Luck Not Be a Lady

You know those odd moments in animated cartoons when a character's head seems to be boiling and popping, one eye getting bigger, then smaller, and so on? As a journalist who focuses on gender and sexuality, that's how I feel lately: happy, sad, shocked, celebratory—all at the same time.  

As I've said here over and over, it's just a spectacular time to be openly gay. Last week, as Jonathan Capehart noted in the Washington Post, was "a big gay week for same-sex marriage." Washington passed a marriage-equality bill and Maryland seems poised to do the same—a bill has passed the House, where it stalled the last time legislators tried to push it through, and now awaits a vote in the Senate and the governor's signature. In both states, marriage equality will probably go to the ballot. Some of my sources say it has a better chance at winning in Washington, where advocates have been doing field organizing on LGBT issues for decades and have already done a lot of the face-to-face education and get-out-the-vote work that will be needed by ballot time; Maryland hasn't yet begun. However, Marty Rouse, HRC's National Field Director, tells me that he's hopeful about the effort in Maryland, which will be run by Marylanders for Marriage Equality; he says that the legislative push has given organizers an opportunity to have the "uncomfortable conversations" that change people's minds, including in the African-American churches where opinion often lags behind other segments of the usual progressive coalition. "There's been a sea change," Marty told me. "You can feel it. Of course we have opponents, but our supporters feel more comfortable coming forward." Marty was critical in helping sustain our marriage win here in Massachusetts, and said he has been involved in organizing marriage campaigns in five other states (including Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York). I worry, but I deeply hope he's right. 

And in the very same week, New Jersey's legislature passed, and its governor promptly vetoed, a marriage equality law. They already have a civil unions law, but, of course, separate ain't equal. With the help of all the major LGBT organizations, Garden State Equality has been organizing there for a decade; they now have two years in which to override the veto. Meanwhile, Lambda Legal has a marriage lawsuit in the courts. In January and February, two separate polls reported that a majority of New Jersey citizens support a law granting same-sex couples marriage rights.  (LGBT historical footnote: Steven Goldstein, the head of Garden State Equality, was in 2002 part of the first same-sex couple listed in The New York Times weddings & celebrations pages for his Vermont civil union to his spouse Daniel Gross.) One way or another, I believe that New Jersey will have gender-neutral marriages within two years. 

Here's Nate Silver's analysis, as of last June, of the chances, that marriage equality would win or lose at the ballot, separated by state; he estimated then that equality would win in Washington and lose in Maryland this year. 

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice announced that it would not defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, in McLaughlin v. Panetta, in which a same-sex married couple is suing to be treated as ... married. (For more on what that means, check out my article for The Nation from last year.) 

And that's just on marriage. There's more good LGBT news, some of which I'll be talking about this week. But that's enough for now. 

At the same time, my lady side is squealing with dismay. I don't really have to recap the last couple of weeks for you again, do I? Janitors employed by hospitals affiliated with the Catholic Church: Is their religious freedom protected, or must they be ruled by the Church's contraceptive theology, using "aspirin between the knees" as their only affordable anti-pregnancy measure? Will Virginia join Texas in decreeing that if women choose not to carry a pregnancy to term, they must first be punished by a form of medical rape? Should women even be invited to discuss laws, rules, and regulations that have a fairly intimate bearing on their lives? Shall states declare a fertilized egg—even before it divides into two cells—to be the full moral and legal equivalent of a person?

That sizzling sound you hear is the sound of my synapses frying. 

Okay, it's not all as contradictory as that. The states in which ladies are being asked to stay barefoot and pregnant are, for the most part, also the states that don't recognize my marriage. (Except for Iowa. But the mandatory transvaginal ultrasound law isn't expected to pass in Iowa.) But there's plenty of other evidence of the backlash against women. The gendered segregation of the toy aisles, in which pink is over here, and trucks are over there, and girls must choose one while boys must choose another. The continuing stagnation of the number of women in the U.S. Congress, which so significantly lags behind other countries in its gender mix. (Check out this chart, where you'll see that the U.S. is 71st among the world's parliaments on gender equality, with only 16.8 percent women—the equal of Turkmenistan, and lagging behind such countries as Kazakhstan (17.8 percent), Senegal (22.7 percent), Sudan (25 percent), and Ecuador (32 percent). 

I know, I know, there are three kinds of lies: "lies, damn lies, and statistics." You could certainly write an essay showing how much farther and faster women have come than LGBT folks since 1972, and that also would be true. But for several years now I've felt that my gay side was winning while my lady side was backsliding.

You may also like