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May 13, 2005

Gay in the Heartland

If you are gay and want to get married, then look no further than the northeast bloc of gay-friendly states – Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, soon to be New York and New Jersey, and uh…Nebraska.

Well, not quite Nebraska, but a Federal Judge did strike down Nebraska’s voter approved gay marriage ban yesterday. But I want to know, who actually benefits from this decisions?

In 2000, Nebraska voters approved the amendment to their state constitution by over 70%. With such high numbers opposing gay unions of any kind, this judges decision only hurts the gay rights movement. Tight-pants conservative lawmakers in the state and national government have already cried bloody murder over this “activist judge” who overturned the “will of the people.” It doesn’t seem to matter to them that the reason he said he overturned it was because it went far beyond the legal definition of marriage, even potentially interfering with related individuals who live together, couples who want to adopt or even foster parents.

In short, the amendment was struck down not because he was trying to give a helping hand to Nebraska’s swelling gay population, but because the language of the amendment affected relationships that are normally protected.

But this won’t matter to the Theocrats and it won’t matter to President Bush. He will renew his call for a constitutional marriage amendment to protect states from “activist” judges – despite the fact that Connecticut democratically passed civil union legislation without any judicial intervention, and the Republican governor even signed it into law.

So the judge’s decision will not help things on the national scene. But to be honest, I cannot imagine what good it will do in Nebraska either. Sure, the amendment allegedly interfered with these other kinds of relationships, although I have not heard of any reported cases. The real winners from the law, in theory, are Nebraska’s gay and lesbian population.

But forgive me for saying this, but Nebraska is not exactly a “gay Mecca” It’s not as though Lincoln is a big ticket stop on the circuit party route, or as though Omaha rivals P-town or Fire Island. Indeed, in the 2000 census, Nebraska recorded only 2,332 same sex couples (compared with, 46,500 in New York).

Nebraska is not New York or New Jersey – it is smack dab in the middle of the country, consisting mostly of rural farm land. And while gay and lesbian couples everywhere have a right not to be ghettoized by the heteronormative will of the majority, such a judicial decision will only seem as liberal encroachment upon “the heartland” while bringing little in the way of substantial reward.

[X-posted at Freiheit und Wissen]


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True enough, the judge's decision won't help much. But the judge is not in the business of helping. Judges are supposed to judge. If the statute has a constitutional infirmity (damned if I know), the judge is supposed to strike it down, without regard to political consequences. That's a judge's job.
Unless, of course, the judge is appointed by President Dobson.

Yipes! President Dobson? Now you're really scaring me.

Just some technical details to clear up, that might otherwise be misleading:

1. The same-sex couple data quoted (2,332 for Nebraska, 46,500 for New York, both in the year 2000) refers to same-sex households, not general couples.

2. Once you take into account the drastic population differences in Nebraska and New York, the two aren't nearly as far apart as the quoted numbers may make them appear to some readers.

More precisely, the 2000 population of Nebraska was 1,711,263 and the 2000 population of New York was 18,976,457.

So, for every 7,338 Nebraskans, there were 10 same-sex households, while for every 4,080 New Yorkers, there 10 same-sex households. Still more queer households reporting in NY than Nebraska, but not nearly on the order implied by the numbers out of context.

Lindsay, your points are valid but don't be a killjoy. Give us a day to celebrate the fact that the primitive screwheads that run this state suffered a minor defeat before raining on our parade.

I don't really get what you're trying to say here--if you're only trying to note that fewer people will be helped by the ruling than would be helped in a place with more gay people, that's true (at least short-term)--but not so important.

If you're arguing that people shouldn't try for gay marriage in places populated by few gay people, or that judges should make different decisions, or some other point, then you've still got some work left to do.

As far aw who benefits from these decisions, in the very long term, I would offer up that we all do. Short term, it's more doubtful that anybody does...

I'll have to read the ruling, because it doesn't make sense to me. Why would "spillover" make it invalid? Why does the judge get to decide what the amendment was supposed to do, and claim that it exceeds that mandate? Why can't a state ban legal relationships for more than just same-sex couples?

Here in Alaska, we inserted a similar gay marriage ban in 1998. Is it more valid than the Nebraska version, because it lacks the second clause, which extends to civil unions, et cetera? (No, but you'd have a hard time proving it in court.)

Sorry for any confusion...

First, just to make things clear, this is not Lindsay's post; that is why it says "Guest" at the top.

Second, I was only trying to say that it is hard to be excited about this ruling, primarily because it is going to do more harm than good.

The Theocrats will use it to increase their anti-gay agenda, writing discrimination into the constitution, and socially ghettoizing the gay community.

As a gay man, I feel very strongly about having the rights and priveleges that every other heterosexual couple has in this country. I want to see the 2000 plus rights and priveleges that heterosexual couples have extended to all gay and lesbian couples.

But some steps towards that goal can be counterproductive, and I think this is one of them. It will only inflame the religious right even more - and the immediate benefit will be nothing.

Be glad for these brave judges. They're on the front lines of a war gone bad. I'm sure the justice in Nebraska is quite aware of the personal jeopardy he has put himself into in order to uphold the constitution. The theocrats don't need an opposition to win their battles. In fact, this is how they win, by poisoning rational dialogue and pitting otherwise intelligent people against their allies.

Anything that gets the "Christian" fundies' tighty-whities in a bunch is fine by me. So while this judicial decision (entirely merited, I add) won't necessarily help gay and lesbian Nebraskans, it will provide some comic relief for those of us who enjoy watching right wingnuts wallow in thier imagined victimhood.

Can I just say that I hate the word "heartland"? It's employed so often in the service of the long-standing attitude people in the heartland are ordinary and "normal," while people on the coasts are weird exceptions. I've seen both of these characterizations used to praise and to ridicule, depending on the speaker. Of course, this is a stupid idea: what is ordinary, and even what is normal, depends on context.

You'd be surprised! Lincoln IS sort of a gay mecca for gay Nebraskans!!!

Look, I may be straight but it doesn't mean I'd be willing to allow a judge to honor the tyranny of the majority to avoid the christo-theocrats getting all bunched up (again) because they didn't get their way when the voters agreed with them. Whether I like a judge's decision or actions and/or approve of the outcome (in this case, I most certainly do), what matters is whether the judge if following the letter of the law (which he apparently did). I don't think tossing aside the needs/rights of one group to prevent exacerbation of extremism is the right thing to do for a few reasons: #1 we may think it's temporary, but it wouldn't be #2 capitulation now means more capitulation later; #3 it really wouldn't stem the tide of their hystrionics and #4 - it's just plain wrong.

BTW: in my travels across the country, I've found nice, thriving gay communities where I'd least expect them - inlcuding some very conservative places like the aforementioned Lincoln (I think there may be a small community in Omaha as well) and OK City.

I can appreciate saying that there are things the gay community should be more focused on than marriage right now (sex ed and HIV/STD prevention, broadening the definition of 'gay community' to include gay people of color/poor homos/rural homos, etc.), but the battle is already going and saying that a judge who upheld the letter of the law in the face of enormous public pressure is counter productive is kind of insulting. What is the alternative? That this had gone unchallenged, or that he ruled with popular bigotry over the law?

This also points at the misunderstanding that gay people aren't in rural areas. Come on, we are everywhere. Gay people can't be as visible sometimes in rural communities, but they are always there. And lots of those urban homos in NYC, San Fran., etc. came from these rural places ( I grew up in rural AL) and still care immensely about what happens back in their home states. If AL passed some kind of progressive law with regards to gay folk (don't hold your breath) I would throw a party. Actually, I would consider moving back (probably wouldn't, but I would consider it). Even though I have never been to Nebraska, hearing that one judge in some backwards-ass state had the class and gumption to do the right thing makes this small-town boy feel just a little less hostile towards the human race.

and with regards to the bigots on the right and giving them fodder: if you haven't already noticed, they don't need us to give them anything; they make stuff up. 'Gay people getting married will destroy straight marriages.' Do gay people getting married hurt straight marriages? No, they made that shit up. We can't even begin to appease them or think that if we back down a little or are less visible they will leave us alone. It is way too late now. They are going to bring back the anti-gay amendment in 2006 for the same reason they brought it last time: to give be a chance to vote their bigotry.

I'll agree that the way we engage our elected officials on this issue needs to change, but this judgement is a victory, even if brings with it uncomfortable realities.

This is the report here in Nebraska;

"The federal court did not, not, not say that Nebraska must recognize or allow homosexual marriage. Gay marriage remains illegal in Nebraska.

It only said the state cannot effectively deny people the right to simply ask the Legislature to consider measures that would enhance the rights of same-sex partners."

Everybody has a right to lobby for their own interests.

In a seperate, somewhat related article, a budgetary amendment to ban workplace discrimination in because of sexual preference only failed by two votes. It would have included Nebraska state employees and agencies recieving tax dollars.

I am not saying that the law should not be upheld. It should. But sometimes even following the law can hurt a group of people in the short term if the majority has focused against the law.

In other cases, where the law is not so clear, as in the San Francisco marriage debacle, some actions can have devestating consequences. Some political analysts believe that it was the actions of Mayor Newsom that inspired all those marriage amendments this past November, thus driving out the conservative base in the election...

Some political analysts believe that it was the actions of Mayor Newsom that inspired all those marriage amendments this past November, thus driving out the conservative base in the election...

The moral values myth has been debunked several times in several places in the blogosphere.

I for one am getting sick of the left constantly capitulating for the sake of not inflaming the right, and am sick of lefty social commentators bemoaning it when the left wins a minor victory.

Wake up, the left has lost serious ground in the last half decade. Not because we fought, but because we rolled over for the sake of dubious principles such as "bipartisanship". The left allowed the right to take the rhetorical high ground by buying in to such "principles", not to mention by abandoning states like Nebraska, and not even attempting a dialogue with the South.

Which brings me to Nebraska. It is full of decent, good, hard-working people, as is the entire upper midwest. People who believe in fairness, community, and helping the less fortunate. It is a measure of the left's rhetorical incompitence that the entire upper midwest is not solidly Democratic, and for religious reasons at that. This post is a perfect example of self-defeating leftist thought.

Answer me this, why in the world did you write this post? What is your motivation? To cool the tempers of religious fundamentalists by opposing further resistance against the war against gay rights? The religious fundamentalists will not be happy until they can once again convince themselves that gay people don't exist. The general populace doesn't think like this, even in North Platte, but the left has conceded it to the Fundamentalists to speak to and for these people. We all know how this movie ends. Left-thinking people must resist the erosion of civil rights at every turn.

Mike, I think you are reading too much into what I said. I didn't say anything about giving in. I didn't say the judge should not have made the decision he made. I did not say that liberals should try and placate the theocrats. It has nothing to do with rhetorical incompetence, I assure you - although I don't doubt I may demostrate that in other ways.

All I said was that 1) Here was the decision made, 2)this decision will bring little benefit to the gay community as a whole, and 3)this decision is likely to further enrage the Christian Right.

What is so hard to grasp about that?

I think one of the problems that people are having, cntodd, is that you weren't just saying those three things--you're also saying that enraging the Christian Right is something that should generally be avoided, and this is the point that people (in part) are up in arms about. I think that if you're going to say that (even implicitly) then you have to also give reasons why you think this is harmful. It's not obvious to everybody.

Also, I think that part of what's goign on with #2 in your response in the comments is that there are short-term benefits and long-term benefits, and it seems to me that one more judge making a correct judgement is helpful, long-term, to the 'gay community as a whole'--as well as to the larger community. Short term, maybe not so much--and maybe it's even harmful (but you'd have to show me why)--but long-term it can only help. I'd say the same thing about the situation in SF with Newsom (I have no love for the man in many ways, but I think time will show that he did the right thing in this case).

So when is Lindsay coming back?

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