michael j. morris


Prop. 8 Upheld

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/us/27marriage.html?_r=1&hp

Today the California Supreme Court ruled to uphold Proposition 8 in the state of California. From the New York Times (link above):

“Chief Justice Ronald M. George for a 6-to-1 majority, said that same-sex couples still have the right to civil unions, which gives them the ability to “choose one’s life partner and enter with that person into a committed, officially recognized, and protected family relationship that enjoys all of the constitutionally based incidents of marriage.” But the justices said that the voters had clearly expressed their will to limit the formality of marriage to opposite-sex couples.

“Justice George wrote that Proposition 8 did not “entirely repeal or abrogate” the right to such a protected relationship, but argued that it “carves out a narrow and limited exception to these state constitutional rights, reserving the official designation of the term ‘marriage’ for the union of opposite-sex couples as a matter of state constitutional law.””

This makes me crazy. It offends me that this is the perspective of the law being upheld in the country in which I live. While it is true that the state of California does allow same-sex civil unions that offer equal legal protection under the law (along with four other states and the District of Columbia; see HRC’s website for the full info on same-sex marriage rights in the United States), civil unions are issued by and recognized BY THE STATE, whereas the legal status of “marriage”, while issued by the state, is recognized by the Federal Government, a recognition that is accompanied by more than 1,100 federal rights, benefits, and privileges. What I cannot wrap my head around is how a state supreme court can offer “equal state rights by another name” as the illusion of true equality. Nor can I understand to any degree how a federal government that currently supports this inequality is doing nothing in this or similar situations.

Then I recall that there are powerful voices in our nation advocating against equality. I hate that I came across this commentary on Anderson Cooper 360 today. I hate that things like this are being said.

Tony Perkins is the President of the Family Research Council. Here is the Family Research Council’s official press release on today supreme court ruling in California:

 “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 26, 2009

CONTACT: J.P. Duffy or Maria Donovan, (866) FRC-NEWS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Family Research Council President Tony Perkins today praised the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold democracy and reject efforts to strip the right of the people to amend the state’s Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. 

“Over one million Californians signed petitions to place Proposition 8 on the ballot and over seven million voters approved the measure on Election Day. California’s Constitution gives its citizens the right of self-governance and we are pleased that the court resisted demands to strip the right of the people to amend the state constitution. Even this widely-recognized liberal court understands that overturning Proposition 8 would represent a repudiation of the state Constitution it is sworn to uphold. 

“Unfortunately, the Court chose to ignore the plain meaning of Proposition 8 and will force state recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’ licenses issued last year. The Court’s recognition of these ‘marriages’ clearly seeds the ground for a possible legal battle before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

“At every opportunity, the people of California have voted to protect marriage because they recognize the far reaching consequences that redefining marriage will have for children, the family, religious liberties, businesses and every facet of American society. Today’s decision should encourage pro-family activists not only in California but across the country. Marriage redefinition is not inevitable unless advocates of the family stand aside and allow it to happen.”

– 30 –

 

I am offended to read praise for empowering a population to impose inequality in a nation that was supposedly founded on equal rights for all citizens. I am offended that this issue is touted as an issue of faith, family values, or semantics rather than one of civil rights. I am offended that heterosexual marriage is elevated as somehow sacred simply on the basis of it being between a man and a woman, no matter its content, no matter its foundation or integrity. I am offended that the re-definition of the legal status of marriage to recognize same-sex marriages is discussed as anti-family and the end of civilization as we know it, as if marriage has not been understood and re-defined culturally throughout history. The Family Research Council made similar statements in April after Iowa moved to recognize same-sex marriage under the law. 

 

 

The court decision is discussed with language such as “forcing same-sex marriage on an unwilling populous,” as if the decision to recognize equal rights for same-sex couples means that the population of Iowa at large will be subjected to non-consensual homosexual unions. It offends me that same-sex marriage is discussed as the gateway to polygamy and marriages between adults and minors, as if the one logically leads to the next. It offends me that the contemporary American definition of marriage is touted as the icon of “5000 years of human behavior,” as if past centuries in cultures around the globe have not recognized all sorts of variations not only on the formal composition of a marriage, but also the meaning which the culture gave to it. 

Earlier this year, I wrote a letter to the FRC responding line by line to their official statement on homosexuality. At the time I did not feel it necessary to make my statement/response public, but today as events such as the California Supreme Court decision continue to unfold, and as organizations such as FRC continue to proliferate statements of their views into arenas of public discourse, I felt the need to make my statements more public as well. It can be viewed here.

At the same time, I am encouraged that their are public advocates for equality to continue to be just as vocal as the FRC. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released the following statement today:

5/26/2009

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, responded to the California Supreme Court’s split 6-1 decision today ruling that Proposition 8, the narrowly approved measure which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry, is valid.  As a result of the court’s decision in Strauss v. Horton, California becomes the first state in the nation to strip away marriage rights for same-sex couples.  As same-sex couples and allies from across the country react to the news, HRC is releasing an online, YouTube video set to the song “I Won’t Back Down”: www.HRC.org/California
 
“Today’s ruling is a huge blow to Americans everywhere who care about equality.  The court has allowed a bare majority of voters to write same-sex couples out of basic constitutional protections,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.  “This ruling is painful, but it represents a temporary setback.  There will be a groundswell to restore marriage equality in our nation’s largest state, and HRC will not give up until marriage equality is restored in California.” 

One significant effort already underway is a strategic partnership between HRC and California Faith for Equality (CFE), a statewide group established to educate, support and mobilize faith communities on LGBT equality.  The partnership joins CFE and its 6,000 supporting faith leaders with both HRC’s Religion and Faith Program expertise as well as HRC’s National Field Department to broaden, diversify and deepen religious support for marriage equality in California.

“This ruling couldn’t be more out of step with what’s happening across the country,” said Solmonese, pointing to recent marriage victories in Iowa, Vermont and Maine. “We have no choice but to return this basic question of fairness for the estimated 1 million LGBT Californians back to the voters.”
  
“While we are relieved that the 18,000 couples who married before the Prop 8 vote will still have valid marriages, it does not in any way remove the sting of this ruling,” added Solmonese.
 
Over the past decade, public acceptance of marriage equality for same-sex couples has changed dramatically.  For the first time, more Americans say they support marriage for same-sex couples (49%) than oppose it (46%), according to the latest Washington Post/ABC poll released in late April.”

 

Below is the video referenced in the body of HRC’s statement. If nothing else, it inspires me to hope.

 

I am sure there are some who might read this and wonder what relevance it has to me creative activity or work as a dance artist/scholar. The shortest answer is that it is all connected. As I make work, as I consider the body and its social relevance, I am brought face to face with the society in which I am creating, in which I am living. As I consider the subjects of my research, I consider the research and analysis and writing that has not been done, that has not been explored by dance scholars. This was the fuel for my recent presentation on the negotiation of gender in the work of Bronislava Nijinska. I am currently exploring the potential for analyzing the work of Frederick Ashton through a queer lens. Ashton was a homosexual choreographer, and yet his work has rarely been considered for its potential as a contributor to queer culture or a queer contribution to dance culture. It all relates, it all synthesizes, and part of the purpose of this blog is for these ideas and interests from seemingly disparate parts of living and making to co-exist in this space, to find relationships and offer new points of interest in the process. If this particular post seems too political or too removed from art/dance/creative activity, I encourage you to reconsider it as a component of the making, of the thinking that leads to the making, of the living which fuels and influences and shapes the making. I encourage you to follow a trail of “tags” and see how ideas start to relate, maybe in ways that they didn’t before.

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4 Comments so far
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Michael,

I heard a nationally-syndicated conservative radio host praising the “majority” in California for supporting Prop. 8. Let us hope that, as religion and intolerance subside in this country, bigotry will fall. Traditionalists are clamoring to their holy texts for guidance while much of it has been socially overturned in times past. Slavery, subjugation of women, and child abuse, though supported by their traditions, have largely been considered a product of the unenlightened, dark eras in our history. Is it possible that we will likewise reflect upon same-sex marriage similarly?

Until then,

Adam

Comment by Adam

It’s sickening how people seldom think about the far-reaching implications of the statements they make. Or that by making statements such as the ones you mention above they’re depriving other human beings of…humanity. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating; what Terry Pratchett said is true:
“And sin…is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”
“It’s a lot more complicated than that–”
“No it ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”
“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes-”
“But they Starts with thinking about people as things…”
– Clara

Comment by Clara

As disheartening as the Prop 8 ruling is, I have hopes that it is one of the dying gasps of the anti-equal rights bigots. Within just a few years, measures like Prop 8 have gone from passing overwhelmingly to barely passing, and polling that is differentiated by age shows that (to be crass) equal rights are just waiting on more old people to die to be overwhelmingly embraced.

Back home in Washington State, the governor just signed into law a bill basically granting all the rights of marriage to domestic partnerships (which include both same-sex partnerships, and over-65 partnerships, where one partner risks losing retirement benefits if married). Though it is not marriage, it was still a step forward, and one that immediately spawned protest by right-wing nutjobs. Their protest, and attempt to put an initiative on the ballot, is quickly derailing for lack of support, while the pro-equality groups gained even more energy and support in response to them.

So I’m discouraged, yet hopeful–I think we’ll see a rectification of this within our lifetimes–and I’m not talking about our old age even. I think it will be like the anti-miscegenation laws, where we look back in wonder and disbelief that people were so against marriage equality, and that it was socially acceptable to ban it.

For a bit of lighter viewing, here’s a humorous take on the hypocrisy of the anti-marriage equality faction…
http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2009/05/28/how-would-you-feel

Comment by Karena

Thanks for writing, all of you.

Adam, I resonate with your hope. I get so exhausted of the argument of “the majority”. First, I’m not even sure it is a majority in this country who stand for inequality. But secondly, historically, in these dark eras in our history, it was with the approval of the majority that minorities were oppressed. Perkins and others argue that taking these issues to the courts and not the public is an abuse of our legal system, yet it is the courts and not the general public who carry the responsibility of justice. I am working on a new post that addresses this a bit more.
Thanks for reading, for writing, and supporting equality and enlightened thought. I believe that you represent an important segment of society who are not necessarily a part of the oppressed minority that are already “looking back” on marriage inequality as we as a culture do the other dark passages in our history.

Clara, love, thanks for reading/writing. That Pratchett quote is simple and profound (I find that to be characteristic of you, though.) And in my experience, it is that understanding, that shift from arguing this as a “social phenomenon” to the recognition that it is about real people’s lives that people come closer to supporting equality. When they begin to put a face to this, when it is no longer “homosexuality” but “my friend Michael, who is homosexual,” things change for them profoundly. I believe that if this is a decision that is going to be left to the populous, then it is that recognition of the humanity involved that will be essential.

Karena, you are completely right, I think. To look at the momentum of this movement towards equality, it is happening so much faster than it feels like in the day to day headlines. The support for these sorts of marriage bans, the number of states that are starting to recognize same sex marriage, even the bid to bring this before the US Supreme court, is all happening much faster than other civil rights struggles.
I am actually working on a new post discussing the abolition of the anti-miscegenation laws in this country. I don’t think it is a history that very many people (especially in my generation) are recalling in this current struggle. As I responded to Adam, I think we will look back and wonder with disbelief that our society fought against equality as they have. I think some of us are already accessing that perspective. I think you are as well, and I appreciate that. Thanks for reading/writing, and for the humorous video. It was funny and dark and a poignant self-reflective perspective that most people are not accessing in this argument.

Thanks all. Hope you keep reading, and I would love if you kept writing. Comments/responses are part of what makes me feel that this space is a living arena for public conversation/contemplation.
-M

Comment by morrismichaelj




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