Missing Marriage Miscellany

In an effort to make some productive use of my insomnia, I’m dashing off another contribution to Mombian’s efforts against California’s Proposition 8. After giving the matter some thought, the only unifying theme I can muster is reflected in this diary entry’s title. Although the issue has been discussed and debated for several years, some things are either minimized or untouched.1) Assuming  people know what the issue means for us. Those of us in the FABGLITTER who keep up with news and issues that pertain to us have been following the individual stories for years. Whether it’s through the Advocate or 365gay.com or AlterNet or Logo, we know about the lesbian in New York State who was shut out of her partner’s funeral when the partner’s parents intervened and buried her on private ground they owned (thereby preventing the woman from even visiting her grave). We heard about the family that had a vacation nightmare in Florida, when a medical emergency and hospital discrimination intensified the suffering attending the sudden death of a spouse and parent. Indeed, we know all the real-life stories discrimination on the job, in the courts, in hospitals. We know this sort of thing happens, but we forget that most people–most voters–don’t. The issue usually gets framed in broad terms in the MSM, and the coverage that gives the specific, often heart-rending details (which would bolster our case) is largely limited to the niche outlets that even most of our allies don’t necessarily follow. I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that some people have assumed we already have the same rights as everyone else, and I suspect there’s some fire behind that smoke.

2)Where’s the drama? This brings me to the topic of emotion. Perhaps because so many of us and our allies are inclined to reason and intellect (like the hierarchy of the Democratic Party), we shrink from using emotion in our appeals. Do we think emotional appeals are beneath us? Are we worried we’ll bolster a gay stereotype? The other side isn’t pulling any punches, and we shouldn’t either. One of the reasons I threw down the gauntlet in my previous diary was that the Yes on 8 ads were trotting out the kids to scare people into supporting their side. We have the stories I mentioned above, so why aren’t we dramatizing these stories in our ads? Images of people talking against a white background look like ads, and we need stories. Narratives will humanize us and draw people in, yet we don’t use them.  

I’m not alone in thinking this. Psychologist Drew Westen wrote a book called The Political Brain in which he discusses this at length. The Republican/fundie/dominionist crowd has not only appropriated words (patriotism, family values, etc.), they have forged associations or “networks” of feelings and ideas that help their cause, in large part by hurting ours. “Whether out of ignorance or fear, Democrats have repeatedly failed to recognize and call attention to these efforts to co-opt the meaning of fundamental concepts for partisan ends.” (Westen p. 270) The same can be said for some of us FABGLITTERati.  

Perhaps part of the problem is our own ambivalence. For every one of us in drag, there’s at least one in corporate drag. How many times have you heard an LGBT person express distaste or discomfort with campy Pride displays? Blaming the drag queens (or the leather folk) for the mudslinging from the right won’t help–it won’t stop the wingnuts, and it won’t endear those of us who are white-bread bland to our more flamboyant brothers and sisters. So why not play to our strengths? What’s keeping us from dramatizing our family values?

3) “No papers. State to state.” Can you recall that scene from The Hunt for Red October? Captain Ramius and his first officer are discussing their dreams for a better life in America, and the first officer speaks almost reverently about getting a recreational vehicle and driving from state to state, then checks himself and asks, “Do they let you do that?”  

Did you smile at the captain’s response?

Free travel within the country is yet another thing most Americans take for granted. Americans go off to college or graduate school, change jobs, take vacations. We drive rental cars knowing our licenses will be effective even as we cross borders. Straight married couples are still married, even when they go over state lines. Go to another state for a divorce, and you’re still divorced when you get home.

The reason for this? Full Faith and Credit:

Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof. –U.S. Constitution, Article IV, Section 1

Some people will tell you that this means a victory against Proposition 8 will let people get married in California and bring their marriages home with them. The problem is that second sentence. It underpins the federal DOMA, so states don’t have to recognize the marriages performed in California, just as they don’t recognize those performed in Massachusetts. Overturning federal DOMA (as Obama has said he supports) and leaving marriage to the states (as Obama seems to prefer) doesn’t really solve the problem. If Congress doesn’t exercise its prerogative in the matter of same-sex marriages, do you really believe all the states will bow to the inevitable and extend Full Faith and Credit? Defeating Proposition 8 is vital, but it is by no means final.