California Supreme Court: words matter

Posted in Gay rights, Married life at 2:04 pm by ducky

Today, something that I worked on for five years came to a successful completion today. No, not my thesis: the California Supreme Court ruled that marriage discrimination against same-sex couples was unconstitutional.

In 30 days (when the law takes effect), California will join the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, South Africa, Spain, and Massachusetts in allowing same-sex couples to get married civilly.

I skimmed the court decision, and it all came down to words. They were very clear that California’s domestic partnership granted essentially all the same rights and responsibilities as California civil marriage. They were deciding

whether our state Constitution prohibits the state from establishing a statutory scheme in which both opposite-sex and same-sex couples are granted the right to enter into an officially recognized family relationship that affords all of the significant legal rights and obligations traditionally associated under state law with the institution of marriage, but under which the union of an opposite-sex couple is officially designated a “marriage” whereas the union of a same-sex couple is officially designated a “domestic partnership.

In other words, does the word matter? And if it does, is it okay to grant the word “marriage” to one group and not to another?

They determined that this was a question of the equal-protection-under-the-law clause, and as such, subjected it to a legal examination called “strict scrutiny”:

in order to demonstrate the constitutional validity of a challenged statutory classification the state must establish (1) that the state interest intended to be served by the differential treatment not only is a constitutionally legitimate interest, but is a compelling state interest, and (2) that the differential treatment not only is reasonably related to but is necessary to serve that compelling state interest.

They decided that the state didn’t have a compelling interest in perpetuating the differing language.

They also pretty comprehensively showed that the different language matters. One example they mentioned is that it is common to be asked “Are you single or married?” To respond truthfully, “I’m in a domestic partnership”, requires disclosing one’s sexual orientation in a situation where they might not want to.

Accordingly, we conclude that to the extent the current California statutory provisions limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, these statutes are unconstitutional.


I was sure that this would happen in my lifetime, but thought it would take longer.


defending scummy people

Posted in Gay rights at 4:30 pm by ducky

Recently, there was a large judgment against the Westboro Baptist Church for protesting at the funeral of a Marine. Their protest was typical for them: linking homosexuality to everything that could possibly be wrong in the world.

WBC is completely, totally, completely repugnant to me, but I cannot support the judgment. If we start putting limits on who can say what where, that is a very scary slippery slope. Even if free speech by The Bad Guys is only limited a little, it means that The Good Guys will also have to face limits.

Suppose, for a second, that Robert Mugabe died and the US government put on a state funeral for him. Mugabe is just about as close as you can get to pure evil in my book, and it would be completely, totally inappropriate for the US government to celebrate his life. I would absolutely travel thousands of miles to protest at such a funeral. I would be incensed if I were not allowed to protest at his funeral.

Rights are so annoying. For them to work for you, you have to also let them work for the people who revolt you. 🙁


Brokeback Mountain

Posted in Gay rights at 12:50 am by ducky

I saw Brokeback Mountain today with my beloved husband. It was a very well-done movie, certainly heart-wrenching, but I didn’t like its message.

I have met a number of people who think that being gay is all about the sex, and this movie could certainly reinforce that stereotype. I never saw the protagonists being emotionally intimate with each other, just physically intimate. I never saw them talk, I never saw them make any sort of commitment to each other. They seemed about as emotionally intimate with each other as they were with their wives, maybe less so.

My beloved husband disagrees with me. He thinks that the lack of emotional intimacy or commitment was just a reflection of how badly messed up they were as a result of society’s horribly ill treatment of gay people.

Regardless, the movie made me feel very lucky to be married to my beloved husband: lucky that society approves of our relationship and lucky that he communicates more and better than the protagonists in the film.


Why ending marriage discrimination for gays and lesbians doesn't imply recognizing polygamy

Posted in Gay rights, Politics at 10:01 pm by ducky

Some people raise a slippery-slope argument against marriage equalityfor same-sex couples (what the search engines will find under “gay marriage”). “If you argue that same-sex couples have a moral right to equal access to marriage, what moral grounds do you have for denying polygamous couples equal access to marriage?” There are a number of counter-arguments to that, but the one I will focus is that it is just not possible to grant equal rights to polygamous spouses. Current marriage laws codify a symmetric, reciprocal arrangement and it is not administratively possible to make asymmetrical marriage laws that are fair to everyone.


There are a huge number of complications that arise from the asymmetry of a group marriage.

Who has the right to make medical decisions? What if two spouses wanted to disconnect an incapacitated one from life support and two did not? It would make the Terry Schiavo case look straightforward.

  • Suppose that Bob and Carol marry. In community property states, Bob gets half of Carol’s community property and Carol gets half of Bob’s community property. Then Bob marries Alice as well without Carol’s consent. Then what happens to community property? Does Bob still get half of Carol’s and Alice’s, while Carol suddenly, through no choice of her own, now only get a third of Bob’s? That doesn’t seem fair. Does Alice get nothing? That doesn’t seem completely fair either.
  • Bob and Carol have been married for fifty years and retire. After she retires, Carol marries Alice. Who gets what percentage of Carol’s pension when she dies?
  • Ted and Mabel are both veterans. Ted has one wife, while Mabel has twenty-three husbands. Ted’s wife gets various veteran’s benefits, including educational benefits and the right to be buried with Ted in a veteran’s cemetery. What benefits do Mabel’s husbands get? If they each get the same benefits as Ted’s spouse, then Mabel’s household gets more money from taxpayers than Ted does. If Mabel’s husbands each get one-twenty-third of the benefits, then they get less than Ted’s wife does. And how would you bury one-twenty-third of each of Mabel’s husbands with her?
  • Alice marries a man from Ghana and sponsors him for citizenship. Jack marries sixteen women from Venezuela. Can he sponsor them all for citizenship? It isn’t fair if he can; it isn’t fair if he can’t.
  • People are granted immunity from testifying against their spouses and in some cases are not allowed to testify for or against their spouses. Can an entire street gang marry each other to make sure that nobody testifies against anyone else?
  • If Jane, Jack, and Lisa are all married to each other, then issues involving divorce — particularly around children — get exceedingly interesting. Presumably, all three would be legal parents of any children. And if we throw Carol and Bob and Ted and Alice into the mix, the paternity might not be clear. How do you work joint custody among twenty parents? If it’s hard enough to collect child support payments from one parent, how difficult will it be to get child support from nineteen?

Decoupling rights and responsibilities from marriage

One thing people have proposed is to decouple rights from marriage. You would get to designate one person to get your spousal medical insurance, one person to get your pension, one person to get your spousal gym membership, etc.

First, while rights are easy to assign to people, responsibilities are much harder to assign. Far more people will sign up to inherit my assets tax free than will sign up to support me in my old age. I could give Bill Gates the right to make medical decisions on my behalf without his consent; I don’t think I could get away with assigning Bill Gates responsibility for my debts.

Second, I am absolutely certain that being able to assign rights to anybody would lead to abuse of the system. I bet it would take less than a day before people started auctioning their spousal health benefits or citizenship rights. I don’t think that’s what we want either.

You might be able to do something where you have sets of rights and responsibilities that are tied to each other; that you can have my assets when I die only if you also sign up for my debts. Figuring out what to tie to what would be extremely difficult.

First-come rights

One easy way to work around the asymmetry inherent in multiple spouses is to grant all of the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage to the first spouse, with no legal right to subsequent spouses. This would be simple and clean, and ridiculously easy to implement — because it’s the legal system we have right now.


It is not possible to have strict equality for polygamous couples; if you gave each spouse all of the benefits, then that household would get more benefits than a similar two-person household. If you give each spouse a portion of the benefits, then an individual in a polygamous marriage would get less than someone in a two-person marriage.

The best you could hope for would be “sort of equal”, and it would be fiendishly difficult to figure out how to rewrite the legal code to do that. The General Accounting Office found 1049 laws that treated people differently depending on marital status. Each state has several hundred laws. Counties and cities sometimes have laws. Government entities and corporations have regulations. All of those laws assume that a marriage is between two people.

To expand marriage laws to include polygamous relationships would mean going through each and every one of the hundreds of laws. The rights and responsibilities could not be made equal, so every single law would require thought and work and arguments about the most equitable way to handle multiple spouses. It would take years.

By contrast, it only takes replacing the words “husband” and “wife” with “spouse” to end marriage discrimination against gay and lesbian couples. It would be easy.


Talking past each other

Posted in Gay rights, Politics at 10:56 am by ducky

In the past week, I’ve heard a lot of my fellow liberals expressing frustration and bewilderment at the election results. I read columnists who, hearing reports of voters choosing Bush because of “moral values”, want to recast liberal ideas in moral terms. I hear my friends wondering how anyone could think that marriage equality would represent any threat to traditional marriage, let alone enough of one to pass eleven out of eleven anti-marriage-equality initiatives.I have a theory, and one that explains why our country is so polarized: the Left and the Right are talking past each other on the issue of the breakdown of traditional gender roles.

The Real Threat

Happily married gay men or happily married lesbians are certainly a threat to traditional gender roles. If there are two men living together, at least one of them is shopping, cooking, and sewing buttons on the shirts. If there are two women living together, at least one of them is dealing with mowing the lawn, changing the oil in the car, and taking out the garbage. (Perhaps more frighteningly, lacking the guidance of traditional gender roles, all the chores and decisions must be negotiated.)

The Left’s Attitude

The Left doesn’t have a problem with that. The Left sees the breakdown of traditional gender roles as an unequivocally good thing. The Left is delighted that women are no longer denied the same legal rights to and/or social acceptance of education, employment, credit, casual sex, sports, or their own name. It’s good that women are no longer as locked into abusive marriages by financial dependence and restrictive divorce laws. Since 1965, when the Supreme Court struck down laws denying contraception to married women, wives can even be less constrained by children if they so choose.

The Left tends to ignore the collateral damage of increased women’s rights, or to downplay them as well worth the cost. The Left doesn’t like to notice that there has been a huge increase in divorce in the past thirty years with well-documented damaging effects on children. When The Left does notice, it tends to seek governmental relief in some form (e.g. subsidized day care).

The Right’s Attitude

I have the sense that The Right is much more concerned about the side effects of increased women’s rights than about the the women’s rights. In the tradeoff between community or family vs. the individual, I think The Right stands much more on the side of the community or family. The fact that women’s rights can get trampled is downplayed as unfortunate collateral damage that is well worth the cost.

The Left’s Counter-Argument

The Left is quick to denounce anybody who voices any concern about the side effects of those things as another example of women being “oppressed by the patriarchy”. I bet this provokes the same kind of “huh?” reaction in The Right as “threat to traditional families” does to The Left.

“Oppression” can imply intentional cruelty. “Patriarchy” sounds some secret club that all men willfully and furtively belong to:

Joe: Welcome to the 4,234,735th meeting of The Patriarchy. First on the agenda we have the oppressor’s reports. Who’s got something to report?

Fred: Today I gave a job to a man who was far less qualified than a woman candidate. (Applause.)

Bob: Yesterday I brutally raped a college student. Not only did I give her the clap, but I bet I got her pregnant, too! (Wild cheers.)

With such a mental image, I can easily imagine The Right tuning out. That image probably doesn’t correspond to the world they know. Many of the people on The Right have mothers and daughters that they adore. Many have wives they love deeply and profoundly. Some are wives who love deeply and profoundly.

Furthermore, “traditional gender roles” does not have to mean “subordinate wives”. I’ve known several couples where the division of labor fell along traditional gender lines but where the women very clearly were in charge.

The Left can argue that increased women’s rights are not a threat to The Right because couples on The Right can always choose to follow to traditional gender roles.

It’s not that simple, however. For example, the proliferation of two-income couples means inflationary pressures on consumer goods, particularly housing. (If all dual-income couples were suddenly single-income couples, I guarantee that housing prices would suddenly drop.) Single-income couples are at a significant financial disadvantage relative to dual-income couples.

Call to Action

While it might seem to each side that the other is speaking in code, I doubt that there is willful obfuscation. It’s probably more that each side is so steeped in its own values that it has trouble communicating them.

What I would love to see is for The Right and The Left to:

  • acknowledge that they have many shared goals and values: they both want
    • men to be happy and successful
    • women to be happy and successful
    • children to be happy and successful
  • acknowledge that they have different value priorities; that if unable to make everybody happy,
    • The Left values equal rights for women above intact families
    • The Right will sacrifice equal rights for women in order to have more intact families
  • recognize explicitly
    • what they are really arguing about
    • that they other side has valid concerns

I don’t know if a more direct dialog would actually depolarize our country, but it’s my blog and I can dream here if I want to.


Straight activism for queer rights

Posted in Gay rights, Politics at 6:00 pm by ducky

People sometimes wonder why my husband and I are activists for gay and lesbian issues. Usually they assume that we are some flavor of sexual minority: closet queers, bisexuals, polyamorous, bondage & discipline and/or sadism & masochism aficionados, bestiality fans, or something like that. In reality, not only are we not members of one of the afore-mentioned sexual minorities, we’re probably more “mainstream” than the mainstream actually is!

So why do I do it? I have nothing to personally gain from marriage equality, it takes a lot of time, and it’s boring!

There are many complex and related reasons why I am involved, but you can say it started with tears.


I have some friends who are gay, and in around 1990, I decided that I wanted to show my support my marching as a straight person in the annual Pride parade in San Jose. I went down to the parade route, and started asking people if there was some straight group that I could march with. “Oh,” they said, “you want PFLAG.” So I found the PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) contingent and marched with them.

As we marched, I was overwhelmed by how emotional the response to PFLAG was. The spectators didn’t just applaud politely and tepidly, they screamed. While I won’t deny that the adulation was a rush, it was also somewhat embarrassing. The cheers seemed too extreme a reward for me simply putting one foot in front of another for six blocks.

But as PFLAG walked by, I was shaken to see some people crying — not little tracks of a single tear, but great heaving sorrows of grief. While I never stopped to ask, I assume that the sight of accepting parents opened raw wounds for people whose families had rejected them. While it didn’t seem like much to me, my being willing to publicly demonstrate that I was a supportive straight person seemed to make an enormous difference to the crowd. With so little effort on my part meaning so much to them, how could I not continue?

So I kept marching in subsequent years. When I found the man who became my Beloved Husband, I pulled him in as well. We started marching with PFLAG in the San Francisco parade, where we received wild adulation for two full miles instead of just six blocks. Again we saw people sobbing.

Jim felt, as I had, somewhat embarrassed by the disproportionate adoration. But instead of just grinning and bearing it as I had, he insisted that we at least join PFLAG. This got us a subscription to the PFLAG newsletter. A year or two later, he noticed a call for people to come to a marriage equality rally, and felt an obligation to go. “We need to do something to deserve the love,” he said.

Role model couple

Marriage was also something on our minds. We had gotten married ourselves six months earlier, and it had seemed grossly unfair to us that we were able to get married with one stroke of a pen, while two of my attendants were unable to marry after twelve years together.

These attendants of mine were a very positive role model couple for me. It was their good example, their warm and loving, yet equal partnership that made me more interested in getting married myself. Far from homosexuals in a committed relationship being a threat to our marriage, one particular gay couple had been a positive influence!

Discrimination against any limits us all

I like to keep my hair very short, and I used to wear black leather boots and a black leather jacket a lot. That look worked well for me. (The jacket got stolen and my podiatrist forbade me from wearing boots, sigh.) But that look also made a lot of people — gay and straight — assume that I was a lesbian. Fortunately, I have never suffered because of that, but I live in a pretty liberal part of a pretty liberal state.

However, it made me realize that there is nothing I (or anyone else) can do to prove that I am straight. Thus if there is any anti-lesbian discrimination, I am vulnerable. If there is any anti-lesbian violence, I am vulnerable. My life as a straight woman is thus constrained by anti-gay discrimination.

(I hear that this is a huge problem for women in the armed services. Men will coerce women in the service into having sex with them, by telling the women that if they don’t comply, the men will report them as possible lesbians.)

Easy fight

Finally, it looked like a pretty easy fight, something that even I could do. Unlike racial discrimination, discrimination against gay and lesbian people was written into the law of the land. That meant that there was an easy target to shoot at. (Fighting racial injustice is much harder, since the root agents are dispersed and frequently hidden.)

So how could I not fight to end marriage discrimination?


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.)


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.

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