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Deep Thoughts on Prop 8 Trial

[Teddy will be on Air America tonight at 9:30pm pacificlivestream here]

Freed from liveblogging by the very able Marcy Wheeler today at noontime, I took some time to decompress in the main courtroom this afternoon. That gave me a chance to think through some questions I’ve been asked by my FDL peers as well as commenters and other folks around the courthouse.

First of all, thanks to you all for your wonderfully supportive comments and attaboys. The best way you can help out — thanks for the dinner invites! — is to donate here to support our FDL efforts to bring you trial liveblogging, highlights, interviews with involved parties, and commentary.

Second, I want to say how much more I appreciate Jeralyn, Marcy, Christy, Pach and Jane’s coverage of the Scooter Libby trial. A federal courthouse is an intimidating place, the procedures sometimes impenetrable inside and outside the courtrooms. It’s very much a ‘closed guild’ you’re likely not part of — and the liveblogging itself is damn hard. I mean, really hard. It’s as if I’m trying to connect my ears with my typing fingers without engaging my brain. Plus we get to sit in hard wooden ‘pews’ that don’t really have a place to put a laptop. Also no coffee or water permitted in the courtroom. And only ten minute breaks twice a day!

It’s hell on earth. Oh, no, wait — that’s Haiti. Stop complaining, Teddy. No one cares about your puny first world problems.

Third, ‘disconnecting my brain’ has been the most difficult. I choked up listening to the named plaintiff parties talk about the challenges and discrimination they face. I choked up not because these were unique difficulties these couples faced that I’d never heard of. No, these were (mostly) things that have happened to me. Getting past the ‘glorified roommate’ stage in naming the person you love and live with, when talking to family members and friends. Getting that raised eyebrow and askance look from the desk clerk (most recently in Chicago at Netroots Nation, of all places!) when he says, “Oh, there’s two men, it’s a king-size bed, there must be some mistake, right??” And not having a comeback when someone asks “what kind of a partnership is it?” when you aren’t a partnership — you’re a committed loving family of two (or more) and you just want to be treated like that by the rest of the world, which happily recognizes and treats like a joyfully formed unit anyone else and a life partner, as long as you’ve selected one of the opposite sex.

And then there’s the sex. Oh, not the sex, but the emphasis on sex. I mean, why does my partner get labeled my ‘lover’ even though we’ve had a fight and I’m still sleeping on the sofa three days later? I mean, doesn’t that sound like a typical sitcom husband, for pete’s sake? Do married opposite sex couples have to use the word ‘lover’ to describe their relationship? No! And… usually when a heterosexual married person speaks of his/her lover, you immediately know something illicit or illegal is afoot. A married heterosexual person who says “my lover” doesn’t mean the other party on the marriage license.

Which brings me to the next aspect — the outlaw aspect. Until Lawrence v Texas, of course, our lovemaking was illegal. Still, in many states, we can be denied housing for who we are. I recall looking for apartments — nice, expensive, Georgetown apartments! — and having snooty real estate ladies say, “Oh, there’s two gentlemen? Well, then I can’t show you a ONE bedroom apartment!” Higher commission for her of course, and reinforced prejudice for me. And jobs aren’t secure in MOST states — being gay is an acceptable reason for firing someone. I mean, can you imagine coming to work one day and being marched down the hallway and fired in front of all your librarian peers just because you’d been discovered to be gay, as George Chauncey described in testimony about the publicity attendant to arrests on morals charges in New York City? Well, the functional equivalent — being fired for being gay — still happens every single day in America. And it is legal. And if you’re closeted still, what do you say to your friends and workmates even if you weren’t humiliated in front of everyone? That you quit? I mean, who quits a job in this economy, really?

What so much of it came down to in this trial so far, is this: Why does the world care so much, really? And yet, you realize very very early in life — exceptionally early for many of us, before we ever realize quite why — that the world cares an incredible lot about who you think is hot. Or, as the Defendant-Intervenors’ several Learned Counsel put it so often, if you have “an erotic and emotional attachment to persons of the same sex.

So it’s hard listening to this trial, watching these lawyers hired by a bunch of bigots who had to step in to defend discrimination because the governor and the attorney general of California couldn’t really be bothered, thinking as they do (apparently) that Prop 8 is really unconstitutional. These lawyers who, in trying to get plaintiffs’ expert witness Letitia Peplau to explain that homosexuals really aren’t so demonized, demonize us all over again by describing how gay men aren’t faithful to their partners. Even when the expert witness describes how study after study shows that gay men do not value monogamy in their relationships and therefore don’t view outside sex as a betrayal, as lesbians and heterosexual couples do, Defendant-Intervenor Counsel Moss still tries to get Peplau to say, “Well, yes gay men are cheating sluts.” I mean, what does that have to do with their marriages, really? Are they so afraid that marriage will be redefined to allow ALL men to be the cheating sluts they characterize gay men?

That’s what she wanted to hear, mark my words.

And then Defendant-Intervenor Counsel Moss trots out statistics tables (in French and Dutch, no less, but conveniently {accurately? who knows!?} translated into English) about marriage in Belgium and the Netherlands. She tries to walk Plaintiffs’ Expert Witness Peplau through a whole bunch of very-late-in-the-day hypothetical mathematics she claims to have done to show that Dutch and Belgian gays marry at the rate of 3% or 4% while straights marry at the rate of 43% or 47%. As she got completely tangled up in her math, she was asked by Judge Walker if she would please just get to the point.

Counsel decided to go to her next topic, pretty much abandoning the Dutch and Belgian non-marrying gays to a limbo we can only hope they remain in for the rest of the trial. (I mean, WTF?)

The next topic being, of course, whether lesbian or gay couples ever have accidental children. Something we needed to question an expert witness about? Really?

Previous to Wednesday, I tried to point out that there was some parallel being made by plaintiffs counsel, working with George Chauncey, between the Anita Bryant campaign to SAVE OUR CHILDREN in Miami-Dade a generation ago, and the PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN campaign waged by Prop 8. This was extraordinary — you could hear a pin drop in the overflow courtroom as people realized that this demonization, this creation of the monstrous hyper-sexualized gay out to recruit and corrupt your innocent children, came about after WW2 as there were men, excluded from the benefits of the GIBill because of non-service or dismissal from service, who gravitated to big cities and became a ‘social threat.’ This threat was of course taken up by that screaming queen J Edgar Hoover and his Chief of Staff, best friend, constant breakfast/lunch/dinner partner and ‘roommate’ Clyde Tolson alongside military police and civilian forces eager to see funding streams continue as the war effort wore down.

The threats to innocent children have been ongoing, you see — whether from men in offices, men in schoolrooms, women in gymnasia, child care providers, or scouts. There is something so threatening about sexuality, and our own children’s discovery of it, that it can be used to demonize an entire class of people with a ‘lifestyle they’ve chosen‘ even when such is actually an immutable characteristic.

And of course it’s an immutable characteristic. Just ask any fundie when he or she ‘chose to be straight.’ (Well, not any fundie — don’t ask Ted Haggard and those darling Parsley lads he surrounded himself with. Serious gayface in that book of church employees, I’m telling you!)

Next time, I promise I’ll tell you about several other things, including a more nuanced discussion of the whole ongoing ‘disclosure? did too! did not!’ conversation that is enriching the entire trial, as well as the elevated cool kids table, with several tables pushed together just like in junior high, where the hero plaintiffs and hero attorneys (except for David Boies, who sits out with us little people) hold court in the courthouse cafeteria throughout lunchtime.

But that’s for the next indepth post. For now, thank you for your support and thank you for your interest in this effort. It’s been great all reading your comments every evening, sitting in my little home-blogging nest. I especially enjoy reading all the new commenters — “they love me in Finland!” has become quite the rallying cry chez Bear.

See ya!

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Teddy Partridge

Teddy Partridge