Civil marriage is a contract

Posted in Gay rights, Politics at 6:59 pm by ducky

One thing that makes it hard for people to accept marriage for same-sex couples is that “marriage” is a word that has at least four distinct meanings.

  • a personal commitment: two people each pledging to stick together for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health
  • a community affirmation: the couple declaring to the people important to them, that this person is special to me and that I ask and expect you to treat this person as special to me
  • a religious commitment: a pact between the couple and their god
  • a legal contract (“civil marriage”): two people and the state entering into a multifaceted agreement defining various rights and responsibilities

The big issue at the moment involves only the fourth facet. Gay and lesbian couples already can (and do) make personal commitments, and can and do have community affirmations (sometimes called “commitment ceremonies”).

Changing the laws about who can get legally married will not change how churches interact with gay and lesbian couples, as churches already have the right to determine who they will and will not marry. (For example, my husband and I couldn’t get married in the Catholic church because we aren’t Catholic.) Furthermore, there are already churches who are quite happy to perform marriages (and even call them that!) of same-sex couples.

Weddings usually put the first three facets on display, but the fourth is usually somewhat hidden. In a clergy-officiated wedding, the officiant usually doesn’t point out that they are acting as an agent of the state. The actual legal ceremony happens afterwards when the officiant takes some set of the wedding party (in California, it’s one witness but not the couple) back into a back room where they sign the document and mail it in.

The legal aspects aren’t terribly obvious even to married couples (which is why some people question why they need “a piece of paper”). For the most part, laws relating to marriage only come into effect when the marriage ends (either by death or divorce) or some other bad thing happens. Such bad things include falling in love with someone who is not a citizen of your country, medical difficulties, being required to testify in court against your loved one, and paying taxes. (See, for example, the U.S. rights and responsibilities of marriage Since most people spend most of their waking hours not dealing with such tragedies, it’s easy to forget all the legal aspects of marriage.

I was surprised, when I explored marriage before my own nuptials, to find out just how callow it was. From the California Family Code:

300. Marriage is a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman, to which the consent of the parties capable of making that contract is necessary. Consent alone does not constitute marriage. Consent must be followed by the issuance of a license and solemnization as authorized by this division, except as provided by Section 425 and Part 4 (commencing with Section 500).

There is some stuff in the California code about who is allowed to marry (no aunts marrying nephews, for example), but nothing that said that Beloved Husband and I had to be sexually faithful to each other, that we had to commit to a lifetime together, not even that we had to love each other. Basically, all that was required was that we had to want to be married to each other.

Who can enter into contracts?

This is why there are so few restrictions on marriage. Murderers have the right to get married. Serial killers have the right to get married. Serial rapists have the right to get married. Even men who are still in prison for raping and killing multiple women have the right to get married, just as they have the right to enter into a contract to buy or sell a piece of property.

Convicted child abusers have the right to get married. Convicted child molesters have the right to get married. People convicted of molesting and killing multiple children have the right to get married.

Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra had the right to go to Las Vegas get married. Britney Spears had the right to get married. 24-year-olds have the right to get married to 70-year-olds.

Just as we might think it foolish for someone to pay $2M for a dumpy house next to a steel mill, we might think it is foolish to marry a serial sexual predator and murderer, but as long as the people entering the contract are of sound mind and body, they are allowed to do that.

Who can’t get married?

Gay and lesbian people, however, are not allowed to enter into a marriage contract. It makes no sense to me that decent, loving people who happened to fall in love with people of the same sex are denied rights that even serial sexual predators and murderers are granted.


San Francisco Gay Pride Parade 2004 (Activism is boring, part 3)

Posted in Gay rights, Politics at 6:10 pm by ducky

I’ve said that activism is boring, but that wasn’t quite accurate. The process of activism is boring. The results can sometimes blow me away.

I sent out 3,748 postcards to couples who got married during the great San Francisco Marriages of 2004. I really didn’t know how many couples would show up. I thought probably around one hundred, though I wouldn’t have been surprised at forty couples, either.

I apparently threw a match into gasoline: one THOUSAND people came. One-zero-zero-zero. People told me that when our contingent went by, it kept going by — and going by and going by. I heard that it was the first time that there had been a contingent larger that the Women’s Motorcycle Contingent — which probably means it was the largest contingent ever. At any Gay Pride event anywhere.

In the staging area, looking out over the crowd, I was overwhelmed. My mind boggled, tilted, and froze in the way it did when I was a kid trying to grasp the number of stars in the universe.

“I did this!” I thought to myself with astonishment, amazed that something I did could have had such an effect.

Now, I fully understand that I didn’t make one thousand people appear out of nowhere. Many people did many things to set up the circumstances that let my little action turn into such a huge event, from APA removing homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders through couples standing in the cold and wet to get licenses.

I also had help on the postcards from the crew of Parents, Families, and Friends, a bunch of people from my husband’s church, my husband, and my mother.

However, realizing that I’m only one link in a chain didn’t stop me from enjoying the heck out it!


Activism is boring, part 2

Posted in Gay rights at 5:55 pm by ducky

Three thousand, seven hundred and forty-eight. That’s a really tiny number in some contexts, like in the number of stars in the sky, the number of fish in the sea, or the number of people born in the world. In the context of the number of postcards that I just had to design, get printed, get cut, make address labels for, affix address labels to, and put postage stamps on, it is quite a large number.

These cards went out to all the same-sex couples in California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington who got married in February and March 2004 at San Francisco City Hall. The cards invited them to march with Marriage Equality California in the upcoming San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Pride Parade.

While I had some help (particularly from my beloved husband), I probably affixed three thousand labels and stamps myself over the course of this weekend. This activity supports my thesis that activism is boring.

However, it was uplifting as well. Every address label represented one more happy couple. Carl and James. Ruth and Janet. Joseph and Eric. “Happy couple, happy couple, happy couple”, I said to myself as I stickered, remembering the joy I’d seen at the city hall weddings. Bernheisel and Winters. Stockton and Minns. Curry and Medina. Happy couple, happy couple, happy couple.

Some of the names looked like they could be straight couples: Paul and Lisa, Leslie and Stephen, Drew and Laurens. I presume they got married in San Francisco during the period when same-sex couples were marrying, and got included in the list purely by proximity. I wondered how they felt about getting gay-themed mail.

There were a quite a few couples with the same first name: Maria and Maria, Barbara and Barbara, Michael and Michael. Many couples already had the same last name: Crabtree-Ireland and Crabtree-Ireland, Disney and Disney, Dick-Endrizzi and Dick-Endrizzi. Happy couple, happy couple, happy couple.

Over and over and over again, for three, five, seven, eight hours, I stickered. Forty-two Amys. Fifty Elizabeths. One hundred and thirty-two Davids. Happy couple, happy couple, happy couple.

Seeing so many couples whose lives had been changed by Newsom’s act of civil disobedience was a visceral reminder that marriage equality is something worth fighting for. If somehow these stickerings make even one more happy couple, I’m happy to do it. So Suzanne and Susannah, Michelle and Susan, Zackary and Steven, thanks for the inspiration!

(Here is the postcard design as a 1.3M PDF.)


My beloved husband graduated!

Posted in Married life at 6:34 pm by ducky

Seventeen years ago, my beloved husband dropped out of his masters’ in computer science program to go to Japan. While he took a few classes here and there afterwards, he was still short four courses.

This how he came to take two classes each during the past two quarters. This was in addition to working full-time, serving on the boards of Marriage Equality California and EQCA, singing with the San Francisco Symphony chorus, and taking part in numerous marriage rights-related activities. This is a lot. I’m amazed that anybody could do it.

I assume that I helped. It’s hard for me to quantify exactly what I did that was different, since he still did almost his fair share of the household chores (instead of more than his fair share like before). Partly I just didn’t ask much of him. For example, I didn’t ask for any help in prepping the front door for painting. Regardless, I felt really busy with him in school, and certainly I missed having as much of his attention and affection.

Thus I was very ready for him to graduate. So was he. We were both thrilled when Stanford University informed him that he had completed all the requirements for his Master of Science degree in Computer Science!

He originally wasn’t going to go through commencement — he was a little embarrassed about it, feeling that he’d had his chance seventeen years ago — but I and others persuaded him that no matter what happened seventeen years ago, this was still something very much worth celebrating.

On the day of graduation, he was a bit late and so just carried all his commencement regalia over to the staging field in a tidy little black bundle. (That was probably a good move — I remember that the gowns were hot!) I kissed him and went into the stadium, assuming that the classmates he said he was meeting up with would help him make himself beautiful. Little did I know.

At the appointed hour, a great cheering mob of students raced onto the field, complete with an amazing variety of costumage and paraphernalia. There were students dressed as palm trees and sea dragons. There were people throwing beach balls around. There were thirteen students dressed up in the individual letters A-L-P-H-A-C-H-I-O-M-E-G-A. There was a giant S made out of red balloons. There was even a crew that set up a slip-and-slide track. But there was no husband that I could see.

I started sending frantic text messages from my phone to his.

Me: Where u
Jim: Take a seat, enjoy show.  See if you can ID me.
Me: Enjoying show no prayer of finding you w/o fish on yo head o something

I was expecting, hoping, waiting for him to tell me where he was, something like “now nxt 2 balloon S” or something like that. I got a little annoyed that he didn’t give me clearer directions. How on earth was I supposed to spot him in that mass?

Still nothing.

Then more people started entering the stadium, this time in ordered lines walking in single files, with different hood colors in each line. “Ah,” I said to myself, “the graduate students. He’ll come in soon.”

More orange hoods and more orange hoods and more orange hoods came in the stadium, passing about fifty feet below me. I kept looking and looking — you’d think I’d be able to pick out my favorite husband, especially since he was probably one of only three students in miles with a red beard.

Still nothing.

Me: Still no c u

I looked up from my cell phone and saw him! There he was — with a giant duck on his mortarboard, in homage to the duck I wore on my mortarboard when I got my BS! For those of you who don’t know how his mind works, this was his way of saying thank you to me for two quarters of him being missing, and I knew it immediately. I just went nuts, hooting and a hollering.

Me: I cu!!!
Me: O my love, o my love!
    Hard to wear, isn't it?

He’d managed to keep it a secret from me, which was also impressive. That trip over to neighbor Ron’s on Wednesday to talk about the condo association’s garage repair? They actually spent most of the time drilling holes into the mortarboard. The phone call from the classmates he was going to meet? Ron, asking if he should drive the duck over yet. Jim taking his gown over in a little bundle instead of wearing it? To hide the fact that his mortarboard wasn’t there.

Yet again, he made me happy that I married him.

P.S. A lot of people thought the duck on my mortarboard was a goose, but it was actually, genuinely, a Pekin duck, the most common domesticated duck. I think Jim’s bird truly is a goose, but that doesn’t matter. I understood.

Activism is boring

Posted in Gay rights, Politics at 5:51 pm by ducky

When my husband told our neighbors as we passed that we were off to staff a booth at the San Jose Gay Pride Celebration, they said it sounded exciting to be activists.

Oh, how wrong they are. At its best, activism is fundamentally boring. You might have mental images of a tight cadre of people in intense planning in rallies, perhaps bonding in solidarity in civil disobedience. In reality, time spent on activism these days is mostly spent on these activities:

  • figuring out what events to put on
  • organizing the logistics for the event
  • convincing other people to show up at the event
  • showing up at the event

Figuring out what events to put on is somewhat frustrating, as it’s really hard to come up with ideas for things that haven’t been done before.

Organizing logistics for an activism event is not much different from organizing logistics for any other event. You need to fill out paperwork, coordinate activities, fill out schedules, arrange the audiovisual elements, decorate the set, etc. etc. etc. Furthermore, activist organizations usually do not have the luxury of having lots of money, so the logistics are not as straightforward. For example, instead of just hiring somebody to deliver and operate a sound system, the preference is to call around to a lot of different people to try to cobble together pieces of a sound system into a usable whole.

One of the logistical pieces is convincing people to come to the event. This is difficult not just because people are over-committed these days, but because the events are fundamentally boring (see below).

While there is some variation in events, most fall into one of these major classes:

  • public demonstrations (rallies, protests, parades)
  • governmental meetings
  • information tables/booths
  • fund-raisers

For governmental meetings, the most important thing is to show up, to impress upon the governmental officials that your side has more bodies than their side. Governmental meetings, by definition, are run by public servants — who are self-selected for enjoying the sound of their own voice. There is also usually a time for public comment, at which point you make your most important arguments (over and over and over) and the loyal opposition makes their most important arguments (over and over and over). For contentious issues, the public comment can last for several hours — and the speaking skills of the public usually does not compare favorably to those of public officials.

In addition to public hearings, you get to go to rallies. Attending a rally means standing with a bunch of people who agree with you and listening to someone who shares your values telling you stuff you already know. It is not educational for you, and passer-bys rarely stop for more than thirty seconds, so they don’t learn much either. That’s okay, because the point is not to educate anybody at the rally, but to get on TV. Thus it’s not important to have interesting speakers, but to have material that looks good on TV.

Staffing an information table can occasionally be interesting if you get into a dialog with somebody who stops by, but also involves a whole lot of sitting around and waiting for people to come by.

Going to fund-raisers can actually be a whole lot of fun, as you are usually with a bunch of people who share your value priorities in a congenial situation. There is that one annoying little part about feeling obliged to actually give the organizers money, however…

It almost seems like unpleasantness is the currency of activism, a way of saying to the world, “Look! I believe so much in this cause that I am willing to endure this much unpleasantness.” That certainly worked for the racial civil rights movement, where seeing activists enduring being beaten, hosed, and set upon by police dogs was highly compelling.

It is perhaps a testament to how tame the issue of gay rights in California is (for a straight woman) that the worst I need to endure as an activist is boredom.


Domestic Credits

Posted in Married life at 10:36 pm by ducky

My husband Jim and I have very traditional gender roles. We just have them backwards. He cooks, I take out the garbage. He wanted a big white wedding, I wanted to elope.  He wants kids, I want to burp and play video games in my underwear. He’s nurturing, I’m competitive.  When one friend of mine told me that all human actions boiled down to competition and nurturing, I went straight home and told Jim, “I can be more nurturing than you can!!!” Jim, naturally, assured me that he was confident that I could achieve that goal and that he would wholly support me in my efforts.

As you can see, he’s just brutal in competitive nurturing. He just figures that he earns domestic credits whenever he’s nurturing, and that those will be useful in case he needs to spend them later. The problem is that he has earned so many that Alan Greenspan’s going to start warning him soon about domestic credit inflation.

One way that Jim earns domestic credits is by handing me my towel every day when I get out of the shower. (Usually we shower together and usually he starts and finishes first.) Since he was being so nice, I had to start handing him his towel, too, if for some reason I was out of the shower when he finished. When I got into it, of course it got competitive. As soon as the water stops, BING BING BING it’s off to the races! If the person showering gets to the towel first, the showering person wins!

The best part is that if the wet person wins, the dry person has to grovel and acknowledge the winner’s superiority and dominance in all things. (Aside: can you imagine if the sports were like that? I’d watch boxing if I there was a chance of hearing Mike Tyson say, “You win. You’re better than me. You’re superior and dominant in all things.”)

The interesting thing about this game is that the, winner earns some domestic credits and the loser spends some credits.

Another way to spend domestic credits is to cause an argument. Our favorite argument is about time. See, I’m a pessimist. I think it’ll take an hour to get anywhere. My husband’s an optimist. “Oh, we can make it to San Jose Airport from Palo Alto in ten minutes!” “At rush hour???” “Ok, twenty-five!”

He was way, WAY late the night before one performance of Carmen, when we were both in the chorus. He was supposed to swing by and pick me up to take me to the theater, but I could have walked to the theatre both ways uphill barefoot in the snow by the time he finally showed up.

Unfortunately, I spent a bunch of domestic credits by overreacting. It wasn’t actually his fault and we did make our entrances (barely). Maybe I was just a wee bit on the edge from the sleep deprivation from thirty-nine hours of rehearsals in the previous week and from the heart attack in the front row at the performance the night before.

By the time we got home, we were exhausted. We fell into bed like skydivers without parachutes.

Unfortunately, the next day, we had an important meeting at some painful hour of the morning. I tried gentle persuasion to get Jim up, then gave up and started showering by myself. Several minutes passed with still no sign of him. I started to worry. We had to get to the meeting, but I didn’t want to yell at him too hard because of the argument the day before. I was afraid I’d go farther into domestic credit deficit.


I turned off the water. Bang! Out of bed down the hall he raced! He was just reaching for my towel when I turned the water back on. When he realized the trick I’d played on him, he laughed — and acknowledged my superiority and dominance in all things.

Best of all, I was net positive again on domestic credits. Yessss!


Balance and equilibrium

Posted in Married life at 6:27 pm by ducky

I folded laundry this evening.

Normally, this is not big news, but yesterday I would have been completely unable to do so. Yesterday, I woke up at my mother’s house with not just my Favorite Husband but also a seriously maladjusted inner ear. My balance was shot, and moving my head would make me violently, painfully, convulsively motionsick.

It’s pretty amazing just how horrible something “simple” like throwing up can make you feel. There were times when my body seemed to be straining to expel everything it could from anywhere it could: get it out get it out getitoutgetitout! How else to explain the immediate sheen of sweat over my entire body? How else to explain the tears?

A cousin described a bout of vomiting as being very much like giving birth: involving painful, racking, whole-body convulsions that she had absolutely no control over.

The doctor told me to expect to be down for three or four days, but thankfully that evening, after I had emptied myself completely, I achieved freedom from nausea enough to walk down the hall and exult to Favorite Husband without either falling over or wanting to puke.

I had a little bit of water the next morning and threw it right back up, so elected to pass on any further intake until Jim had driven me the two hours safely back home. A call to medical tech support taught me that dehydration can lead to nausea, and that I needed to come back to food and drink very slowly. A mild soda the night before hadn’t stayed down, so I got a bit more creative: I started sucking on peanut butter M&Ms. I’d suck slowly on one, and when it finally dissolved, I’d have another. This slow, steady influx of sugar helped enormously.

Then, when my husband sat down with his dinner beside me, for some reason, his pickle looked really good. Now, my intellectual and emotional natures rather recoiled from the pickle. A pickle? After a day of tossing cookies? My corporeal nature, however, was unfazed by popular opinion. It wanted the pickle. Body wanted four or five pickles, in fact, and Reason and Emotion wisely stood aside.

I can’t imagine any doctor ever prescribing M&Ms and pickles as sources of sugar and salt to restore electrolytes, but it seemed to work for me.

This meant that in the evening, when the dryer buzzed,

and then buzzed again,

and buzzed again

that I felt competent to fold laundry.

I also felt like it was something I needed to do, as (drumroll) my husband is in the process of taking his very last take-home final in his very last class! Yes, after only about twenty years, Jim is finally finishing his MS in CS from Stanford University! This is way cool and something that I heartily support — even if the past two quarters have been drains on both of us.

My Favorite Husband was an absolute prince while I was sick. He held my hand, held my head, helped linearize my perambulations, wiped my forehead with a wet washcloth, and spent another night at Mom’s instead of coming home to study for his exam. So even though I didn’t feel completely steady on my feet, I felt that folding laundry was the least I could do to repay his kindness.

Jim DeLaHunt, I love you very much. Thank you for standing by me in sickness as well as health.