Gender & Sexuality

Asked and Answered

Flickr/Ted Eytan

It’s a strange thing, living on the cusp of social change—miraculous and dizzying. Ten years ago to the day, on March 26, 2003, I sat in the tiny hallway that functions as the Supreme Court’s press gallery, off to the justices’ right, trying to hear the oral arguments in Lawrence v. Texas, the case in which the Supreme Court—years after the rest of the developed world—knocked down the country’s 13 remaining anti-sodomy laws. Yesterday morning, I sat there again to hear the justices consider the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, written into the state constitution by Proposition 8. I’ve spent my adult life writing about LGBT issues; back in the mid-1990s, I was the first lesbian to write broadly in favor of same-sex marriage, and in 1999 I published a book explaining how same-sex couples fit into marriage’s shifting historical definition.

Marching Against Marriage Equality

Jamelle Bouie

This morning's gathering at the Supreme Court in favor of marriage equality was matched—in numbers if not intensity—by a march against marriage quality on the National Mall, organized by the National Organization for Marriage. A long line of people, two columns deep, walked from one end of the Mall to the other, and then made their way to the steps of the Supreme Court, where they demonstrated against the push for same-sex marriage.

(Female) Politicians Acting Badly

Christine Quinn pressing the flesh. (Flickr/Azi Paybarah)

Unless you follow New York politics, you probably don't know anything about (or maybe haven't even heard of) Christine Quinn, the speaker of the city council and front-runner to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg when his term runs out at the end of this year. The story of the morning is a front-page piece in today's New York Times, detailing how in private, Quinn is a holy terror, tearing people's heads off when they displease her, threatening and sometimes retaliating against those who cross her, and leaving a trail of shocked and intimidated people in her wake.

So, does being a jerk make you less effective as a politician? And are female politicians like Quinn inevitably going to be judged more harshly than male politicians who act the same way? We'll address those questions in a moment, but here's an excerpt from the article:

No, the Religious Right Hasn't Gone Away

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

At this point, it's almost cliche to say that we've seen a sea change in attitudes toward same-sex marriage.

Claire McCaskill Jumps on the Marriage Equality Train

KOMUnews / Flickr

Recent polls show majority support for marriage equality, a rapid change from just a few years ago. Unfortunately, the same isn't true of Congress. The same malapportionment that gives Republicans a structural advantage in the House and Senate also overweights the votes of social conservatives, who tend to reside in the nation's more rural areas. Congress will eventually voice its support for same-sex marriage, but it will lag behind the country as a whole.

Gay Rights, There and Back Again

Flickr/Chris Phan

Tomorrow, I’m going to the Supreme Court to hear a bunch of lawyers debate the status of my marriage. Do I have a right to be married? Am I married just in Massachusetts, or in the United States at large? Simply attending the arguments feels like a high point in my career: I've written about and followed LGBT issues at large, and marriage in particular, for most of my adult life. I still remember sitting at my cousin’s wedding in 1993 when someone told me about the trial-court win in Baehr v. Lewin, the Hawaii marriage lawsuit that kicked off the past twenty years of marriage organizing. Before that, marriage hadn't occurred to me—or many of us, back in the day—as something I could have. By 2003, I knew that we would win it, and in my lifetime.

The Super-Sexy Case Against Gay Marriage

When I get that feelin', I need Supreme Court amicus briefs.

Three years ago, in a column titled "It's Not You, It's Me," I noted that a rhetorical shift had occurred among opponents of gay rights. In earlier times, there was lots of talk about the immorality of homosexuality and how depraved gay people were, but now those sentiments have become marginalized. For more mainstream spokespeople, the argument against same-sex marriage is not about gay people at all but about straight people. The problem with same-sex marriage, they say, is the effect gay people's marriages will have on straight people's marriages. What that effect will be, they can't precisely say, but they're sure it'll be bad. Similarly, when we argued (briefly) about repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, their claims were not about whether gay soldiers could do their jobs, but whether their presence would make straight soldiers uncomfortable.

Next week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on cases challenging California's Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage in the state, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. There's little doubt that at least three of the justices (Scalia, Thomas, and Alito), and maybe more, will be staunch defenders of the legal status quo. But it will be interesting to hear what kinds of arguments the lawyers on their side come up with, particularly under questioning from the liberal justices. The original Prop. 8 trial was something of a farce, as the law's defenders proved unable to provide any rationale for it that could withstand a moment of cross-examination. So what are they going to say at the Supreme Court?

Have You Heard? Feminism's Over!

Flickr/Seattle Municipal Archives

Good news, ladies! Feminism has fizzled, and those of us who aren’t suckers are giving up our career dreams to follow our female nature. Our lady brains and lady bodies aren’t cut out for the workplace, you see, and our manly, oafish husbands will never be as good as we are at cleaning the toilet, so why fight it? We’ll all be more fulfilled if we quit our jobs and make like June Cleaver by way of Martha Stewart. At least this is the point of the latest "trend" piece in New York magazine by Lisa Miller.

The New Gay-Rights Frontier


As the Supreme Court prepares to take its first serious look at the issue of same-sex marriage—with oral arguments set to begin March 26 in back-to-back challenges to California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act—gay-rights activists and their supporters in the New Jersey Legislature are quietly advancing their fight for LGBT equality on a separate front, with a concerted push to undermine the practice of controversial gay conversion therapy in the state. 

Weird Friends of the Court

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

If you’ve felt encouraged by recent trends in favor of gay rights—including the new Washington Post poll showing 58 percent of Americans support marriage equality—swing over to SCOTUSblog and read some of the nearly 60 “friend of the Court” briefs opposing gay marriage.

On Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases—the first on California’s Prop 8, the second on the Defense of Marriage Act—that could determine whether the federal government can define marriage as between a man and a woman, and whether state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. The parties are represented by some of the lions of the Supreme Court bar, including two former Solicitor Generals—Paul Clement and Ted Olson—on either side of the issue (though arguing on separate days and on separate cases). Their briefs are strong.

But the Court allows others to file briefs as amici curiae, or “friends of the Court.” These amicus briefs are usually a mixed bag, and on cases like this especially so. Controversial cases about social issues bring out the crazies, and crazies can hire lawyers to write a brief. Sometimes the crazies are the lawyers.

The Political Is Personal

AP Photo/Mike Munden

On Friday, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio became the first Republican in the Senate to support same-sex marriage, explaining in a Columbus Dispatch op-ed that his change of heart came after his son told him he's gay. It was easy to be underwhelmed by Portman's announcement; as Michael Tomasky asked, "what if his son weren't gay?

Before You Know It, Change Happens

Movie Still/Mike Simpson

At SXSW, a festival geared toward the young, beautiful, and hip, I’m guessing few expected to be bowled over by a documentary film about aging and aged gay men. But Before You Know It, which made its debut this week, does indeed leave you wowed—and unexpectedly hopeful about the plight of gay seniors. The problems of aging are scary for any population, but for a generation of gay people, the situation is particularly difficult: many lost their connection to family when they came out and don't have partners to turn to for help as their needs increase. 

Born This Way?

AP Photo/High Point Enterprise, Don Davis Jr.
From the time she could talk, Maggie* has told her parents that she is a boy. She doesn’t say, “I want to be a boy.” She doesn’t say, “I feel like a boy.” She says, “I am a boy.” She tells her classmates, too. Lately—she’s in elementary school now—they’ve been having debates about it. “Maggie’s a boy,” one kid said recently, in a not-unfriendly, matter-of-fact sort of way.

Toxic Masculinity

AP Photo/Herald Star, Mark Law

Last summer, two young football players in the Ohio town of Steubenville carried the unconscious body of a local girl from party to party, violating her in ways you’d probably prefer not to think about. (I’m not pretending this incident is merely “alleged,” because there’s video and this column isn’t a court of law.) Today, she’ll face her attackers in court for the first time. It’s a brave act, as she surely knows she’ll not only be facing down the boys who did this to her, but also the adults whose jobs it is to blame her and call her a liar. Only she can know what will make this sacrifice worthwhile: Is it enough for her to be heard in court? Will it only be healing if the boys are convicted? Whatever it is she needs, I hope she gets it.