E.J. Graff

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: SCOTUS Takes on Same-Sex Marriage

Flickr/Jamison Weiser
Tonight, you’ll hear on the news that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the "gay marriage cases.” Much of the mainstream ( i.e. , straight) media will be treating the two cases they’ve taken—a challenge to California's ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, and a challenge to DOMA, the federal law that prohibits the government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states—as essentially the same. Don’t be fooled. The cases are very different. The fact that SCOTUS has taken both has a lot of us very worried. Let’s start with the more famous one: the Prop. 8 case. This is the one we did not want the Court to take. At its simplest, the lawsuit—brought by star lawyer team Ted Olsen and David Boies—is asking the Court to consider whether Prop. 8 is constitutional; it’s about whether there’s a fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry. When the California electorate passed Prop. 8 in 2008, you may recall, it overturned the state supreme court’s decision to allow...

We Can't All Be Royals

AP Photo
Ap Photo Kate Middleton and Prince William on their wedding day I know you can hardly stand the excitement: Princess Kate is preggers! Finally, the QEII can step out of service, passing off the baton—er, scepter—in a way that skips right past her reprobate son. Finally, she has a new generation in line that understands the royal job: Get married, reproduce, and stay honorably married. Which, as you may have noticed over the weekend, is just what The New York Times 's Ross Douthat wants us reprobate Americans to start doing. In what began as an almost sensible column, Douthat noted that public policy can help encourage working people to have families. But then Douthat ran right off the rails, chiding us for our lack of character, our selfish decadence, our end-of-empire exhaustion, and for preferring the comforts of—oh, I don’t know, maybe paying the mortgage?—to the sacrifices of raising more children. Herewith: The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-...

Who's the Boss?

(Flickr/OzinOH)
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court looked into the question of who counts as a “supervisor” for the purpose of employment law. If you’re not an employment-law watcher, it sounds like the legal equivalent of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But the answer is going to have real-life consequences for hundreds of thousands of people. Let me illustrate. Imagine this: You’re a teenage girl working at a pizza place. You’re often scheduled to work with John, a leering guy in his twenties who has the same title that you do. But because John’s been working there six months longer, and is ten years older than you are, the assistant manager often leaves him in charge of the shift. John can’t officially fire you—only the assistant manager can do that—but he gets to tell you what to do on a given day. Here's the horrifying part: John gropes you grossly whenever he’s alone with you on the floor, in ways too explicit to be listed here. When you’re standing at the cash register, if...

What's Next for Marriage Equality?

(AP Photo/The Capitol, Paul W. Gillespie)
In case you missed it, Team Marriage Equality just won five different statewide votes (I’m counting the Iowa race, where NOM failed in its attempt to recall one of the Supreme Court justices who voted for equal marriage). Okay, so maybe you heard. Everyone and her brother has been reporting on the ballot breakthrough, including me in my most giddily Tiggerish incarnation. There’s been some fabulous reporting on what made the difference. Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed wrote a careful report on the behind-the-scenes research and the shift in emphasis in the messaging, which is well worth reading in full. Here’s a snippet: Among the key changes were a shift away from talk of "rights" to a focus on committed relationships; a decision to address "values" directly as being learned at home; and an attempt to give voters "permission" to change their minds…. The research was sponsored by Third Way — a centrist Democratic think tank — that conducted an extended round of surveys beginning in...

Why I Love Thanksgiving

(Flickr/Due Chiacchiere)
Flickr/Due Chiacchiere A s I do every morning, I just rode my bike around the gorgeous city reservoir a block from my house, with my little Toto-like terrier running joyously alongside me—honestly, you should see how he bounds through the grass. I wave at the regular walkers and dogwalkers, even if we don’t know each others’ names. Today, Thanksgiving, Fresh Pond was overrun by visitors, out to burn off some calories and enjoy the brilliant blue New England day before they sit down with families of blood or of choice to eat, argue, joke, pray, or whatever their particular configuration might consider appropriate for the day. Since this is Cambridge, the colors were mostly but not only white, from deep WASP to darker brown: prep school blonds; ruddy Irish; argumentative Israelis; Pakistanis or Indians; Chinese; a very sweet and quiet Tibetan refugee couple who run a local restaurant and whose tiny Tibetan terrier swaggers like he owns the world; an extremely tall and fit couple...

Kevin Clash, Take Two

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
So there’s a second lawsuit against Kevin Clash , formerly the voice of Elmo, alleging that he had sex with an underage teenager. As a result, Clash has resigned from Sesame Street, according to the New York Post , which explains: Clash’s sudden downfall came hours after published reports emerged that a man in his mid-30s filed a lawsuit against Clash, accusing the beloved puppeteer of having underaged sex with him when he was just 15. The federal civil complaint, filed in New York by Cecil Singleton, alleged that Clash—now 52—picked him up in 1993 on a gay phone chat line. Singleton said he was 15 at the time, while Clash was 32. "[Clash] trolled gay telephone chat line rooms to meet and have sex with underage boys,” Singleton claimed in his explosive lawsuit. "[Clash] groomed [the accuser] to gain his trust by, among other things, taking him to nice dinners and giving him money." Now the first accuser wants to “recant his recantation,” again levying his allegation that the sex...

Dying for a Pro-Life Cause

(Rex Features via AP Images)
So now we know they really mean it: They’d rather see a woman die than have an abortion. You may have heard this story. Thirty-one-year-old Savita Halappanavar, who was visiting Ireland from India, was 17 weeks pregnant when she went to University Hospital Galway with back pain. They found out that she was miscarrying. According to the Irish Times , after spending a day in severe pain, Halappanavar started begging to have delivery induced, since there was no way the fetus could survive. She was refused, because the fetus still had a heartbeat. Here’s how the Irish Times reports on what happened next: Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar (34), an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, says she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination. This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they...

Goodbye to Barney Frank

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
For The Advocate , I conducted an exit interview with Barney Frank, the first voluntarily out LGBT member of Congress. I needn't tell Prospect readers that Frank has had an incredibly distinguished career as a legislator on behalf of the downtrodden, progressive attack dog, gay advocate, and master of the withering soundbite. Before I went, I told my wife that my goal was to be told a particular question was "stupid" fewer than three times. In fact, I didn't hear that once. Do we need any more evidence that imminent retirement has mellowed the man? Frank said a couple of things that I found immensely moving, and which I'll excerpt here. I asked him why, when he spoke with Jason Zengerle of New York Magazine , he listed progress on LGBT issues as the first of the accomplishments he was proud of—before financial reform. Here's what he said when I asked him why: [Financial reform] may be important to more people—but it’s not as important as your own personal dignity and rights. We went...

Hell No, Elmo!

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Earlier this week, I said that I just don’t care about General David Petraeus’s affair. I’ve since heard political writers explaining that the affair itself may be immaterial; what matters was that Petraeus was compromising intelligence, granting line-crossing levels of access to someone unknown to the CIA. That may be so. But no matter how giddily silly the whole thing has become—what with the threatened good friend and the shirtless anti-Obama FBI agent (why are men “shirtless” and not “topless”?)—I don’t care about the affair itself: consensual adults, and all that. But the Elmo puppeteer story does bother me. In case you missed it, Kevin Clash is a six-foot-tall African-American man, now 52, who does the voice of the Sesame Street icon. Earlier this week, word came out that a young man, now 23, accused Clash of getting involved with him when the accuser was 16 years old—under the age of consent. Sesame Street put Clash on a leave of absence while it investigated. The accuser has...

Maggie & Me

(AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
On Friday, Maggie Gallagher and I had a conversation on Blogginheads in which we continued our attempt to, as she puts it so brilliantly, “achieve disagreement” about whether it is good or bad to gender-neutralize marriage’s entrance rules—i.e., to allow same-sex couples the freedom to marry. Maggie, as you may know, is one of the chief opponents of same-sex marriage, and has made arguing against our marriages a large part of her career. As you also know, just three days before we spoke, the pro-marriage equality side had won four different state referenda by about 52-48. Maggie was generous in loss; looking at the video, I am embarrassed to say I was testy and not as generous in return. I will apologize. At the same time, I do think our differing philosophies of marriage become clearer and clearer. She is correct in that hers is losing. As she says, “the fact that sex between men and women makes babies is the central fact about it.” She believes that the purpose of marriage is to...

General Petraeus, Just Like Us

(Rex Features via AP Images)
The Petraeus affair would be ever so boring if it didn’t involve the resignation of the head of the CIA, the most celebrated general in recent history, the reputed inventor of modern warcraft, the man who got us out of Iraq, the backer of drones—need I go on? I know people are shocked, shocked, but—maybe because national security isn’t my beat—I’m more shocked that anyone is shocked. So an extremely important (and self-important) long-married man falls into bed with a woman who is writing his biography. Ho hum! It can’t be easier to imagine. Maybe it’s especially easy because I’m a journalist. When you’re writing about someone, you are interested in every detail, every little thing they have to say. It’s an amazingly intimate conversation—or rather, a long monologue with an absolutely rapt audience hanging on every word. You ask them everything about what they think, believe, or have done. I can easily see how that intense connection could become erotic—especially when it’s between a...

One Giant Leap for Gay Rights

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Whitney Young, left, embraces her partner Marlena Blonsky as they listen to speeches at an election party in Seattle for proponents of Referendum 74, which would uphold the state's new same-sex marriage law. L ast night, as I sat in Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren's campaign ballroom taking notes on her win, I turned to Twitter and was stunned to discover that Americans have moved farther and faster on marriage equality than I had dared to dream. Maine and Maryland voted to let same-sex couples marry; Washington state is poised to do the same; and voters in Minnesota defeated a measure that would have amended the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Maine voted in favor of equality 54 percent to 46 percent, in the first voter-initiated referendum to do so. Maryland passed marriage equality 52 percent to 48 percent. In Washington, with 50 percent of the votes recorded, marriage equality was ahead 52 percent to 48 percent. (That last...

Handicapping the Marriage-Equality Initiatives

(AP Photo/The Capitol, Paul W. Gillespie)
This is the tenth in the Prospect's series on the 174 measures on state ballots this year. Marriage equality is up for vote in four states. In three states, voters have a chance to affirmatively say yes to allowing their state to marry same-sex couples; in the fourth, voters can add a “one man-one woman” marriage clause to the state’s constitution. As we all know, support for LGBT issues in general, and marriage equality in particular, has been getting stronger every year, as more of us talk to our families and friends, explaining that love and devotion are the same whether you love a boy or a girl. Will this be the year that, at long last, we win at least one marriage vote at the polls? Below is a list of the states to watch, with some brief handicapping. As you watch, remember these two things about the difference between opinion polls and the final polling: All undecideds vote against marriage equality. Ignore the spread. A couple of points of support disappear at the ballot, as...

Don't Marry Me in Minnesota

(Flickr/Fibbonaci Blue)
(Flickr/Fibonacci Blue) The Capital Rotunda in St. Paul, Minnesotta. Participants in African-American Lobby Day occupy the first floor while protestors against the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage fill the halls on the second floor. A s I’ve been writing here, marriage is on the ballot in four states on Tuesday: Maine, Maryland, Washington, and Minnesota. The upbeat news from the first three is that voters have a chance to say "yes" to letting same-sex couples get married; the ballot question is some variant of this sentence: Should [our state] issue civil marriage licenses to qualified same-sex couples, while preserving religious freedom and protecting clergy from having to perform such marriages if doing so violates their tenets? The fight in Minnesota is harder. Its ballot measure is the bad old kind that will amend the state constitution to insist that civil marriage licenses can only be issued to different-sex couples. Here’s the background. In 1971, waaaay back...

Equality's Amazing Vanishing Act

(Flickr/Major Bonnett)
This year in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington, citizens will have a chance to vote on marriage equality. In the first three, the question posted to voters is phrased affirmatively—Should the state issue civil-marriage licenses to same-sex pairs?—while in Minnesota, voters will be asked whether marriage should be defined as being between a man and a woman. When I reported on the pro-equality campaigns in Maine and Maryland , I outlined what LGBT advocates now take as givens in any ballot campaign: The undecideds will vote against us. In the pre-ballot polling, the point spread between those supporting and those opposing marriage equality is meaningless. The percentage against plus the percentage that is undecided is the real numbers to watch. We lose 2 to 5 percent of our support at the polls. Of those who tell pollsters they’re on our side, 2 to 5 percent change their mind when they face the ballot question, alone in the booth. We don’t gain any support during the campaign...

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