Bil Browning

Paying the price for marriage equality

Filed By Bil Browning | March 04, 2009 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: DOMA, flyover country, gay marriage, GLAD, marriage equality, Midwest, same-sex marriage

Yesterday I put up a post lamenting GLAD's decision to challenge DOMA in federal court. Sara Whitman put up a post celebrating the decision. The two posts make nice bookends for the issue of marriage equality and provide unique perspectives; I'd encourage you to read both.

One of the beauties of Bilerico Project is the diversity of opinion - you'll find several people who will agree with you and just as many more who won't. Life's a challenge; our blog should be too. One challenge came from the comments section of Sara's post. Part of what Sam Ritchie wrote that I wanted to highlight is this:

Eventually, we'll all owe our ability to marry to Massachusetts. In the meantime, it sucks a whole lot in a whole lot of places. I was going to say "I wish there was something I could do..." but I guess I should ask instead:

What can folks in the progressive states do to make things suck less for those in the reactionary ones? I mean, no one is going to stop fighting for more rights where we are, but certainly there must be things we can add to that to help move us all forward. Aren't there?

Kudos to Sam for taking our conversation one step further. Its a discussion so interesting it got it's own post. My answer after the jump.

There are numerous ways to help those of us in flyover country that doesn't require east and west coast activists stop pushing the ball forward in their own states.

Acknowledge There Is a Price To Your Success

Nothing in life is free. While I congratulate and celebrate with those LGBT folk who have been able to get married, it needs to be clear that there was a price.

moneybag.jpgWhen Hawaii looked poised to gain same-sex marriage, states all over the country rushed to "protect marriage." The majority of states passed legislation banning same-sex marriage.

When Vermont got civil unions and Massachusetts gained marriage, the pack of rightwing fundie nutjobs bayed for blood. The places those hounds bit were the South, the Midwest, and Western states. Many of those states took it even further and passed amendments to their state constitutions outlawing gay marriages and, in some cases, civil unions and domestic partner benefits.

For all those Massachusetts, California and Connecticut queer couples that have taken been able to exercise their right to get married, thousands of us in the rest of the country have lived with constitutional amendments, failed LGBT-friendly legislation, and fighting battles brought to us when we weren't financially or organizationally capable of defending ourselves.

Walk a Day In Our Shoes

Obviously, someone who has always lived in New York City and someone who's always lived in Winchester, Indiana will have different life experiences. The series of events that have unfolded to form my life couldn't have happened if I'd lived in a gay ghetto. Harvey Milk probably wouldn't have become a political leader and LGBT martyr if he'd moved to San Antonio instead of San Francisco. Our surroundings shape our lives.

I, personally, have faced employment discrimination, housing discrimination and hate crimes. Just me. I'm 36, so we're not talking about the 50's or even 60's. While things have improved in Indiana as time has gone on, we've not seen the dramatic changes like more progressive states.

Our reasons for shying away are valid. Who wouldn't step back to avoid getting slapped in the face once more? We're not cowards. We're not closet cases. We're not homophobic. We're not stupid for not moving to New York or San Fran.

There is nothing more infuriating though, than feeling as if those who haven't had to face the consequences of their actions are flippant towards those of us who have. We want some respect for paying with our hopes, our blood and our safety. Walk a day in our shoes. Learn how far ahead you are and how far behind we are.

Help Us Get New Shoes

Take_a_walk_in_my_shoes_by_Hiilda.jpgOnce you've seen how much our rights lag behind, help us to catch up. Our organizations are still fairly small; they're fundraising doesn't even touch the amount raised by coastal or national groups. The capabilities just aren't there.

It's not often I give HRC kudos, but I never fail to mention that they were the only national organization to provide hands-on help to pass the Indianapolis human rights ordinance that included both sexual orientation and gender identity. They sent Bo Shuff, another Bilerico contributor.

Once that campaign was over and Bo had left for another job, HRC continued to have a presence with Stu Rosenburg, an organizing and political guru. Stu helped us make sure Indiana's state house was completely controlled by Republicans - effectively stopping our marriage amendment.

Neither HRC staffer lived in Indiana. Both were based out of DC and covered multiple states. But they were available for us and knew how to get stuff done. They weren't figureheads - they got their hands dirty. Stu and Bo both used their expertise to help - without taking over the show like we were a bunch of country bumpkins.

The two of them earned HRC its respect in Indiana and from me. Other events have shaken that respect, but the two of them made a direct difference in the lives of Hoosiers and I'll never forget it. It wasn't the money they spent (which wasn't much), it was the support they've provided.

What I'm Asking

I'm not asking for other states to stop moving forward or even slow down. I'm asking them to reach behind and offer us their hand to help bring us along too.

helping+hand_0.jpgI'm not asking for national organizations to stop fundraising thousands of dollars out of Indiana while our state groups struggle to pay basic bills with no paid staff. I'm asking them to share some the resources they can afford but we can't: technological assistance, political expertise, connections to other resources and, if possible, the occasional injection of cash for our battles with the rightwing nutjobs.

I'm not asking that we drop marriage as an issue important to our community. I'm asking that we not focus on it so exclusively that it hinders the rest of us from achieving basic rights.

And I'm not just asking for these things on my own behalf. I'm asking for all of us still living without employment protections, hate crimes laws, housing protections, credit protections, marriage equality, or the right to adopt/foster parent or even keep our own children.

We deserve our rights too.

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Thanks for creating a site that allows such dialog, Bil. It's a rarity.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | March 4, 2009 11:33 PM


Tonight there will be demonstrations for same sex marriage in over 33 cities in California. And a scattering of others around the country.

I'm sure you'll agree that the fight for marriage equality is a mass movement and isn’t going to go way. Large numbers of GLBT people want it and the right means to stop us. It’s one of the focal points of the struggle and will remain so.

I understand your anger about ENDA and hate crimes but I think that counterpoising them and same sex marriage is wrong. The people who denied you, me and everyone the benefits of ENDA and hate crimes are not the people fighting for same sex marriage but the people you asked us to vote for - the Democrats (and their not so strange bedfellows the Republicans). Pelosi, Kennedy, Reid, Frank and Obama; they wrecked our chances for ENDA, hate crimes and same sex marriage.

The best way to fight for all these parts of our agenda, nationally and locally, is to break with the Democrats and independently organize a mass movement that's national, so that places like Indianan have a voice, that’s democratic, so that every voice is heard, and that’s mass action oriented, so our voices have some authority.

To win we’re going to have to carry a big stick and bellow. Lobbying and begging just won’t cut it.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | March 5, 2009 4:00 AM

Bil, it is brave to endure, it is brilliant to survive, and it is a miracle to overcome. We shall overcome, too.


Glad that this post is calling on those of us with the advantages to give consideration to those who experience less good fortunate circumstances in which to live.

There are many things for us to do and I agree that we need to choose one and start working at it.

Bil, thanks for speaking so eloquently about this issue. As a Montanan, I can tell you that your analysis of the situation re the issue of Marriage Equality totally resonates.

Your points about the hurtful and infuriating "flip," dismissive comments by some of bi-Coastal brothers and sisters will hopefully be heard.

Thanks for having the courage to speak out for those
of us who live in the 90% geographically part of the USA where the marriage issue has been so damaging to our struggle for full Legal LBGT Equality.

Jim Toevs
Hot Springs, Montana

There are over 50,000 married couples nationwide and just one of you with a blog and a computer living in Indiana. The DOMA toothpaste is out of the tube. Fighting for my marriage in California takes all my dollars and energy and I have none to give to mid western states. I moved from the Bible belt in North Carolina after publically fighting the overwhelming anti-gay initiatives in that state. We were shot at several times and lucky we came away with our lives. Michaelangelo Signorile asked me on his radio show, "Why don't you move". Finally we did.
I miss the beautiful mountain apple farm and my animals, but I don't have panic attacks anymore due to homophobic Southern Baptists neighbors.
I feel that my work for gay rights via a tax revolt is more meaningful in California due to support from the LGBT community. I wish you well, but I think you are wasting your talents by staying in Indiana. With your sense of political purpose you could go far in San Francisco and perhaps find a man to marry.

Thanks Charles, for proving my point about condescending coastal folks concerned only with themselves.

There are over 50,000 married couples nationwide and just one of you with a blog and a computer living in Indiana.

50k married couples = millions of LGBT folks who don't have rights. It has nothing to do with my computer.

Fighting for my marriage in California takes all my dollars and energy and I have none to give to mid western states.

So, in other words, it's all about you and screw anyone else.

I feel that my work for gay rights via a tax revolt is more meaningful in California due to support from the LGBT community.

So rich white guys who don't want to pay their taxes is more important than being able to fully prosecute anti-gay murders in Wyoming? Or "I've got more money than most people and I want to keep it all" is more important than "I'm living on the streets because I can't get a job since I'm transgender"? Wow. I've always thought your tax "protest" was more about your greed than the general good, but this pretty much lays it right out there.

With your sense of political purpose you could go far in San Francisco and perhaps find a man to marry.

You'd think by now, as often as you've stopped by to argue with everyone that you'd realize I have a partner. We've been together for 10 years. I'd marry him if I could. I can't. Congratulations that you could get married. We're still waiting on other items on the agenda, so it's rather low on the ole priority list right now for us.

And since when does "find a man to marry" solve anything? Did you learn nothing from the 60s? For all your "we should have freedom!" arguments it seems rather stupid to insist that my life would be remarkably better if I moved from my home and family to the other side of the country and found someone other than my partner to marry. Some freedom.

But, hey, I might be able to have more money, right?

Again, thanks for proving my point. Your response was exactly what I was railing against.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | March 6, 2009 12:25 AM

Bil, I think it is helpful to remember that Charles lawsuit is in a Federal court. It is about his right to leave assets to a same sex partner. A precedent there would be a crack in the glass ceiling for all Gay Rights. It could lead to our very own version of "Loving vs Virginia." Statistics showed a marked increase in interracial marriage following that decision. Freedom breeds more freedom.

Charles is an older man who "voted with his feet" and is taking a major chance with his economic security as well at a time of life when health frequently declines and patience runs thin.

In that I moved from Chicago within a year of having a gunshot through my kitchen window for the drug and gang abatement activities my partner and I were involved in I can relate to Charles desire for personal safety. I did not leave Chicago because of that, but because of my partner's health needs, still I can RELATE to such desires.

Way to be a dick, Charles. Is that your solution to homophobia? Everyone should just move somewhere where it isn't a problem? That sounds sustainable.

Since you brought it up, I'm unclear on what the intended outcome of your "tax revolt" is, other than getting yourself thrown in jail. What's the endgame? How does not paying taxes help you get there?

It is shocking for you to bring in the death of Matthew Sheppard as an argument against same=sex marriage. Get a real job.

Judy Wiedner, former editor of The Advocate and many others nationally support our tax revolt actions even if hoosier bloggers don't. You need to take off your blinders and travel the world more. The more you argue against justice under the law the more transparent your "poor little me" motivations become.
BTY the IRS has attached my bank accounts and brokerage account, but I am not begging for dollars from the LGBT community as you seem to be. I am willing to sacrifice everything for equal rights because I suffered a great deal due to homophobia when I was Matthew Sheppard's age.. You are obviously not sophisticated or educated enough to understand our actions. I am listening to the California Supreme Court argument right and scratching my head over how it is that you could be so against GLAD's DOMA case. Weird.

We cannot all move. Many of my New York State friends, LGB and T, have jobs and skills for jobs that are here, or wherever in New York State it is that they are at. Quite a few are raising children and have that issue to consider.

I respect immensely your own efforts for same-sex rights, bust so very many, paricularly now, have to stay where they are at for economic or family reasons. Do we just say "too bad, made the wrong career choice" or "just give up your children and move?"

California has little to offer someone looking for a job other than in limited fields right now. Massachusetts or Vermont as an LGBT lifeboat is going to fill fairly rapidly.

New York, outside of the city and a few counties, has only the imperfect instruent known as SONDA for protections, which excludes by legislative intent any kind of gender role variance and only really effectively covers, as one Butch activist put it, "gay male stockbrokers in suits."

Yes, I could leave for Spain, or Ireland, or the UK...but my daughters are in Universities here and my son is serving in the US Army

Yes, the homophobes will blame us. Without a doubt. As the economy worsens, it will be blamed upon America being an "ungodly land." That is not a possibility, that is a certainty; look to the past in the Great Depression and the rise of figures like Father Coughlin or read "It Can't Happen Here" for validation of that premise.


A radicalised LGBT community, out there and objecting and protesting; giving a public face to our cause, could tip all of that in our favour.

Problem is, no one seems to want that to happen....

Awww. Thanks for responding to my little comment with a full-on, thoughtful post. I'm just sorry I haven't had a chance to see it until now, I've been so busy with watching and twittering on the Prop 8 arguments.

I definitely hear you on "Walk a Day in our Shoes." I was in Tucson for 2 years while my partner was in grad school. It always felt like I was hearing/reading about anti-LGBT violence as often as I had in NYC...only Tucson is a fraction of the size, so people shouldn't be getting bashed there so much.

While I was there, I had a situation where two board members of an organization I worked for suggested that I shouldn't have done an interview with the local paper where my partner and I talked about wanting to get gay married...because it reflected badly on "the cause." My boss backed me up 100%, but from the time they confronted me until the time my boss backed me up, I was a wreck, knowing that there was nothing stopping them from firing me just for being gay.

And, to another point, you might not ask it, but I will: the national orgs SHOULD stop pulling money out of states that need it, like Indiana. Or at least share the wealth with local and state LGBT groups. I think the national orgs should be pumping money and resources into states like yours, not being a drain on the community. I mean, if your community is small and under attack, the last thing you need is your "allies" poaching what little you have to fight back with.

Now where do I know Bo Shuff from? I know I know him, just can't place from where...

There are now 86,000 same-sex unions in America, in 11 different states, according to this map of gay marriages by state.

The federal government can't continue to pretend these people don't exist. But this suit against DOMA doesn't challenge the part of the law that lets states opt out of recognizing same-sex marriages/unions in other states anyway, only federal recognition.

Thanks for defending my actions, however, estate to survivors is only a small part of my suit. The large complaint is over a 1st Amendment issue, the establishment clause. Religions are now dictating policy and that is why we are suffering.
I tried for years to make change in North Carolina, heading up WNC Soulforce, forming rallies, protestings, ect., but things got worse due to religious fervor. They even stopped Gay Pride Parades in Asheville near where I lived due to pressure from religious groups. Dead animals were put in our rural mailboxes. Those who stay behind like Pam Spaulding, Matt Comer and Mitchell Gold, I send them good wishes. They think the way to go is through education of lawmakers and billboards giving a gay perspective on scripture. Unfortunately, they are not as strong as the traditional teachings in the black and white fundamental churches.
You are right, I don't have as many years to fight that rural homophobic fight in less progressive states, but thanks to LGBT's migrating to coastal states from mid western states, Harvey Milk would not have had the numbers it took to vote down anti-gay initiatives. Not much of population living in the Castro were born in California. I am not giving advice to Bil, just warning that things could get worse, not due to gay=marriage as he claims, but due to fundamental religion and it's influential voting block. Job loss is a big factor and homophobes look for scapegoats.