Monday, November 24, 2008

Obama and the Economy


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

On January 20, 2009 — unless he’s killed before that, which given the number of death threats he’s received can’t be ruled out as a possibility — Barack Hussein Obama will take the oath of office as the 44th President of the United States. He will be in that position largely because the American economy, which had been ailing for about a year and a half with the collapse of the housing bubble, melted down outright in mid-September. And it will be the economy, both what it does over the next four years and how Obama responds to it, which will either make or break Obama’s presidency.

Obama was elected in defiance of quite a few odds — and not just the obvious one that he’s at least partially of African descent in a country that still largely lives by the old segregationist rule that one drop of Black blood makes you Black. He won the Democratic nomination against a more experienced, better funded candidate, Hillary Clinton, who had the support of the party establishment and also (inexplicably, given that her husband was the President who pushed the anti-jobs, anti-labor, anti-environment, middle-class-destroying North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, through Congress in 1994) stronger support among white working people.

What’s more, he won the general election against a well-honed Republican attack machine that had routinely chewed up and spat out Democratic Presidential nominees with far less going against them. Up until mid-September, I was predicting that John McCain would win the election, partly because of the so-called “Bradley effect” — the five percent or so of American voters too racist to vote for an African-American but too embarrassed by that to tell pollsters that they won’t — partly because of past Republican successes in rigging elections and mainly because McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, were expertly playing the same Republican fear cards that enabled their party to win seven of the 10 Presidential elections.

Aided by the half of the mainstream media that is essentially a permanent propaganda machine for the Republican party — the complex of talk radio, Fox News, the CNN Headline channel and print publications like the Washington Times, American Spectator and National Review — McCain’s campaign trotted out all the familiar nasties about Obama. We heard he was a socialist, a wimp who’d let al-Qaeda murder us all in our beds, an “elitist” permanently out of touch with “real America,” a friend of terrorists (if not a terrorist himself) and a mere boy utterly unfit to be entrusted with the most important job in the world.

All this came a lot closer to working than most of us progressives who voted for Obama like to think. McCain’s plaint during one of his debates with Obama that the Democrats in general and Obama in particular were painting him as a clone of Bush — “If you wanted to run against Bush, you should have run four years ago,” McCain told Obama — ironically reflected that if the 2008 election had been fought on the same turf as 2004’s, McCain would have won easily. To the end, polls showed more Americans trusted McCain than Obama on the issues of terrorism and the war in Iraq. Obama won because the horrifying scope of America’s economic crisis rendered terrorism and Iraq irrelevant as issues.

Progressives and conservatives alike have been writing a lot of nonsense about Obama’s victory. Progressives, who seem to specialize in this sort of wishful thinking, have said Obama’s victory is a thorough repudiation of lassiez-faire capitalism and the “government is not the solution, government is the problem” rhetoric of Ronald Reagan and every President (Clinton as well as both Bushes!) since. They’ve also hailed Obama’s victory as the end of the “Bradley effect,” which is simply not true. Obama consistently ran behind his poll numbers, and though the last polls put him 10 points ahead he actually won by only 5 1/2 percent — exactly the fall-off the “Bradley effect” predicted.

The Right, not surprisingly, has been even worse. Having failed to defeat him with their scare campaign, they’re using their media to declare Obama’s Presidency a failure two months before it’s even started. They’re making a big to-do about how Obama has drawn virtually all his appointees so far from the Clinton administration — which is pretty ominous if you’re a progressive Democrat who thinks Clinton was a moderate Republican in Democrat drag — but if Obama were filling the ranks of his administration with new people they’d be lambasting him with equal fervor for neglecting all the “experienced” Democrats from the Clinton era.

Certainly Obama’s appointments so far seem more than anything to be aimed at assuring Wall Street that “change you can believe in” means “change people of wealth and privilege don’t need to worry about.” Hillary Clinton is supposed to be secretary of state — an odd choice given that, whatever her role in her husband’s administration, little or none of it involved foreign policy. Obama has made Clinton’s last treasury secretary, the abominable Lawrence Summers who said women weren’t qualified for scientific careers and Africa didn’t have its fair share of the world’s pollution, a senior White House advisor, and for secretary of the treasury he’s picked Timothy Geithner, New York Federal Reserve president and former staff member of Kissinger Associates (in a country that gave a damn about honor, anyone who’d worked for Henry Kissinger would automatically be disqualified for high public office!) and protégé of Summers and his Clinton-era predecessor, former Goldman Sachs investment banker Robert Rubin.

The list goes on: former Clinton staff person John Podesta as head of Obama’s transition team. Former Clinton hatchet person Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff. For attorney general: Eric Holder, former deputy to Clinton’s attorney general Janet Reno, instrumental in winning the controversial presidential pardon for financier Marc Rich in the last days of Clinton’s term. For White House counsel: Gregory Craig, who represented President Clinton in his impeachment trial. Other ex-Clintonistas under consideration for jobs in Obama’s administration include former energy secretary Bill Richardson, former Clinton economic advisor Peter Orszag, former White House budget director Jack Lew, and Daniel Tarullo, former assistant to President Clinton on international economic affairs.

These appointments indicate that so far Obama is taking the path of least resistance, assuring the financial community that he can be “responsible” and isn’t going to listen to all those crazy liberals in his party who actually want him to do something about the growing inequality of wealth and income in this country — and the world — that sparked the economic crisis in the first place. Franklin Roosevelt, who ran a similarly cautious campaign in 1932 (few people remember that FDR actually criticized Herbert Hoover for running a budget deficit!), moved far more radically — but he had one element pushing him that Obama doesn’t need to worry about.

That was a mass Left, well organized and able to mobilize such a degree of popular support that many people in the capitalist elite worried that if something weren’t done to save it, their entire system would collapse. It doesn’t matter whether that movement calls itself populist, socialist, communist, anarchist or something else; what matters is that it be large and powerful enough to scare the capitalists into thinking that they have to make compromises with the working class in order to survive. America’s mass Left was smashed in the reactionary period following World War II, briefly rekindled in the 1960’s (albeit far less powerfully) and then worn down by the period of reaction that began with the 1960 election and reached its peaks under Reagan and the Bushes.

Our response to Obama shouldn’t be to support him blindly or oppose him blindly. It shouldn’t be to expect that he will give us everything we want and begin the new progressive millennium (that was the mistake we made with Clinton!). It shouldn’t be to hold back for fear of embarrassing him. It should be to take advantage of the crack in the door his election has opened and build a unified movement based on the possibilities his election seemed to create — before the forces of pro-capitalist reaction seize the moment and slam that door in our faces again. As a symbol, Obama is a catalyst for hope; as a leader, he’s as irrelevant to what this country really needs from its progressives as any other capitalist politician — and we need to treat him as such and be as hard on him as we were on Bush.

S.D. Hosts Transgender Day of Remembrance

Memorializes People Killed Because of Anti-Trans Hatred


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS(top to bottom):
“We Never Forget”
“Auntie Sam”
The Imperial Court de San Diego supporting the Transgender community
Dana Rea (left)
Flag bearer on the Remembrance march
Connor Maddocks
The Swell ensemble of the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus
People waiting to read names at the Remembrance ceremony
Three people read the script on Ali's murder

“This is not a No on 8 march,” Transgender activist Brenda Watson said into a bullhorn outside the San Diego LGBT Center as she and fellow Transgender activist Onyx prepared to lead the seventh annual Transgender Day of Remembrance march down University Avenue in Hillcrest on the night of November 20. Watson instructed the 100 marchers not to chant during the event, but to keep the atmosphere properly somber and serious. Indeed, as the march moved down University Avenue, despite the signs some participants were carried, some passers-by seemed confused as to what the issue behind it was — but when it was explained to them, they were invariably sympathetic and supportive.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance is an international event held every November in memory of Rita Hester, who was killed in San Francisco in November 1998. Hester’s murder sparked a local march a year later and a “Remembering Our Dead” Web project to highlight all the hate-related murders targeting Transgender people. The event is a case study in how the Internet is facilitating nationwide and even worldwide mobilizations. A Web site,, posts the list of the victims to be honored in that year’s march and such basic information as where the crimes took place, how old the victims were and whether their killers have been identified, arrested or convicted. Then people in each city hosting the Day of Remembrance prepare scripts to be read by Transgender people and allies at a ceremony following the march.

This year’s ceremony was held at the Center following the march and was MC’d by Connor Maddocks, Center staff member for Transgender issues and founding president of the San Diego chapter of FTMI (Female-to-Male International). “One is too many, and 30 is unbelievable,” Maddocks said. “I looked through the list, and they ranged in age from 15 to 42. Most of them were under the age of 30. These are lives that are gone forever, of promises, of families with a hole in them, of friends who will never see their friends again, of potential for greatness lost from our world. And there’s no good reason for it. It’s from hate, it’s from fear, it’s from ignorance.”

Maddocks praised the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual communities for supporting the Transgender community, and noted that Transgender people have returned the favor by joining in the protests against the passage of Proposition 8. Marriage rights for Transgender people are even more muddled than those for same-sex couples. California and New York both allow post-operative Transsexuals to marry in their new gender (an early version of Proposition 8 would have reversed that, but it wasn’t the one that made it to the ballot), but most states don’t allow Transgender people to marry at all.

“I recently had somebody ask me if I could have changed my world and been born biologically male, and not have had to go through what I’ve gone through, would I have done that,” Maddocks said. “I think my first reaction was, ‘Well, of course. That would have been easy. That would have been nice.’ But when I thought about it, absolutely not. I have had a life that’s been so enriched by what I’ve gone through, what I’ve learned about human nature, but more about what I find in our community, how we come together, how we help, how we support each other.”

The most famous of the 30 listed victims was Lawrence King, a 15-year-old high-school student in Oxnard, California who was shot by a 14-year-old classmate on February 12. Although he didn’t specifically identify as Transgender, King said he was Gay and frequently wore women’s clothing to school — and his alleged killer said that’s what put him off and led him to shoot King to death.

Another victim, Aimée Wilcoxson, formerly lived in San Diego, went to the Brass Rail and attended Stepping Stone. She moved to Aurora, Colorado and was found dead in her bed on November 3. She was 34 years old, and authorities have not yet announced a cause of death.

A number of the victims were killed by “straight” men who, while having sex with them, discovered male organs and realized their partners weren’t biologically female. One victim, Felicia Melton-Smyth from Wisconsin, was on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico when she was killed by a man who later told police he’d done it because she’d refused to pay him for sex. Many of these victims were stripped by their killers and left in the street. Others were Gay or “questioning” people who were still exploring their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Duanna Johnson of Memphis, Tennessee was killed on November 9, nine months after she had been beaten by city police. The February assault against her had been filmed by a surveillance camera, and one of the police officers who beat her had been indicted just a few days before her murder. Though the script for the Day of Remembrance carefully avoided making this allegation, it hinted that she was murdered by police in order to make sure she could not testify in court against her original assailant. The script said that her murder was being investigated by the FBI.

Another grim tale was that of 18-year-old Adolphus Simmons of Charleston, South Carolina, who was dressed as a woman when he was killed on January 21 while taking out his garbage. He was shot on the steps of his apartment building, and police initially said that there was nothing to suggest Simmons’ murder had been a hate crime. Later the police said that the reason they’d said that was because South Carolina has no hate crimes statute. Police lieutenant James Walley admitted that no motive for Simmons’ death had been identified, and would not rule out that he’d been targeted because of his perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

One of the most heartbreaking stories was that of Simmie Williams, Jr., described as “a sensitive 17-year-old” from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He had just signed up for the Job Corps and was planning to attend culinary school and pursue a career as a chef. At the time of his killing on February 28 he did not identify as Transgender, but was living an openly Gay life and living with his mother, who accepted his sexual orientation. He was killed in an area known to be frequented by Transgender sex workers and was wearing women’s clothing when he was shot.

Perhaps the most frightening story was that of Ali, a Transgender Iraqi who, along with two others, was kidnapped and put to death by religious fundamentalists in January 2008. Before they killed her, they kept her in captivity for several days and filmed her first as a woman, then as a man. In their video, posted on, they first show her in a veil, then from the back with a red print dress on, then from the front with several days’ growth of beard. Then they take clippers to her hair and carefully shave her head while dancing, singing, and chanting what are apparently prayers to Allah.

In the remembrance ceremony, a candle was lit as each victim’s name was read and the final candle was lit for all the Trans-related hate murders that were not reported to authorities and whose victims’ names remain unknown. “As we go forward, let us never forget,” Maddocks said at the end of the ceremony. “Let us pray that there are not 30 names a year from now. Protect each other, show some love out there. Remember to stand up for each other always.”

Proposition 8 Battle Energizes Community

Young Activists Ignore “Leaders,” Mobilize on Internet

story and photos by LEO E. LAURENCE, J.D.

Copyright © 2008 by Leo E. Laurence, J.D. • All rights reserved

Barack Obama’s presidential campaign emphasized change, and unexpectedly the November 4 election also sparked a major, nationwide change in the Queer [Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender] community.

It is electrified, with new young, grass-roots firebrand leaders unexpectedly replacing the tame, tired “Gay professionals,” who “have been too long been in charge,” said one Gay union leader.

Weekly Proposition 8 protest demonstrations are set for 11 a.m. every Monday at the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel downtown.

The battle opposing Proposition 8 on the ballot created by “Gay professionals” was tame, timid and grossly ineffective — statewide and locally.

So now a young grass-roots movement of new non-professional leadership is emerging. They show new energy and are using the Internet extensively (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, and QueerToday) to recruit the troops, according to baby-faced Tony Cochran, 21, of L.A.

He is a union man (Hotel Workers’ Union) who largely organized the continuing rallies at the Manchester Grand Hyatt downtown, adjacent to Seaport Village. “We want to hold the rallies every Monday at 11 a.m.,” he said in an interview.

Cochran worked closely with another young union leader, fiery Carlos Marquez, 28, the Gay-Latino chair of Pride-at-Work. For years, it has been the growing Gay segment of the local, union movement. But, its leadership has changed and Maequez is now in charge.

Both Cochran and Marquez were joined by Joel Trambley, 35, political committee co-chair of the local Human Rights Campaign (HRC), to produce the Manchester Grand Hyatt weekly 11 a.m. demon-strations.

Youth at March & Rally

New young organizers also mobilized the massive 25,000-plus march through downtown, and the massive rally at the County Administration Building that followed.

Sara Beth Brooks was the lead march coordinator, who was “in charge of everything,” a protester said. Again, the Internet was used heavily to recruit participants.

Kelly Moyer was the march’s Internet Organizer who sent out “at least 6,000 invitations on Facebook and on two websites, including”

Yet another energetic, firebrand, new, grass-roots Gay leader is Nick Moede, the young owner of both Rick’s and Numbers, popular Gay bar attractions in Hillcrest.

Moede almost single-handedly organized, produced and financed the huge rally at the County Administration Building on Nov. 15, with a massive cruise ship in the background. He also gave an electric speech that was strongly reminiscent of speeches by pioneers of the Gay-Lib movement in California, months before Stonewall.

“I have found a new voice,” Moede shouted in his rally battle speech.

“Through your (Yes on 8 campaign, largely funded by the Mormons) deceitful and deplorable campaign of lies, you have given a voice to a whole new generation of activists,” Moede yelled.

“You have given us courage to stand up and to say we will not accept being second-class citizens,” Moede told the huge crowd, mostly of young people, who repeatedly shouted back their support.

“And, when you tell us we can’t be equal and we can’t have the same rights, and when you tell us that we cannot marry, we will stand up and respond with three simple words that are sweeping across our great nation: Yes, we can!,” Moede shouted to thunderous cheers and applause.

In a strong echo of speeches made in ’68 and ’69, Moede yelled:


“Tell your co-workers!

“If you’re not ‘out’ to your family, go home tonight and have that conversation.

“Don’t be afraid to talk about your boyfriend or girlfriend.

“Don’t be afraid of people knowing who you are.

“And, for all the awesome parents out there, when you go back to work on Monday, tell your co-workers, ‘I’m proud of my son’.

“Tell them, ‘My daughter is a Lesbian and I love her very much!’.

“It’s important for us to be open about who we are because it’s much harder for others to be afraid of us, or discriminate against us, if they know who we are!” Moede said in his rousing speech.

Nationwide Boycott of California

Many believe the strategy of the ineffective No-on-8 campaign before the Nov. 4th election was too tame and closeted. Those “Gay professionals” rejected using the phrase “Gay marriage” in their timid TV ads, reportedly because it might offend the straights. They also rejected showing successful Gay couples in the TV ads, for the same limp reason.

So, some national leaders think it’s time for the Queer community to get tough … really tough!

In Philadelphia, the respected publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, Mark Segal, has called for a national boycott of all California.

That’s the “big gun, the boycott,” wrote Philadelphia’s Segal.

“Travel spending in California in 2007 was $96.7 billion. Tourism and travel that year raised $2.2 billion in local taxes, and $3.6 billion in stare taxes.

“While a last resort, a national boycott on individual travel and corporate conventions would be devastating to California.

“In 1977, the very young GLBT community was able to lower orange juice consumption by about 21 percent. That was as a result of a boycott against the vicious and homophobic Anita Bryant, the TV spokesperson for Florida oranges.

“Imagine what could be done today (with a Gay boycott of California),” Segal asks.

“The GLBT community nationwide is willing to support California’s marriage efforts,” he added.

“I think (the idea of a national boycott of California) is a fantastic idea,” says Martin Brickson, a retired straight man from Scripps Ranch.

Legal Issues Involved

Weeks before the balloting, L.A. attorney Gloria Allred — lead attorney on the same-sex marriage cases before the California Supreme Court — had petitions prepared to file with that high court in case Proposition 8 succeeded.

Contrary to stories in some of the mainstream media, these three petitions are not new lawsuits. They are all part of the same cases involving the earlier Proposition 22 (which was identical to Proposition 8 except that it was only an initiative statute, not an amendment to the state constitution), and which resulted in the landmark Opinion of the California Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriages last May.

That 162-page Opinion of the Court is a masterpiece of comprehensive research in constitutional law. As a matter of law, it is influencing the state high courts in the east; and Connecticut has already legalized same-sex marriages, citing the California court’s ruling extensively.

In the law, in both criminal and civil (marriage) matters, (1) there is the substantive law, which determines the our legal rights in life; and (2) there is the procedural law, which determines how those rights will be enforced.

Both the substantive and the procedural law are involved in the three petitions now being considered by the stare’s highest court.

The substantive argument opposing Proposition 8 says that same-sex marriage rights are basic and fundamental to our system of jurisprudence. They are protected by the equal-protection clause of our sate Constitution, as the court’s May ruling states in great detail.

If that remains true, the three pending petitions argue that procedurally the electorate cannot use the initiative process to eliminate basic, fundamental, civil rights. Therefore, Proposition 8 is uncon-stitutional.

That is the procedural element of the three petitions now being considered by the high court.

The suits also argue that changes to fundamental state constitutional rights of Gays and Lesbians — or, anyone else — would be a basic revision of the state constitution, and that requires a 2/3rd vote of the legislature before it can go to the voters.

Proponents of Yes on 8 have been shouting in the media that the courts must follow the vote of the people. But as a matter of law, the high court’s May opinion clearly states that the electorate cannot adopt an unconstitutional law or amendment to the state Constitution.

It probably will be about six months before another final ruling by the state’s high court is issued. Briefings with the court by the parties will take until January 5. The court will then hear oral arguments, possibly in March, after which it has 90 days to issue a ruling.

Without another Order of the Court, Proposition 8 will become law when the state secretary of state certifies the election’s results.

Given basic rules of appellate law, however, it is highly unlikely that existing marriages will be declared null-and-void, even if the court says that Proposition 8 is constitutional.

Meanwhile, weekly demonstrations at 11 a.m. are scheduled for the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel adjacent to Seaport Village, according to organizer Cochran.

For comment, contact Leo Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or at

Photo Captions (top to bottom):

Protest marchers walk through downtown San Diego, under heavy police escort.

With a large cruise ship in the background, 25,000+ converge on a rally at the County Admini-stration Building on the Embarcadero.

Three TV news stations covered one of continuing rallies at the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel adjacent to Seaport Village downtown.

Part of the rally crowd at the rally at the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel adjacent to the Seaport Village downtown.

One of a new breed of Gay leader, Latino union leader Carlos Marquez speaks at the Manchester Grand Hyatt rally Nov. 22.

Youthful Gay leaders like Tony Cochran, 21, of the Hotel Workers Unions organized and produced the Manchester hotel rally.


“Boy Crazy” Author Asks Whether Men Can Stay Sexually Exclusive


It’s hardly the first — or, quite likely, the last — book to be written on the topic of whether Gay men in couple relationships can stay sexually exclusive and keep a commitment to monogamy (or “monandry” — the love of one man rather than the love of one woman — as my own husband Charles calls it) for a lifetime. But Michael Shelton’s Boy Crazy: Why Monogamy Is So Hard for Gay Men and What You Can Do About It, published in November by Alyson Press, is distinguished by its author’s refusal to say he has all the answers to the questions he’s raised.

“Therapists Take Sides on Monogamy,” one of the subheadings in his book reads — but though Shelton is himself a therapist, and much of the information in Boy Crazy comes directly from his experiences counseling male couples, if there’s anything about his book that leaps out at you, it’s his refusal to take sides. The book’s title makes it seem as if Shelton believes that Gay men in relationships should be mutually faithful, and he’s offering a recipe to help them do so — but the back cover calls him “a clear proponent of open relationships,” which he isn’t and he resented seeing in print on the packaging of his book.

Though written in a breezy, easily readable style (perhaps a bit too breezy and readable; Shelton’s first draft was denser, more academic and possibly deeper and more interesting), Boy Crazy is the work of an author who admits he doesn’t know everything about the topic. He tells his readers what he tells his therapy clients: there is no one path to make your relationship work; there is just what you and your partner work out to be as happy with each other as you can. At times the book seems to contradict itself; Shelton cites the extensive research that men are “hard-wired” to have more sex partners, and a more casual attitude towards sex, than women. But he also includes chapters on the psychological costs of “cheating” on a monogamous commitment and the sheer difficulty of pursuing an open relationship even if you and your partner decide intellectually that that’s what you want.

Shelton is a Gay man in his mid-40’s (yes, he’s in a relationship himself) and a licensed “CAC” — which used to mean “Certified Addictions Counselor” but whose range of practice has branched out to include gambling, food and sex addictions as well as alcohol and drugs. He works at the Fairmount Behavioral Health System in Philadelphia and is also affiliated with the Joseph J. Peters Institute. Shelton is currently working on a doctorate in human sexuality at Philadelphia’s Widener University — the only school in the country that offers one — and he’s also interested in writing a second book on gentrification, immigration and their effects on white Gay men, particularly in making them more open to seeing people of color as potential sex partners.

Zenger’s: First off, could you tell me about your background and how you came to be interested in the topic of Gay relationships?

Michael Shelton: I would guess I became interested in the topic of Gay relationships from being a Gay male. I don’t have a better answer to that question. Clinically, when I was in graduate school, my internship practicum closed down right in the middle and I had to find a replacement very quickly. There’s a facility here in Philadelphia called the Peters Institute, which was one of the first places in the country for treating sexual disorders. So I managed to get in there, and I just fell in love with the treatment of sexual disorders and sexual problems. The two of them seemed to combine very well.

Zenger’s: How long have you been in practice, and how did that affect the book? Because I have the impression that a lot of the information in it came from people that you’ve actually treated.

Shelton: I just heard so many, so many Gay men vent about their frustrations about monogamy: how difficult it was to find a relationship where the other person would stay committed. They just eventually came together in my head. Part of the book was my own exploration, because I really wanted to have a better understanding of why is this happening. We seem to have so many urban myths about it, but what’s the reality?

Zenger’s: From the front cover, particularly the subtitle, it looked as if it were going to be one of those manuals that, “If you’re in a relationship, of course you should be monogamous, and I the expert therapist will tell you how.”

Shelton: Many of my fellow writers do push that point, but actually a lot less than I thought when I went into it. A lot of self-help books out there promote monogamy. Some don’t make it a rigid rule, but many of them do.

Zenger’s: Then on the back cover, you’re described as an advocate of open relationships.

Shelton: I did not write that! I’m not an advocate of open relationships. I’m an advocate of relationships that work, however that might be. When I was corresponding, mostly by e-mail, with other professionals who had reputations and had written about the topic, it seemed open relationships were the most controversial topic. I got the impression that we were not supposed to say that open relationships can be very fraught with difficulties: that this is our birthright, and we should promote this as much as possible. Open relationships can work, but I haven’t seen them work too often.

Zenger’s: Part of what struck me about the book is it seemed to be written by three different people, and you seemed to be having an argument. There’s one chapter that cites the clinical research on male sexuality in general to suggest that men are, as you put it, “hard-wired” to have multiple partners. Then there’s a chapter that comes down very hard on “cheating.” Then there’s your chapter on open relationships which, as you just pointed out, is much more emphatic about the difficulties of sustaining them than the benefits. So, between the contradictions on the cover and the different currents in the book, I got the impression that you’re as confused about this, and your thoughts go as off in as many different directions, as the rest of us.

Shelton: My point is that, my clinical experience, I encounter is a lot of men and a lot of couples who think that if they could get legally married, or they had some type of commitment, that’s going absolutely, positively, to bestow and confirm everlasting monogamy on the relationship. That’s just bull. I think that was the most important point I was trying to make in this book: no matter how we’re feeling now, no matter how much passion we have now, no matter how much love we have now, that doesn’t tell us how we’re going to be feeling six months or six years in the future. But a lot of men really think that if they get that absolute formal commitment, they will be in a monogamous relationship forever.

Zenger’s: I hear that point made, and my usual response is, “Well, it doesn’t seem to have worked all that well for heterosexuals.”

Shelton: No, it hasn’t! But I’m sure you’ve seen this in your friends, or in your own life. It’s just that belief, and I think it’s a killer for us. California is in the news now since Proposition 8, and so you’re at the forefront of the debate on same-sex marriage. But what I’m saying is that if Gay people want to get married because of equality, absolutely. If they want it for the other primary reasons, for mutual support or specific privileges, absolutely. But if we think it’s going to secure monogamy for us, we’re blinding ourselves.

Zenger’s: In fact, I’ve heard that as a counter-argument against same-sex marriage that runs that, since Gays have demonstrated that in most cases they cannot hold together a monogamous relationship, and marriage is based on monogamy, therefore Gays don’t really qualify.

Shelton: I’ve heard that also. But I think as a civil-rights issue, should we have the right to marry? Should we be able to get married? Absolutely, but let’s go in with a realistic appraisal of what benefits there are to it.

Zenger’s: Andrew Sullivan wrote in his book on same-sex marriage that one of the reasons he supported it was that he thought it would erode the expectation of monogamy, so that straight people who feel locked into the social expectation of a monogamous commitment wouldn’t feel as constrained in their relationships. Would you agree with that?

Shelton: I’d have to think about that a little bit. As an extemporaneous answer, I could say yes to that. But I’d want to ponder it a bit.

Zenger’s: Also, one thing that had struck me was that, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, the AIDS prevention programs were telling Gay men, “Always use condoms. Even if you think you’re in a monogamous relationship, always use condoms; because even if you’re not seeing anybody else, he probably is.”

Shelton: Oh, we’re still teaching that!

Zenger’s: That always struck me as a teaching that was practically setting people up for failure. It was sending the message, “You can’t trust your partner. You can’t even trust your partner not to bring home a supposedly deadly disease, let alone any other part of the commitment.” It seemed a highly negative and relationship-discouraging message to me.

Shelton: It’s discouraging message, but is it unrealistic? That’s an important question, also. Since the book came out, my partner and I were invited to the anniversary of a couple that had been together, oh my God, 20 years, maybe 25 years. Both of these men were saying verbally, “Yes, we’re committed. We’ve never cheated in our relationship together.” But I know that both of them have. Yet there they are, 20 years in the relationship, trying to keep this hidden from each other. This is amazing to me!

Please don’t make it seem like I’m saying anything against Gay relationships. They are essential for our mental, physical and emotional well-being. We just have to go into them knowing the challenges that come with it. Many of the challenges are the same that a straight couple or a Lesbian couple will have. But we have our own challenges, too.

When I originally sent this manuscript out to Alyson, it was really very academic. And They really wanted it to be a much more accessible book for a mainstream audience. So just tell me: it didn’t come across as really self-help, did it?

Zenger’s: Not really. As I said, it seemed more their packaging than your content. The book cover, and especially its subtitle, seemed to be saying, “Here’s what to do to make your relationship work.” And, if anything, the impression I got when I actually read it was that there isn’t one recipe to make your relationship work. That’s what you tell your clients, and that’s the message you’re trying to convey to the rest of us in your book.

Shelton: Right. And, based on your experience as a Gay male, do you find — would you believe that? Would you say, yes, that seems to be true?

Zenger’s: Oh, I think definitely. This conjured up a lot of not only my experiences in relationships, but other writers I’ve interviewed on the same topic and other things I’ve read. I mean, one of the things that had always puzzled me was that people like John Gray, the author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, didn’t seem interested in looking at Gay people.

Yet, if your thesis is that men and women have profoundly different responses to their sexuality, and it manifests itself in many different ways, and men are more hard-wired to multiple partners than women are, one would think that as a scientist you’d want to isolate the variables and say, “O.K., then what happens with men and women who don’t have to deal with the expectations of the other gender: men who are totally Gay, women who are totally Lesbian?”

So one of the things that made me interested in your book is maybe this is a Gay author looking at the “men are from Mars” idea and looking at how it plays out when Mars falls in love with Mars. The result does seem to bolster the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” theory, at least as far as Gay men are concerned. Maybe a Lesbian therapist has to do a book about Lesbian relationships. I’m not a Lesbian and I don’t know much about how Lesbians deal with these issues, especially since the Lesbians I know tend to be far more reticent than the Gay men I know in terms of talking about the dynamics of their relationships.

Shelton: Originally, there was a thought that the book should be divided in half: be a section on Gay men and a section on Lesbian women. And that’s the same argument I gave them. Let Alyson find a Lesbian woman who deals with Lesbian relationships and let her do that book, because it’s probably got some important information in it. You ought to suggest that to your readers. Maybe someone wants to do a book proposal on that one, because it won’t be coming from me. Because I’m in the same situation as you are.

Zenger’s: I remember in the 1980’s, when David McWhirter and Drew Mattison, who were a two-therapist Gay couple in San Diego, published The Male Couple, which was really the earliest one I know of about the topic, one of the things they said is that every Gay male couple seeks out alternate sex partners; that it happens between the second and fifth year of the relationship; and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s just going to happen, learn to accept it, manage it. They even had a passage in their book where they said sit at the breakfast table the next morning and share your experiences of the night before.

Shelton: I just want you to know I am cringing as you say that!

Zenger’s: Your professional experience tells you that that would be a really bad idea?

Shelton: Well, again, for some couples that might work. But to give a blanket statement like that, that that’s just the way to approach it, absolutely not.

Zenger’s: The next major book I remember about this topic came out in the late 1980’s from Eric Marcus, and when I interviewed him, he told me that at his book signings people who’d read the McWhirter-Mattison book and had that same cringing reaction to that particular passage were coming up to him and saying, “Thank you for writing your book and giving us permission to be monogamous.”

Shelton: Most couples, when they enter a relationship, when they’re in that infatuation stage and their brain is flooded with all those neurochemicals, they’re not even contemplating the idea of cheating. But two or three years down the road — I think it takes about 17 months for the infatuation stage to pass — then we’ll see how they feel about monogamy. I have no doubt that there are couples out there that have been monogamous for decades. I have no doubt about it. I just have not encountered any myself.

I’m not talking about having affairs or fuck buddies on the side. I’m talking that at least one of them had a little slip sometime during the relationship, and that may have just been oral sex in the sauna or the steam room one time. That has been my experience. We do have a lot of men that go out seeking additional sex partners, even in a relationship, but a lot of times, it just happens. They find themselves in a predicament. It’s there, it’s available, so they take advantage of it, and then it’s over and they go home again.

Zenger’s: One other thing that Eric Marcus said in his book on this topic was that he thought that a relationship in which both partners were committed to monogamy could work; a relationship in which both partners wanted it open could work; and that the problems arose when one partner wanted it monogamous and the other partner wanted it open.

Shelton: I agree with that statement. I might slightly disagree that if both men in a relationship want it open, that could still work, because open relationships are sometimes more difficult than monogamous relationships. Wanting it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be successful. But even men who are sincerely desirous of monogamous relationships, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be monogamous. Things happen in life that we don’t plan to.

I’ve also encountered — and I’m sorry for the language if it offends you — fuck buddies: somebody that they might have sex with on occasion, several times a year. We’re also starting to see how the uncharted world of the Internet is beginning to impact Gay men’s sex lives. We are coming across men who have paramours on line but have never met them in person. I bring that up in the book: is that actually cheating if they’ve never met each other? Most clinicians would say that’s cheating. If it’s a relationship where it has to be kept hidden from the primary partner, that’s cheating, infidelity.

Zenger’s: Even if there has been no physical contact?

Shelton: Yes, most definitely. There is no consensus, but most clinicians would say if it’s taking energy — whether it’s physical energy or emotional energy — out of the primary relationship, and it’s kept hidden, that’s infidelity.

Zenger’s: One thing that’s already apparent is that the Internet is hurting the bar scene. A lot of organizations where people got together, socially and for possible hook-ups, are dwindling in attendance because people can stay home and make those kinds of connections on line.

Shelton: But if you talk to some public officials who had to handle city parks, state parks, where a lot of Gay men hooked up, they’re delighted with this. The Internet has done a much better job of stopping men from meeting in clandestine spots for sex than any type of intervention by the authorities.

Zenger’s: Frankly, the whole idea of Internet cruising rather horrifies me, particularly since it seems to reduce the whole thing to complementary sex acts. You go on line saying, “I like to do X,” and someone responds saying, “Yeah, I like to have X done to me.” And that’s the whole basis of your connection. and I’ve had some pretty casual sexual experiences in my time, but somehow I like the idea of at least having met the person before.

Shelton: I agree, but I think the Internet is definitely very much an age thing. Gay men and below are much more comfortable with this, I think.

Zenger’s: One thing I wished you’d touched on more in the book —you did mention it briefly, but I’d have liked to have seen more of it — is the social basis of monogamy as a construct and the history of it. Why do we have this expectation that, once we commit to another person in a long-term relationship, that will be the only person we will ever have sex with, or want to have sex with, again?

Shelton: Originally, that was in the book. We had about 10 pages looking at cross-cultural studies about monogamy. But it just seemed a little too academic for folks, so we left it out. But it is a very interesting topic, especially how it really became so paramount here in the United States.

Zenger’s: In Friedrich Engels’ book The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, he said that, as men took over from women as the dominant force in society, and switched from matrilineal to patrilineal lines of inheritance, there had to be some way of making sure that the child that the woman was about to give birth to was the child of the man that she was socially assigned to as a partner.

Shelton: Absolutely. That’s the whole basis of socio-psychology right now. But yes, you’ve got that so far. I agree with you.

Zenger’s: And that was why historically monogamy has been far, far more stringently enforced on women than on men.

Shelton: Correct.

Zenger’s: One of the things that really amused me in the recent campaign on Proposition 8 was the supporters of the proposition to ban same-sex marriage were saying. “We need to return to the traditional Biblical definition of marriage as one man and one woman.” Well, the traditional Biblical definition of marriage is not one man and one woman. It’s one man and as many women as he could afford to support financially.

Shelton: I think that came out in the book. I’m sure there’s a sentence in there about that. Strict 100-percent mutual monogamy is probably one of the rarest forms of relationship across the world. Polygamy is probably the most common.

Zenger’s: One of the strengths of the book is how much of it has come from your experiences as a therapist. Your sources are people that you have actually talked to, actually sat across an office from with the idea of helping them achieve a relationship that will satisfy them.

Shelton: And many of them come in and they want help in being monogamous. “Hey, our relationship isn’t working. We want to be monogamous, and we’re feeling urges not to be monogamous.” Or one person is cheating. So they want to be monogamous again. That is what I come across over and over again. “Help us, help us get back to monogamy.”

Zenger’s: And if there’s anything about the book, it’s that over and over again you were saying, “There are no rules. You need to find whatever works for you. If that means sexual exclusivity, and you can pull that off, fine. If that means an open relationship, and you can pull that off, fine.”

Shelton: It might be alternating periods of that. A couple years of this, a couple years of that. My experience is that the overwhelming majority of Gay men that I have worked with professionally, that I know as colleagues, that I know in the field, that I know just through friendships, have cheated. They’ve had moments of infidelity, experiences of infidelity, that they keep hidden.

The next question is, is that a model for a relationship? If two men are going to try to stick together, and monogamy seems increasingly improbable, is it O.K. to have a little fling on the side — not an affair, but an occasional sexual dalliance? is that acceptable? It happens, we don’t talk about it, and our life goes on.

But there is a counter-argument to that, and I mentioned it. Richard Isensee, whom I’m sure you’ve heard of, whom I like very much, made a point that I agree with completely. The more I find that men go out and have an occasional dalliance, the more that their relationship that they’re involved in, their primary relationship, seems bland. So how the hell do we make this all work? Sorry, no pithy answer.

Zenger’s: No pithy answer, which is going to disappoint the hell out of anybody who buys your book thinking you’re going to supply one.

Shelton: You take take it —I won’t say day by day —year by year, and you make it work to where both people are satisfied. But to give a pithy answer to such a complicated conundrum as this is unfair to readers. And my apologies to all those couples who have honestly stayed together for long periods of time without cheating. For those who have done it, congratulations. If they’re happy with that, good. I hope the relationship continues on that track. But I wholeheartedly believe that most Gay men will cheat — I’m sorry, “cheating” is such a loaded word — will commit infidelity.

Zenger’s: Even that is a rather loaded word. The expectation of monogamy is built so much into the culture that even the language to describe a non-exclusive relationship seems to be loaded with value judgments against it.

Shelton: Correct. We don’t really have a vocabulary to express this. But it doesn’t change the point that I do believe that this will happen for most Gay male relationships. It might be just one time the whole time they’re together. But lifelong Gay male relationships, or even Gay male relationships of a couple of years, where there is absolutely no involvement outside of that primary relationship, are, I find, very rare. I do believe that that urban myth that it happens within two to five years is true — and it’s probably closer to two years than five. It sounds so pessimistic, doesn’t it?

Zenger’s: It’s only pessimistic if you believe in monogamy as an ideal and you buy into the social condemnation of non-exclusive relationships.

Shelton: But this is the trend that we are seeing now in our field. Back during the height of the AIDS epidemic you got into a monogamous relationship for your health. Now it’s a sign of love. I’m not discounting all those men who absolutely, positively are against monogamy, wouldn’t think about it: if that works for them, fantastic. But I and my colleagues are seeing an increasing number of Gay men and couples coming in desiring monogamy. It’s a sign of love. It’s a sign of commitment. It’s romance.

Zenger’s: It’s what we’ve been told to expect. Also, as I said earlier, it’s what we’ve been told that we need to do to prove that we are worthy of marriage rights.

Shelton: I’m just thinking of all the young couples that I’ve seen lately coming in, looking — and the fact that they’re essentially coming in for pre-marital counseling, I think is incredible. That, to me, is fantastic. But I just keep hearing them say over and over again, “We want to have a monogamous relationship,” and they’re trying to predict six years, 10 years in the future. I keep thinking, “Gentlemen, you don’t know what you’re in store for.”

Saturday, November 22, 2008


City Council to Vote December 1

Mayor Jerry Sanders is asking the San Diego City Council to close down seven public libraries in an attempt to balance the city budget. Estimates are this will save the city $1.7 million a year -- a fraction of the $43 million budget deficit the city is trying to close -- and it will severely impact many communities that rely on their branch libraries.

Though the mayor says the closures would be “temporary” for a year or two, his five-year budget plan assumes that the libraries would stay closed through the entire period. Indeed, his plan also calls for city departments to use the vacated library space for offices -- meaning the libraries would never reopen and the city’s invaluable library system would get smaller permanently.

In a period of dire economic crisis, and in a city that has given away millions to developers, sports-team owners and unaffordable worker pensions, San Diego needs not only to save money but to conserve the educational and cultural opportunities which libraries represent. The libraries targeted for closure are University Heights, Ocean Beach, University Community, Allied Gardens/Benjamin, Carmel Mountain Ranch, Clairemont and Mountain View/Beckworth.

The San Diego City Council will vote on the Mayor's budget plan on Monday, December 1 at 1 p.m. PLEASE e-mail or fax your City Councilmember to tell them not to allow the Mayor to balance the budget on the backs of libraries and the children and adults who need them! Submit comments online to, by mail to the officials listed below at 202 “C” Street, San Diego, CA 92101, or by phone, fax or e-mail to the addresses below:

Mayor: Jerry Sanders, (619) 236-6330,
City Councilmember, District 1: Scott Peters (Council president), (619) 236-6611,
City Councilmember, District 2: Kevin Faulconer, (619) 236-6622,
City Councilmember, District 3: Toni Atkins, (619) 236-6633,
City Councilmember, District 4: Tony Young, (619) 236-6644,
City Councilmember, District 5: Brian Maienschein, (619) 236-6655,
City Councilmember, District 6: Donna Frye, (619) 236-6616,
City Councilmember, District 7: Jim Madaffer (Council president pro tem), (619) 236-6677,
City Councilmember, District 8: Ben Hueso, (619) 236-6688,

The above photos were taken at a demonstration outside the University Heights library on Saturday, November 22, 2008 demanding that this and the other six targeted libraries be kept open.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Performance Artist/ Poet Kimberly Dark releases new CD

Release Party Sunday, November 23, 7 p.m., Eveoke Dance Theatre, 2811-A University Avenue, North Park

International touring artist Kimberly Dark returns home to San Diego to release her new spoken word CD entitled Location is Everything. Dark will perform one night only and some talented local artists will be on hand to help celebrate the release as well.

Please join Kimberly on November 23 at 7 p.m. at Eveoke Dance Theatre at 2811-A University Avenue in North Park. Admission is $5. This show will include guest appearances by a variety of spoken word and theatre artists including Gail Feldman of San Diego Women’s Repertory Theater, Michael Klam, who hosts the poetry event at the Balboa Park Museum of the Living Artist and Lea Caughlin of the Rubber Rose Gallery, among other special guests. Dark will perform as well – introducing the audience to some new work, as well as favorites from her touring performances. Expect a fun, fast-paced evening of entertainment.

Location is Everything combines the best of spoken word performance, storytelling, humor and social activism. From the exquisite narrative arc of “The Summer My Son Turned Sixteen” to the hilarious and illuminating “Public Woman” Dark’s mastery with this art form is clear. This collection was four years in the making and many of the tracks have brought audiences to their feet during Kimberly’s years of touring as a performance artist and poet. Southern Californians will recognize our particular landscapes in tracks such as “Roadside, Perris CA” and “Litter.” Dark grew up in San Diego and when she’s not touring, she can be found teaching in the Sociology Department at Cal State San Marcos

Dark’s voice soothes and seduces and at times, speaks with a compassionate authority. In this collection, Dark reminds us that Location is Everything when it comes to understanding the world around us – and understanding ourselves. Producer Alicia Champion of Durga Studios has added richness and texture to the tracks using both music and sound effects. Listeners are drawn into poems such as “Work of Art” through music, and the lava bubbling and steam hissing behind “Pele” are mesmerizing.

Of past releases, the Salt Lake Tribune says “Dark doesn’t shy away from provocative, even incendiary statements, but don’t expect a rant. Her shows, leavened with humor, are more likely to explore how small everyday moments can inform the arc of our lives.” According to the San Diego Union Tribune, "Dark's love poems are candid... and helped earn her an enthusiastic standing ovation from an audience of several hundred." The Evening Echo in Cork Ireland calls Dark “a force to be reckoned with on every level.”

Location is Everything reveals Dark as both a beautiful writer and a skillful social analyst. Throughout the collection, Dark reminds us that our social location is critical to understanding the world – and ourselves. There’s no question about where you should be on November 23. Don’t miss this opportunity to see Kimberly Dark in action.

The Conflicts Between Science, Religion and Democracy

Retired UCSD Professor Lew Perry Speaks to Humanist Fellowship


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Lew Perry is officially retired from his former job as a professor at the University of California in San Diego (UCSD), but he’s still teaching a class there on the conflicts between science, religion and democracy. He came to the San Diego Public Library downtown on the afternoon of November 16 to give a one-hour synopsis of his 10-hour class and to talk about some of the experiences he’s had teaching it — including the reactions of some of his more strongly religious students. At the invitation of one student, he recalled, “I went to one church with 2,000 people and the preacher’s opening remark was, ‘Was your daddy a gorilla?’”

In teaching the conflicts between science, religion and democracy, Perry said, he deliberately kept the class size down to 25 students — freshmen at UCSD typically attend lecture classes of 200 — “to have a dialogue so the students could start talking.” He wanted both believing and non-believing students in his class to make sure the dialogues would be lively and all sides of the religion/science/democracy conflicts would be well represented. And as far as Perry is concerned, such conflicts are inevitable as long as religions make pronouncements about physical reality — like one he cited often, “The Bible says the earth is fixed in space” — that don’t match the scientific evidence.

Perry argued that the world-views of science and democracy are inherently in conflict with those of religion because of their different attitudes towards authority. “In religion, the information comes top-down from God, sometimes through the intermediaries of holy books or religious officials,” he explained. “Science and democracy are both error-based. If you put out a theory or a law and it doesn’t work, you change it. Science and democracy correct errors from the bottom up.” Perry added that religious information comes in two categories, “heavenly” — dealing with inherently supernatural questions like what is heaven and what is hell — and “earthly.”

As long as religion sticks to what Perry calls the “heavenly” — to making supernatural claims about God and the universe that can neither be confirmed nor disconfirmed scientifically — it won’t be in conflict with science or democracy. But, Perry argued, “When the Bible says something in earthly terms — like when it lumps all homosexuals in with drunkards and scoundrels — we can check whether that’s true factually, and the answer is obviously no. From a scientific standpoint, the Bible says a lot of things that aren’t true, like the earth is fixed in space — and if the Bible says the earth is fixed in space, who’s going to rewrite the Bible?”

Perry listed three ways people have historically tried to resolve the conflict between science and religion. “One way,” he said, “is to say that Genesis is a metaphor. Another is the Fundamentalist way: the Bible is right and the scientists are wrong. In between, there are people who find plenty of ways to put the two together. The head of the government’ Human Genome Project says he can accept his faith and Darwin’s theory, and the two don’t fight each other. I’d prefer to say there are conflicts and ask, ‘Which one is right?’ You get a lot farther by addressing the conflicts than avoiding them.” Among the religious/scientific conflicts Perry cited as “indigestible” were evolution and abortion. “You can’t accept Darwin’s view and still believe in Biblical creation,” he said bluntly.

According to Perry, one reason he launched this course in 2005 was because he was troubled by “the Bush administration’s impact on separation of church and state.” He went into the meeting hopeful that the incoming Obama administration would reverse Bush’s attacks on church-state separation — and was disappointed when two people in the audience mentioned that during his campaign Obama had pledged to continue the Bush administration’s office of faith-based initiatives. Perry regards the faith-based initiatives program as one of the most dire attacks on the separation of church and state in U.S. history and cited the memoir of its former deputy director, David Kuo, which said the Bush administration had spent most of the money “for political reasons” to buy the support of religious leaders for the rest of their agenda.

But, Perry conceded, the Bush administration’s attack on church-state separation went far beyond the office of faith-based initiatives. “Bush’s administration had people edit scientific papers for political reasons,” he recalled (particularly to remove politically inconvenient references to humans being responsible for global warming). He remains hopeful that Obama will sign the bill for federal funding of stem-cell research (which Bush vetoed twice) and will respect the advice he gets from the scientific community instead of having it rewritten to suit his personal religious or political agendas. He also hopes that Obama’s administration “will support comprehensive sex education instead of ‘abstinence-only’ programs which don’t work, and will allow contraceptives to be sent to AIDS-stricken areas.”

To protect democracy, Perry said, “we must ensure that the Constitution is the law of the land and that it protects freedom of religion, freedom of science and separation of church and state. Our ship of state is held together by a constitution we must honor. In science, we must ensure that science and scientific education are controlled by the scientific community.” Noting that there are about 4,000 different religions in the world, Perry argued that once you decide that religion should be the basis of your laws, the question arises: which religion?

Perry also called on religions to be guided by their “humanistic philosophies,” and as an example mentioned the cut-and-paste version of the New Testament Thomas Jefferson put together, which eliminated all the supernatural incidents but left in Jesus’s parables and the moral lessons Jefferson thought were valid whether or not you believed in Jesus’s divinity. “What Jefferson took out of the Bible was what he thought were universal truths for humanity, including the Golden Rule, which has evolved in some form in almost every culture.”

The discussion period was lively and gave audience members a taste of what Perry’s classes might be like — especially towards the end, when a young man named Matt walked in the room, identified himself as a Christian and said, “The Bible defines truth and vision as humanity treating each other fairly.” One of the other attendees started rattling off all the incidents in the Bible — particularly the Old Testament — where God specifically instructs the Hebrews to commit genocide, and Perry once again referred to the Bible’s statement that the earth is fixed in space, versus the scientific understanding that it orbits the sun.

Other audience members mentioned specific conflicts between science and religion, from the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ prohibition of blood transfusions to the case reported last year in the New York Times about a deeply religious anthropology student who correctly applied carbon-dating techniques to determine a fossil to be 280,000 years old even though he was a “young-earth” Christian who believed the universe was no older than 6,000 years. (According to the audience member who brought this up, the student eventually became a teacher at Liberty University, the fundamentalist college founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.)

One young woman said she and her friends had toured Lehigh University and decided against applying there because they met with a biology professor who told them he did not believe in evolution. Perry suggested that students look up university Web sites before applying, and added that despite this one teacher’s opinion, “in biology Lehigh teaches what UCSD teaches.” Another student asked about humanist authors like Francis Collins and the late Stephen Jay Gould, and asked if Perry thought they were being “dishonest” by attempting to finesse the conflict between science and religion instead of acknowledging it. Perry said he respected Collins’ ideas but thought Gould’s were phony and pretentious.

“I think there’s a set of natural laws and truths the world works on, and science documents these,” Perry said. “Francis Crick [co-discoverer of the structure of DNA] crossed over the magical line and wrote a book saying you and the soul are just a bunch of neurons. Gould said science and religion are in different ‘magisteriums’ and he gives them a Latin name just to sound erudite. The president of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State says religion and science are ‘complementary,’ but how do you describe it when the Bible says the earth is fixed in space and science says it isn’t?”

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Election Aftermath: Proposition 8 and the Triumph of Theocracy


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

I recently ran into an old friend of mine, a Gay man, who asked me if I wasn’t glad about how the November 4, 2008 election turned out. I told him that the passage of Proposition 8 by California voters, redefining marriage in this state as exclusively between one man and one woman, had wiped out any elation I might have felt about the victory of Barack Obama in the Presidential race. “Well, I’m sorry that happened in terms of being discriminated against and treated like a second-class citizen,” said my friend, “but it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t really want to be married.” (Just for the record, this is a man who has lived with one partner or another virtually the whole time I have known him.)

Certainly it’s been apparent from the reaction in the streets of San Diego and California’s other major cities that a lot of people in the state’s Queer community were as pissed off as I was about the passage of Proposition 8. Many of the rallies and marches in protest have been organized, not by the usual array of self-proclaimed “community leaders,” but voluntarily by individuals who just wanted to express their outrage and used the tools of modern communications technology — e-mail, the Web, cell-phone texting — to draw hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of people to share it with them. It’s been a joy to see out and proud Queers in the street and even more of a joy to hear them refuse to compromise; when the “official” organizers of an anti-8 protest November 8 tried to censor signs with messages targeting churches or calling Prop. 8 what it was — an act of hate against our community — the rank-and-file protesters resisted, and won.

In a way, it’s odd to see the marriage issue attract so much energy both on the part of orthodox Queer “leaders” and the rapidly mobilizing “No More Mr. Nice Gay” (to quote the signs at least two of the November 8 marchers came up with — probably independently, since they were hand-lettered in different styles) challengers to them, since it’s an issue that by any rational standard is a clear loser for this community. Every state whose people have had a chance to vote on whether they want same-sex couples to be able to marry on the same basis as opposite-sex couples has voted against us.

Let me repeat that: EVERY STATE WHOSE PEOPLE HAVE HAD A CHANCE TO VOTE ON WHETHER THEY WANT SAME-SEX COUPLES TO BE ABLE TO MARRY ON THE SAME BASIS AS OPPOSITE-SEX COUPLES HAS VOTED AGAINST US. Even the one state where we actually defeated a same-sex marriage ban at the polls — Arizona, in 2006 — passed it this year. Same-sex marriage bans have passed in every region of the country, in states that voted both Republican and Democratic in the 2004 and 2008 Presidential elections, and whether they also included bans on domestic-partnership and civil-union laws or not (though the proponents of Proposition 8 wrote their initiative to leave California’s domestic-partnership laws in place because their polls indicated that a measure banning both marriage and domestic partnerships would lose).

Yes, I’ve heard all the arguments: marriage is a basic civil right, allowing opposite-sex couples to marry but not same-sex ones is an act of discrimination, it’s a sign of equality for our community, domestic partnerships and civil unions are the sorts of “separate but equal” institutions the U.S. Supreme Court rightly banned for African-Americans in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Certainly we convinced the California Supreme Court and its moderate Republican chief justice, Ronald George, who wrote a luminous opinion on our side making the case for our rights and our equality better than most Queer people who’ve tried have been able to do.

But the success of every state campaign that has sought to ban same-sex marriage needs to be a community wake-up call that we have not convinced the American people that we deserve equality. One of the most effective arguments used by the Yes on 8 campaign was their complaint that if same-sex marriage stood as the law in California, “they’ll have to teach it to our kids in school!” In the No on 8 campaign we were told to pooh-pooh this objection, to say that it was based on a case in Massachusetts and that California’s laws giving parents the right to keep their children from being taught about sexual controversies were much stronger.

The hypocrisy of that argument was exposed, interestingly, by a Prop. 8 supporter who posted a response to the article on my blog about the November 8 demonstration. This poster quoted three of the arguments made in amicus curiae briefs to the California Supreme Court. From the Anti-Defamation League: “It is particularly important to teach children about families with Gay parents.” [p. 5] From the Human Rights Campaign:
“(Parents have) no right to remove the books now in issue – or to impose an opt-out system.” [pp. 1-2] From the American Civil Liberties Union: “ Parents do not have a constitutional right to override [the] pedagogical judgment of the school.” [p. 9]

The irony is that if you truly believe that same-sex relationships are identical to opposite-sex relationships — that they are equal in level and depth of commitment, emotional meaning for the two people involved, and worthiness of social recognition and the financial and other benefits that derive from it — there is no earthly reason why the schoolchildren should not be taught the existence and legitimacy of same-sex relationships. The California Education Code does oblige the schools to teach the importance of marriage and family relationships — and allowing same-sex couples to wed on the same basis as opposite-sex couples would mean that the schools would have to teach students to respect our relationships on the same basis as everybody else’s.

The battle over schoolchildren and the horror that they might be taught about “Gay marriage” was a smokescreen, all right, but it was a smokescreen for our basic legitimacy as a people and the fact that, as much as things have advanced for us in the 58 years since the modern U.S. Queer-rights movement was founded, the majority of American people still don’t accept us as equals. Oh, they’ve decided that we shouldn’t go to prison for having sex with each other, we shouldn’t be publicly disgraced and we shouldn’t lose our jobs over it — but that’s a long way from full acceptance. Indeed, it’s fascinating that in the last 20 years the bitterest opposition we’ve faced politically has been when we’ve been seen as trying to “crash” two institutions seen by most Americans as quintessentially heterosexual: the military and marriage.

The biggest mistake made by the No on 8 campaign was its assumption that voters would see a ban on same-sex marriage as a form of discrimination. One anti-8 commercial showed the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, referenced the California Supreme Court’s 1949 ruling striking down the state’s ban on interracial marriage, and even said that in 1909 the California legislature had passed a law banning people of Armenian descent from owning property in the state. That was an interesting bit of historical trivia and I wondered how come I’d never known that before — but it was utterly useless as an argument for preserving the California Supreme Court’s ruling allowing same-sex couples to marry.

It’s clear from the election results on Proposition 8 and the similar measures that have passed in every state that has voted on them — I can’t stress that point enough: no state whose voters have had the chance to decide whether or not to let us marry has let us — that the majority of American’s DON’T see Queer people as a community worthy of anti-discrimination protections. The so-called “movable middle” — the 30 to 35 percent of U.S. voters who are neither whole-hearted across-the-board supporters of Queer equality nor bitter opponents who want to see the sodomy laws reinstated — long since decided that though they may support some protections for Queer individuals and couples, they simply don’t see Queer relationships as equal to their own.

What’s more, the overwhelming support for Prop. 8 among 70-plus percent of African-American voters (and the less sweeping 53 percent support among Latinos — both stronger than the 50-50 split of white voters) indicates that it is people of color themselves who most strongly reject the analogy between their anti-discrimination struggles and ours. The irony is that the modern Queer-rights movement drew not only its inspiration but much of its strategy and tactics from the African-American civil rights movement — and we simply assumed that African-Americans would see the same analogy we did, Instead, a lot of the African-American voters who were interviewed after Prop. 8 passed said we were being virtually sacrilegious by taking a movement that had been started in Christian churches by Biblically inspired ministers and using it to support a lifestyle they consider immoral and un-Biblical. The potential that the overwhelming support of Prop. 8 among African-Americans could encourage a revival of racism among white Queers seemed strong enough that one of Prop. 8’s staunchest opponents, Kathryn Kolbert, president of People for the American Way, was moved to send a mass e-mail November 8 warning us against it.

The arguments why a majority of Americans don’t see same-sex marriage rights as an anti-discrimination issue boil down to two: “My religion says no” and “You can’t make babies.” (There’s a third one — “You can’t be faithful,” referring to the well-known penchant for many Gay men in coupled relationships to seek outside sexual outlets — but those are the main two. “You can’t be faithful” seems to be the main argument for the estimated 25 to 30 percent of openly Gay or Lesbian voters who voted for Prop. 8.) The “My religion says no” and “You can’t make babies” arguments tend to blend together in a conception of traditional Biblical marriage as the union of one man and one woman for the purposes of conceiving and raising the people of the next generation. Many people who voted for Prop. 8 did so in the belief that not only does their religion stipulate that marriage exists for procreation, but that their beliefs should rule and take precedence over those of religious and non-religious people who disagree.

This (mis)understanding persists not only in the face of the actual text of the Bible (which defines marriage, not as the union of one man and one woman, but as the union of one man and as many women as he can support financially — which in practice makes polygamy a luxury for rich males) but the clear opposition of Jesus Christ himself. As the late Queer historian John Boswell pointed out, in preaching against the Jewish law that allowed men to divorce their wives if they were infertile, Jesus essentially said that the purpose of marriage was companionship, not procreation. But that’s a subtlety lost on many believers in the long-institutionalized “Christian” religion that has lost touch with a lot of the progressive ideals of its founder.

The passage of Prop. 8 and similar measures in every U.S. state that has had the chance to vote on them is a triumph for the theocrats in the war that has been going on ever since the Anglo-American civilization was founded: between those who believe the state has an obligation to impose their religious values on the entire population, and those who believe that religious belief (or unbelief) is a matter for the individual conscience and the state should not make its laws based on the beliefs of one religion or another.

From the prosecution of Anne Hutchinson and the Salem witch trials in colonial Massachusetts to the 1800 Presidential campaign that was described in one independent pro-Federalist leaflet as a choice between “John Adams and God” and “Thomas Jefferson and No God,” from the early 20th century revival movement whose doctrinal creed, The Fundamentals, gave “Fundamentalism” its name to the rise of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition in the last two decades, there has been a strong theocratic streak throughout U.S. history, starkly contrasting with the approach of the Bill of Rights which tolerates all religions and establishes none.

The modern-day theocrats seized on homosexuality and abortion as the key issues to organize around out of a fervent belief that not only marriage but sex itself exists ONLY to reproduce the species. They oppose abortion (and often contraception as well) because they don’t want straight people to be able to have sex without the fear of unwanted pregnancies, and they oppose homosexuality — and, therefore, homosexuals — because Gay and Lesbian sex cannot produce babies. Many Gay and Lesbian people have children — some conceived through artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization, but most from heterosexual relationships they were involved in before they definitively decided they were Gay or Lesbian — and the social-science evidence indicates that children fare best when they are raised by two adults, but it doesn’t make a difference whether the adults are the biological parents or they are of the opposite or the same genders.

The literature for Prop. 8 and virtually every other anti-Queer campaign at the ballot box since Anita Bryant launched the first one in Miami in 1977 is implicitly, and often explicitly, theocratic. Not only were religious organizations — the Mormon church (which has spent the last 118 years living down its former embrace of polygamy by becoming one of the most sexually hard-nosed branches of the Abrahamic religious tradition) and the Roman Catholic-affiliated Knights of Columbus — the major donors to Yes on 8, the appeals were open and unashamed appeals to voters to write those groups’ religious prejudices into law.

Indeed, the tenor of the 2008 election as a whole indicated what a sweeping triumph the American theocrats have won in terms of setting their agenda front and center in U.S. politics — even though they’ve been able to achieve their agenda only partially and incrementally. (Abortion remains technically legal throughout the U.S. — though practically available in only about 15 percent of the country, albeit the 15 percent of the country with about half of its total population — and the U.S. Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws in 2003 in a decision written by a man who’s usually one of the court’s more conservative justices, Anthony Kennedy.)

Barack Obama was able to win the presidency partly by presenting himself as the “right” sort of Christian — one who could say, “We worship an awesome God in the blue states” — and he, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards all had to put themselves through the bizarre spectacle of a televised debate on CNN in February 2008 in which they all proclaimed their belief not only in God, but in an actively interventionist God who takes a direct and ongoing role in day-to-day human affairs and can be appealed to by prayer. There had always been an understanding that it was practically impossible for an agnostic or atheist to win the highest offices in this land; today the people have essentially imposed a religious test on the presidency and other major offices that people who don’t believe in an interventionist God need not apply either. The deists who wrote the U.S. Constitution in the first place would be S.O.L. if they tried to run for office under it in the current religious/political climate!

The theocrats are on the move in this country, despite the setbacks to the Republican Party (caused more by their screw-ups on the economy and foreign policy than any broad public opposition to their union of God and politics) in the last two elections. They are clearly strong in both major parties. Democrats who once wouldn’t let anti-choice Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey speak at their convention later enthusiastically embraced his equally anti-choice son in his successful campaign for the U.S. Senate. Obama pledged as a candidate to continue President Bush’s program of “faith-based initiatives” despite opposition from other Democrats — at least in part because it’s largely been a welfare program for churches, and the strongly anti-Queer African-American churches Obama depended on for a large part of his political base are directly benefiting big-time.

Same-sex marriage has been able to grab a beachhead in two states — Massachusetts (ironically, since at one point in our history that state was the emblem of the American theocracy!) and Connecticut — whose constitutions were blessed or cursed with amendment mechanisms of Rube Goldberg complexity that prevented their people from voting their opposition to same-sex marriage into constitutional law. Elsewhere, this issue has been a triumph for the theocrats and a sure loser for our community. In 1964, just after the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act, then-U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-MN) wrote that the law cannot get too far ahead of people’s prejudices, for then the law will be disrespected; but the law must always be one step ahead of prejudice.

As much as this issue has meant to me not only politically but personally — when the California Supreme Court decision came down May 15 the first thing I did when I heard the news was place a phone call to my partner of 13 years, and we eagerly grabbed the chance to marry knowing all too well the window of opportunity might quickly be closed again — I’ve long worried that in pushing for same-sex marriage and insisting on using the M-word that we have got too far ahead of people’s prejudices. It’s entirely possible that “marriage,” at least as the word is used in the U.S., carries so much religious baggage that it will take another 50 to 100 years before a majority of Americans are prepared to see it used to describe our relationships.

The passage of Prop. 8 has been a wake-up call for the Queer community in more ways than one. It’s had one salutary effect: it’s convinced a lot of Queer people (and our non-Queer supporters) that we need a strong presence in the streets, staging marches, rallies and other forms of activism outside electoral politics. But what we also need now is to do a lot of soul-searching on why we haven’t been able to move a majority of Americans to accept us as a legitimate minority, and in particular why people of color — whom we not only assumed would accept us but whose own struggles we used as role models — seem unable to make that link.

I think we also have to put aside all the “separate but equal” rhetoric and seriously reconsider whether “marriage” as most Americans understand it, with its religious connotations and assumptions of monogamy and child-rearing, is really an appropriate demand to make. One alternative that has crossed my mind is that we agitate for civil-union laws that would be open not only to same-sex couples but to opposite-sex ones as well, not as an inferior substitute for marriage but as an alternative institution that would give straight people who reject the religious bigotry behind Prop. 8 to speak out along with us in the celebration of their own relationships.

When the San Diego City Council voted in September 2007 to join every other major California city in support of same-sex marriage equality before the state supreme court, I wrote, “The irony is that the better we do in the courts, the worse we’re likely to fare at the ballot box. That’s a corner the American Left has painted itself into on issue after issue, notably abortion and reproductive freedom. In counting on the courts to overrule popular opinion in the name of abstract ‘rights,’ we’ve adopted a fundamentally undemocratic strategy whose limitations have come back to haunt us.” The principal political issue facing the Queer community in the wake of Prop. 8’s victory is how to get out of the box we’ve put ourselves in and how to appeal to people, not judges, to grant us our basic human rights.