligent discharge of oil and fined $50,000.

In 1989 as well as now, my gas purchases weren’t making the difference between profit and loss on Exxon’s financial statement. But when a spill befouls 1,300 miles of shoreline, kills thousands of birds and fish, and disrupts the lives of countless individuals and small business owners, you’re supposed to do something about it, say something about it.

I tore up my Exxon card but continued using my Mobil card. A decade later, Exxon and Mobil merged. I continued my boycott of Exxon but naively continued to buy Mobil gas, I am not happy to say.

I won’t make such a mistake again, though I would reconsider my Exxon boycott if and when the company wakes up and provides to gay people the protections it offers other employees.

One more thing. Such a policy change at Exxon would have to be accompanied by an apology for taking so long to do the right thing.

Profiles in Cowardice

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

The Supreme Court, in its questioning during the challenge to California’s anti-gay marriage measure, hinted that now’s not the time. Not the time for equality? What are decent people, on the right and left, supposed to make of this?

It’s like telling a man in the emergency room that now’s not the time to work on what appears to be a heart attack. It’s like telling a woman with a hungry baby that now’s not the time to offer a bottle of formula.

And of course then comes that bothersome question – if not now, when?

Question 1: How often will America tolerate gutless politicians and judges who offer the old do-nothing response of “The time is not right,” or “Wait a while longer,” or “Put your feeble interpretation of ‘equal rights’ on hold?”

Question 2: Precisely how long are people supposed to wait for the rights and privileges afforded to everyone else?

Progress often is difficult, but because it is necessary to a free society, it must be pursued with courage and vigor. It can’t be placed on a back burner, and the people who seek such progress can’t be shunted aside as mere inconveniences.

Which is not to say that crusades are easily won, because generally speaking, the Americans most in need of change have not been straight white men – the class that runs things. They generally do not need redress on such matters as equal rights, and as a result often block the progress sought by others.

The time may be wrong for gay marriage?

When it comes to recognizing that all people must have identical rights or else the great experiment fails, America seems to move at molasses speed. For example, it took 131 years since the founding for our politicians to get around to an understanding that women are citizens, too, and therefore must be allowed to vote.

It took 176 years until we could pass a Voting Rights Act (and some people are trying now to un-do it), 76 years to outlaw slavery, 79 years to grant citizenship to all who were born here or naturalized here, 81 years to allow all citizens (but not women; their right would come 50 years later) to vote.

Clearly, what progress needs is some valorous people to stand up to the forces of darkness, valor such as displayed by one of my favorite heroes, Joseph Welch, a little known Boston attorney. In 1954, Welch looked Joe McCarthy in the eye and said, in a different context, “Senator, you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

And that was the beginning of the end of the McCarthy reign of terror. I believe Joseph Welch had more courage than the 531 members of Congress in total.

To end the sanctioned bigotry against gay people who insist on having the same rights as the rest of the population, it will take more judges and more politicians who refuse to duck out of a showdown with evil with the excuse “now’s not the time.”

In fact, to grant to all Americans the rights that most now enjoy, there has never been a better time than right now.


Flash! Obama Evolves on Gay Marriage

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

My best friend, Jim, is a Georgia native who escaped the backwaters of the Deep South after growing up there, just as I did. Since 1996, when I wandered one summer afternoon into his Middletown quilt shop, Jim and I have shared a multitude of interests. We’ve walked miles together to stay in shape, collaborated on making pillows and curtains for clients, ranted about the sorry state of American politics, watched Rachel Maddow eviscerate conservatives, traded good books, and gossiped about everything from obnoxious acquaintances to attractive men. Jim taught me how to make quilts, and I helped him figure out how to navigate Facebook. We spend a solid hour or more on Skype every few days, planted in front of our computer screens only blocks apart.

Both of us are married – me for 15 years; Jim, technically, for three-quarters of one. My spouse is a man, and so is his. Last fall, after same-sex marriage became legal in New York, Jim was finally able to wed Gary, his longtime partner, on the 35th anniversary of the day they met.

Jim is a singular individual, not a demographic statistic or a societal scapegoat to be trotted out any time a televangelist needs a reason why God hates hurricane victims, or an office-seeker wants to scare “values voters” for political gain. Jim did not “choose” to be gay (as the ignorant and the powerful alike insist), and his identity encompasses a great deal more than his sexual orientation. In a blog Jim recently began writing, he summed up his reaction to being objectified by politicians who revile him and religious proselytizers who think they can change him: “To put it simply, I am tired of  ‘sitting in the back of the bus.’ I am tired of being labeled. I am tired of being discriminated against. I am tired of religious nutbags calling me ‘evil’ and ‘degenerate’ and blaming me for natural disasters. I am tired of political candidates using me by declaring that I am ‘morally depraved’ and responsible for destroying the ‘sacred family unit,’ while, at the same time, these politicians hide behind Jesus (I was taught that Jesus was all about love, not hate) to justify their relentless prejudices and religious intolerance. To everyone who thinks they’re ‘normal’ and I’m not: How the hell does my being married have any effect on your life?”

Both parties ‘categorize’ voters, but for different reasons

My friend sees himself as a person who happens to have diverse connections to all kinds of other people, not a “gay man” – a distinction that evades those who marginalize other people by assigning them to groups identified by a common race, ethnicity, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. The resulting “demographics” have been used by members of both major political parties to make electoral calculations. Democrats tend to focus on “minority” social groups in order to help them succeed in a society steeped in exclusion of the powerless. While their motivations to help the less fortunate may indeed be genuine, Democratic politicians still hope to win the votes of members of the demographic groups they are assisting without losing those of “independents,” whom they cannot so readily categorize. Republicans often isolate targeted social groups in order to demonize them and thereby divide potential voters into “us” (primarily wealthy white businessmen, along with “low-information” voters who hope to emulate their success) versus “them” (Democrats, racial and ethnic minorities, feminists, gays and lesbians, and non-Christians).

A North Carolina amendment making same-sex marriage unconstitutional passed all too easily because it employed gay stereotypes to appeal to the ignorance and bigotry of the majority. Few who voted in favor of it knew that the amendment would also invalidate domestic unions between unmarried opposite-sex couples and dissolve domestic-violence protections. The Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said advocates of the law were asking the wrong question for a democracy – as often happens when civil rights issues are submitted to the popular vote of a poorly informed electorate that has already been brainwashed against the targeted group. “The question shouldn’t be, ‘How do you feel about same-sex marriage?’ but do you let the majority rule against the rights of the minority?”

The Democrats, although they don’t share the ruthless Republican agenda of targeting gays and lesbians to polarize the electorate, are not entirely blameless when it comes to politicizing them. In 1996, while running for the Illinois state senate, Barack Obama indicated on a survey that he favored legalizing gay marriage, but by the time he ran against black conservative Alan Keyes for the U.S. Senate in 2004, he began to voice “religious reservations.” Polls of churchgoing black voters revealed a general cultural disapproval of gay “sinners,” and Obama needed the vast majority of the black vote to win his Senate seat. When he announced his presidential bid in 2007, Obama said he opposed same-sex marriage but approved of civil unions. By 2011, a spokesman said Obama believed the issue was “best addressed by the states” (a loaded historical reference that angered even Obama’s gay campaign donors), while adding that committed same-sex couples should receive “equal protection under the law.”

Obama’s views on marriage equality ‘evolved’ at a snail’s pace

Critics roundly lambasted Obama for dragging his feet on the issue of marriage equality. There was no question that he had done more for LGBT Americans than any president ever had. Yet Obama continued to claim, with increasingly less credibility, that his position on same-sex marriage was “evolving.” Then Joe Biden opened his big mouth once again and told David Gregory on Meet the Press that he was “entirely comfortable” with same-sex marriage. The following day, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan echoed Biden’s endorsement of marriage equality. By that time, the president’s hesitation to follow the lead of his own administration had begun to look like “vacillation” or worse, “poor leadership.” Once the North Carolina ban passed, the pressure became overwhelming for Obama to make his position on marriage equality clear.

It was taking too long to “build a more perfect union,” as the president had promised in October 2010. So President Obama changed course rather abruptly by declaring during an interview that his evolution on the issue was complete, and that he was now in favor of full marriage equality.

Hostilities commence after president ‘declares war on marriage’

Now that the president has uttered the historic words, what happens next? The fear of alienating black voters must have long appeared well-founded to a man living in a virtual bubble. Yet one conservative blogger opined that, given the wretched state of the economy, open support for same-sex marriage probably wouldn’t cost Obama very many black votes. A surprising 60 percent of the vote in North Carolina counties with black majorities was cast in favor of banning same-sex marriage, but Barack Obama’s name was nowhere on the ballot.

Reaction from the right was fast and furious, though predictable. “Obama Flip Flops, Declares War on Marriage” shrieked Fox News Nation’s headline. Eric Cantor triumphantly tweeted, “With the economy in stagnation and crippling amounts of debt, the President seeks to further divide America by launching in [sic] a culture war.” The Log Cabin Republicans condemned Obama for being “a day late and a dollar short” by waiting to speak out until the day after LGBT activists lost the North Carolina vote.

My friend Jim, however, wasn’t so quick to condemn the president, even after waiting such an interminable length of time before at last seeing his position vindicated. “Finally!” Jim said. “Needless to say, I’m very happy that he has chosen to stand up for our civil rights, which is what it’s all about for me. I will certainly vote for him for president now.

“This issue was seriously affecting his presidency, and I think he just had to come to terms with it,” observed Jim, whose final assessment was blunt and to the point. The president’s choice, in the end, Jim said, “was to s**t or get off the pot, and he finally s**t.”

Stand fast, compatriots! The onslaught from the other side, an entire raft of it, has only just begun to fly.