Angelina Jolie—a woman with some of the world’s most famous breasts—has explained in a thoughtful New York Timesop-ed this week why she's had them prophylactically removed and replaced. Jolie’s mother died young, after a decade living with ovarian cancer; when Jolie herself got genetically tested, she learned that she had a BRCA1 genetic mutation that gave her an 87 percent chance of getting breast cancer. To protect her children from losing their mother too young, she opted for surgery, which she describes in some detail.
Last month, Rhode Island came over into the marriage equality column. Last week, it was Delaware. Yesterday, it was Minnesota. There’s progress expected in New Jersey, Illinois, and at the Supreme Court. Pick your favorite cliché or metaphor about winning—being on a hot streak, passing the tipping point, bending the arc of history—and feel free to apply.
And yet few Americans are aware that in 29 states, you can still be fired for putting a same-sex partner’s picture on your desk, or rejected for a job because the hiring manager doesn’t like homos. That’s right—it’s perfectly legal in most of the country to fire, refuse to hire, demote, or otherwise discriminate against someone for being gay.
Yesterday Massachusetts held a primary for the June special election to fill new Secretary of State John Kerry's senate seat. Roughly four people turned out to vote in my district, with a total of 153 voters statewide. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. There were four people in my polling place when I went in to vote, at 5:30 pm—a time when, were it a presidential election, the line would be down the block. As I write this, The Boston Globe is reporting an estimated 10 percent turnout. My guess is that that the number of people who were aware of the fact that the primary was yesterday, compared to the number of Massachusetts residents aware of the first names of both marathon bombers, was roughly 1:100.
At this point, it’s almost a yawn: The last and most Catholic New England State, tiny Rhode Island, population just over one million, passed marriage equality last week. Just nine years after Massachusetts set off moral panic nationwide and triggered the final wave of state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, all of New England has now followed the Bay State’s lead. Rhode Island has recognized same-sex marriages performed in other states since 2010; nowhere were you more than an hour’s drive from a state where you could marry—the Ocean State is bordered by Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York, all equal-marriage states.
Last week, the Boy Scout leadership did something very smart: they released their plans on the question of whether you can be both gay and a Boy Scout—during an overwhelming news week during which almost no one would pay attention. So now let’s give the plan the ridicule it so profoundly deserves. The Scouts are going to propose to the voting members of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) National Council—nearly 1,500 of them, who will meet in Texas the week of May 20—that the organization allow openly gay scouts. But that openness will last only until a Boy Scout is 21. Openly gay adults will still be banned as Scout leaders.
At 5:30 a.m., we awakened to the ping of texts from friends around the country asking if we were okay. That’s how we learned that the Arsenal Mall in Watertown—the town a mile away where I lived for 20 years and the mall where we do our house and garden and video-game shopping—is crawling with SWAT teams, snipers, FBI, and that our house is on lockdown. I live now in a pretty busy Cambridge neighborhood, with the sound—from one and a half blocks away—of Fresh Pond Parkway’s steady traffic as the usual background hum. The elementary school across the street is usually buzzing with squealing children. But this morning the only sounds were sirens, helicopters, and spring birdsong.
It was a chilly morning, but the radio reminded us that this was the perfect weather for the Marathon (here in Boston, there’s only one; the rest are mere imitators). Last year we had a fabulous 80-degree day, but the Marathoners suffered terribly, with record numbers of them suffering from the heat. So I sent them good, hopeful wishes as I took my dog around the pond, my fingers freezing. We all know the Marathon—the start in Hopkinton, the cheering crowds at Heartbreak Hill. Everyone has either run it or gone to watch it at least once in their time here. My wife adores Patriots’ Day, a holiday that includes history and sports, her favorite things. Last year, as a gift, my little brother sent the three of us to the Patriots’ Day Red Sox game; as we left Fenway we all had to hold hand so we didn’t lose our eight-year-old to the wall-to-wall crowds.
As I sat in the press gallery off to the side of the Supreme Court yesterday morning, waiting for the justices to file in and begin hearing arguments about the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I had that sickly excited feeling that you get when the roller-coaster car is climbing the first hill. The day before was easier for me: I didn’t want the Court to take Perry, the Prop. 8 case, to begin with. I was relieved when very quickly we all could hear that the justices had no appetite for a broad ruling. But the DOMA case—and here please let me confess that I’m terribly human—the DOMA case is about my marriage. As regular readers will know, I’m married to my wife in Massachusetts, but because DOMA bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, I’m not married in the United States. The justices were going to discuss whether to end that split identity. This morning, it was very personal again, as it hasn’t been in awhile.
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.
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.
My lord, it’s a privilege opining in this spot week after week. But periodically I get a hankering to dig deeply into meaty and underreported issues, so that I can return with something more informed to say. In collaboration with broadcast journalist Maria Hinojosa’s The Futuro Media Group, we’ve landed a seed grant to do just that. I’ll return to blogging in April.
You know what repealing "don't ask, don't tell" did to change the military, right?
Nothing, absolutely nothing. It acknowledged what was already true: lesbians and gay men were doing their jobs, just like everyone else. With the repeal, of course, thousands of people were freer to breathe easily, but nothing else changed.
Is sex evil unless it leads directly to babies? Is marriage only legitimate if it fosters offspring, or is it also for intimacy? The U.S. Supreme Court issued three decisions between June 7, 1965 and Jan. 22, 1973 that collectively give the answer: No. Roe, the last of them, can be thought of as the exclamation mark. As we reflect on the 40th anniversary of that decision, there's another group that has Roe to thank for the rights it enjoys today: LGBT Americans.
Of course most young people don’t know what Roe v. Wade is. Why should they? I know nothing about the battle of Dunkirk or the fields of Verdun. Most people have a vague idea about the battles of the past; they care most about the battles they’re fighting today. And for young people, the abortion battle is over; why do they need to know its name?
E.J. Graff writes on social-justice and human-rights issues, particularly discrimination and violence against women and children; marriage and family policy; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lives. She is a resident scholar at the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center and the author of What Is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution (Beacon Press, 1999, 2004).