“Love v. Kentucky”: How the Bluegrass State worked its way into marriage equality

Love v. Kentucky” (2017), directed by Alex Schuman, documents the litigation by six same-sex couples in Kentucky and the role these cases would play in the final Obergefell v. Hodges opinion at the US Supreme Court in 2015, making recognition of same-sex marriages among all states the laws of the land.

The couples were often elderly.  At least one or two had raised children, and one had survived non-Hodgkins lymphoma of one husband, with the other shaving in sympathy.  One of the couples was Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza (USA Today story).

The state tried to use arguments based on “tradition” (Robert Schuler’s old idea from the “Hour of Power” at the Crystal Cathedral in CA back in the 80s), which amounted to nothing.  Then the state tried to make a connection to the need for reliable procreation.

But there was little said about how heterosexual couples were “injured”, other than the fact that their social supports didn’t stand out or identify them (as reproductively heterosexual) as clearly once gay marriage was legal.

The film doesn’t get to the narrative of Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk who went to jail for refusing to sign her name to same-sex marriage certificates, until the end. The governor pushed through a law saying that clerks don’t have to sign their own names to certificates if their religious beliefs are affronted (by lawful duties in their public employment which normally uses their names).  NBC News has a good summary of the story here.

The justices in Kentucky noted how quickly same-sex marriage had evolved in public opinion. In 2006, neighboring Virginia had tried to shut down same-sex marriage (and even civil union) with the Marshall-Newman amendment.

In the 1970s, I once reported to a manager whose last name was “Husbands”.

Wiki on same-sex marriage in Kentucky.

Wikipedia image of downtown Louisville KY, similar to film.

Fact table:

Name: “Love v. Kentucky”
Director, writer:  Alex Schuman
Released:  2017
Format:  HD video
When and how viewed:  Amazon instant; also YouTube is available $3.99 to $4.99
Length:  87
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Gravitas Ventures
Link:  official

Picture: My trip to Cumberland Gap, Aug. 2016
(Posted: Monday, April 17, 2017, at 11 AM EDT)

 

“Soldier of Change”: A gay Army officer lives through DADT, repeal, and the fight for marriage equality even in the military

Book review:

 

Soldier of Change: From the Closet to the Forefront of the Gay Rights Movement” (2014), by Stephen Snyder-Hill, with a Foreword by actor George Talei, is one of the most contemporary and thorough and up-to-date books on the history of the military gan ban and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, taking it through the repeal in 2011, told as a personal account by an Army captain who was eventually able to marry his male lover and legally hyphenate his name in Ohio.

Hill (born about 1970), raised near Columbus, Ohio,  first joined the Army in 1988, seeking skills and a career, and wound up fighting in the Persian Gulf war in Iraq and Kuwait (recall Matt Damon’s 1995 film “Courage Under Fire”). He recalls being “asked” if he “took it” when joining, and “lied”.  After the war, but while he was still on active duty, President Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” was introduced. He was honorably discharged in 1996 and went to college and eventually became a medical dietician.

After 9/11, he re-enlisted and became an officer, rising to Captain, in food service.  He became part of Operation New Dawn in Iraq in 2010 until President Obama began to withdraw troops from Iraq (which we can speculate as to whether that made way for ISIS, but Hill never goes there). During his long second stint, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, starting with a law at the end of 2010, and “certified” by September 2011. (my posts are here (look at December 10, 2010 and September 20, 2011).  He asked a pointed question online of socially conservative Senator Rick Santorum (“It Takes a Family”, his 2005 book) in the 2012 GOP presidential debates, and help fight for the repeal of DOMA by participating in litigation, and then fought for equal benefits for same-sex spouses in the military.  He ran full circle.

He really covers a lot of ground.  Back in Ohio as a civilian, he had dealt with “change your sexuality” probes by evangelical Christians (I recall the group “Love and Action” in the 1990s).  In the Army, he faced constant intrusiveness from other soldiers over the lack of girl friends, and the culture of sharing so much (like letting people borrow cell phones during his second stint) made civilian expectations of privacy impossible,  Back in 1993, recall, the main arguments against lifting the ban had been the lack of “privacy” in military living, and in the idea of “unit cohesion”.  The privacy issue was often viewed in terms of seeing other men nude, as in showers, and noticing differences (circumcision, or traits like body hair that could be related to race), but the real problems is that tightly cohesive units don’t respect privacy the way gay singles who live alone or in privatized relationships expect. Hill makes the valuable point that sexual cues from gay men in intimate environments are only picked up by other men with gay identity (although I personally think more men “notice” than he wants to admit.)   But the unit cohesion argument ran into another Waterloo;  it had been used before, in 1948 when President Truman integrated the military by race (as in the HBO movie “Truman” with Gary Sinese).

I’ve never bought the “identity politics” idea of “gay rights”.  I think that sexual orientation is a more complex issue than race (and more complex in many ways than gender identity).  Colin Powell had gone into this point in his 1990s book “My American Journey”. A more logical comparison would be to “religion”, because the practice of religion is “behavior” more than it is “genetics” or “biology”.  The question in my mind was always, why did others make my sexual orientation their business, but one answer used to be, they expected me to participate as a “male” as “part of the group” able to protect women and children, sometimes.  That was a bigger part of the issue when I was growing up (in the 50s and 60s) than it is for young men today, at least more affluent young men.

The need for absolute legal and nominal equality in his marriage and personal relationships may seem over the top.  But consider, that to walk in others’ shoes sometimes and really belong to the larger community, one needs to be recognized as fully an equal.  Hill often mentions be thanked for his service and exposure to sacrifice by people who did not recognize the inconsistency of their own attitudes (and sometimes even, as he says, irrational group hatred).

It’s interesting to me that Hill’s narrative is different from mine in that he did not actually deal with conscription as I did (in the 1960s). But he mentions that the Army relented on enforcing DADT when it needed people deployed, and in fact, before DADT, the military often simply avoided bringing up the topic – to the point that the politicization of gender issues in the military under Clinton only added to people’s desire to “ask”. Back in the 1960s, in fact, the Army stopped “asking” on draft physicals, fearing people would use the ban to avoid Vietnam.

Hill mentions SLDN (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network), now called Outserve, and talks about meeting the parents of Barry Winchell, murdered in a hate crime on base in 1999, at a dinner in 2012, which I attended.  In fact, I attended all the dinners from 2003 to 2012 except 2011, when I had the flu but had made the donation for the ticket. That year I had to use other people’s YouTube to cover the event on my blogs. I remember the menus, ranging from vegan to “Cornish game hen”.

Hill’s book (like Daniels and Le Blanc, June 23, 2016) will be important ammunition if the Trump administration, with Mattis as Secretary of Defense, wants to erode the gains for non-straight men and all women in the military.  Mattis’ own book (Dec, 7) had questioned the national security implications of “social experimentation” in the military, but, as Hill says, it is all too easy for this ruse to hide animus.

Author: Stephen Snyder-Hill
Title, Subtitle: Soldier of Change
publication date: 2014
ISBN: 978-1-61234-697-7
Publication: Potomac Brooks (University of Nebraska Press); 198 pages, paper, 15 roman, 22 chapters with Foreword and Epilogue
Link: author;  Advocate

(Posted: Tuesday, December 27, 2016 at 6:45 PM EST)

“Citizen Lobbyist” documents 2004 transgender activism in Congress

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Citizen Lobbyist” (2005), by Timothy Watts. Is a 58-minute documentary tracing a few days of lobbying by members of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition.  It’s all filmed in Washington, with a session in Senator Lugar’s office, on the Metro (in the days before Safe Track, about when “Five Lines” was filmed), and a closing section at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial near the Lincoln Memorial.

I often talk about “citizen journalists”, so it’s natural to ponder the role of the “citizen lobbyist”.

The main point of contention is that the regular “gay establishment”, especially HRC (Human Rights Campaign), doesn’t seem to have the backs of transgender people, at least in 2004.  HRC is viewed as willing to throw transgender under the bus to get ENDA and hate crimes bills passed for “normal” gay men and women.  The film maintains that over 50% of transgender people are unemployed.

The first lobbying session happens on April 30, 2004, which is ironically the day that I started substitute teaching.   These are the time just before gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts after the Goodridge decision . The lobbyist point out that anti-gay violence often increases after gay political victories, and anti-trans violence is out of proportion to other crimes.  Anti-gay violence is reported to have increased particularly after the Lawrence v. Texas ruling on the 21.06 Texas sodomy law in June 2003.  There is a narrative a murder of a trans person in Washington in 2002 where police didn’t even leave any tape to close off the crime scene. While the woman relates that story, a passage from what sounds like the Symphony #8 by Shostakovich plays in the background.

In the scene in Lugar’s office, a woman-to-man transgender man explains that he is heterosexual now, and he enumerates the possible mathematical combinations of sexual identity components. But a transgender woman frankly supports the “blurring of genders” and “gender queer” in public consciousness (a bordering on identity politics).

The section at the Vietnam memorial gives a number of transgender people talk about their issues wityh “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, still in place at the time, and also some relate their experiences serving in Vietnam, or even as drill sergeants (even at Fort Jackson).

Let me come back to the difference between journalism (which demands objectivity) and lobbying (which demands loyalty to the constituent group and often must honor partisanship).  I value my own independent voice online as a “journalist”, and I would have to give that up to work publicly to support another group’s agenda or in various conflict-of-interest situations, which would force me kicking and screaming back to identity politics.  I don’t need to pay someone else to speak for me, but if I had to make a “real living” like most people as a huckster, I’d have to.

The film is posted by the Center for LGBT History and Archives.

(Posted Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)

“Free State of Jones”: riveting Civil War and Reconstruction drama trails into present day marriage law; “secession” goes both ways

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Name: Free State of Jones
Director, writer:  Gary Ross, Leonard Hartman
Released:  2016/6/24
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, small audience, 2016/6/27 (Monday night)
Length 139
Rating R  (very graphic war violence)
Companies: STX, Bluegrass
Link: official site 

Free State of Jones” (2016), directed by Gary Ross, based on a (partially) “non-fiction” biographical story by Leonard Hartman, tells us the history of a re-secession movement in Mississippi starting in 1862, led by Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey). It is layered against a trial in 1947 in “modern” Mississippi where one of Newton’s male descendants is tried for miscegenation, where the state claims he is 1/8 “black” even though he certainly “looks” white.

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The movie starts with an 1862 battle scene, where a teenage relative runs to Newton, claiming he was “drafted”.  The kid breaks the first rule of “night infiltration” (for readers who have gone through Army Basic as I did) and stands up and is shot, bleeding out to death in Newton’s arms.  There is talk about how white conscripts can buy their way out of the draft by supplying twenty slaves.  There is a line “this is a rich man’s war fought by poor people.”  There is talk of cowardice, treason, and sedition laws passed by the Confederacy.  (The draft issue came up in the 2002 Martin Scorsese film “Gangs of New York”).

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The movie tracks through the rest of the War Between the States, and into the Reconstruction, with the whole “40 Acres and a Mule” thing, as white landowners and the Ku Klux Klan try to intimidate blacks to keep them from voting.  There is one graphic lynching scene (foreshadowing the still incomplete documentary “American Lynching” by Gode Davis).

The look of much of the film reminds one of NBC’s “Revolution”.  The style of acting and scene set-up is that of a western, although you could call it a “southern”.  Some of the early scenes of war wounds are quite graphic, with nauseating limb amputations on camera (so well described by Margaret Mitchell in “Gone with the Wind” when Scarlet gets trapped in Atlanta), a face literally blown off, and later a scene where an attack dog chews on McConaughey’s balding leg.

As Reconstruction starts, Knight gives an impromptu speech to his vagabond rebels, a kind of libertarian manifesto, of four points, including what you plant you keep (the Confederacy had seized crops and livestock) and skin color won’t matter in your having voting and property rights.

The film was shot on location in Jones County, Mississippi, as well as in Louisiana.

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(Published: Monday, June 27, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)

(Outdoor photos are mine, from northern MS on a trip in May 2014)