Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM

The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way

At the end of October, Notre Dame University will host a two-day conference bearing a name that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. “Gay in Christ” will feature Catholic speakers who self-identify as gay and lesbian, along with allies who are actively seeking more inclusive pastoral strategies for dealing with the gay faithful. The conference’s opening remarks and final presentation will be given by one of these allies, Professor John Cavadini, a former chair of Notre Dame’s department of theology who was appointed to  the International Theological Commission (a select group that advises the pope and his bishops on theological matters) by Pope Benedict.

Signs and signals that the church may be shifting its position on homosexuality always make headlines, but behind the scenes, the church is actively searching for new ways to address LGBTQ issues. More often than not, that means church leaders turn to celibate gay Catholics to help them find a way forward. “There are a lot of people realizing that the condemning approach was not working and was not a good reflection of Christian love or charity,” Ron Belgau, who runs the celibate Christian blog Spiritual Friendship and is scheduled to speak at the Gay in Christ conference, told me. “A lot of people are interested in talking to celibate gays about [other approaches].” Although they don't share all the values of secular LGBTQ activists, celibate gays serve as advocates for the worth and dignity of LGBTQ people and their relationships in a context where outside activists are still viewed with suspicion and hostility.

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Oct. 20 2014 2:19 PM

A Procedural Rule Could Keep Gay Marriage From Ever Reaching SCOTUS Again

One of the great benefits of the marriage equality debate is that it has forced Americans to learn way more about constitutional law than they probably ever wanted to. In just a few years, terms like “heightened scrutiny” and “liberty interest” have wriggled their way into the demotic parlance, to my unceasing delight. But the schooling, it seems, will not end at the 14th Amendment, because Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne just cited a rule of civil procedure in refusing to defend his state’s ban on same-sex marriage. And if  his theory is correct, opponents of marriage equality may be procedurally barred from ever getting a gay marriage case to the Supreme Court again.

Here’s the thrust of Horne’s unexpected argument: Under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, attorneys must certify that any motions they file are “nonfrivolous” and aren’t designed to “cause unnecessary delay.” If you violate that rule, you might face sanctions—a pretty embarrassing and sometimes expensive penalty. For months, the conventional wisdom dictated that states could appeal gay marriage rulings without stumbling on Rule 11; the Supreme Court, after all, has yet to issue a definitive ruling on the matter.

Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM

Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban

On Friday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Scott W. Skavdahl struck down Wyoming’s gay marriage ban, making it the third pro-marriage equality decision of the day. Skavdahl, an Obama appointee, essentially had no choice but to invalidate Wyoming’s ban; the state falls within the 10th Circuit, where marriage equality is now officially law. A decision upholding the ban would have been legally unjustifiable and judicially impudent.

While Skavdahl ruled the right way, he made it quite clear that his heart wasn’t in it. First, Skavdahl stayed the decision until Oct. 23—a completely pointless exercise since marriage equality is already law of the circuit. Second, he closed the principal portion of his opinion with an awkward, cranky kiss-off to his judicial superiors:

The preferred forum for addressing the issues presented by Plaintiffs in this case is the arena of public debate and legislative action. However, that ship has sailed. It is not the desire or preference of this Court to, with the stroke of a pen, erase a State’s legislative enactments. Nonetheless, the binding precedent of [the 10th Circuit’s decisions] mandate this result, and this Court will adhere to its Constitutional duties and abide by the rule of law.

Not exactly a love letter to marriage equality, but it’ll do the job. And since Wyoming’s Republican governor has already refused to appeal the ruling, wedding bells will soon be ringing in Liz Cheney’s adopted home state. It’s about time, too. When gay couples can exchange vows next to Old Faithful, you know the marriage equality fight is drawing to a close. 

Oct. 17 2014 3:15 PM

Houston’s Sermon Subpoenas: Bad Lawyering, Terrible Politics

It does not look good—no matter how you frame it, no matter how you justify it, no matter how logically you defend it—for the government to subpoena a pastor’s sermons. Before this week, I would have thought that was common knowledge among humans over the age of, say, 4. But apparently it is not, because news broke on Wednesday that attorneys defending Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, an LGBTQ anti-discrimination law passed last May by the Houston City Council, subpoenaed five conservative pastors, demanding that they turn over all sermons discussing homosexuality or gender identity.

Oct. 17 2014 12:24 PM

Judge Criticizes Supreme Court, Strikes Down Arizona Marriage Ban

On Friday, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick struck down Arizona’s gay marriage ban, holding that the law violated the equal protection guaranteed by the 14thAmendment. He refused to grant a stay, meaning marriages can begin in the state immediately.

The ruling was entirely inevitable: Arizona falls within the 9th Circuit, where marriage equality recently became law. Still, Sedwick’s decision is pretty amazing—a terse, 4-page order that throws some serious shade at the Supreme Court. Normally, a judge issuing such a consequential ruling based on a circuit court decision would put his own decision on hold; the judgment of the circuit court, after all, could be reviewed and reversed by the Supreme Court. But Sedwick refused to stay his decision. Instead, he noted the Supreme Court’s recent refusal to review a group of major gay rights cases, and then proclaimed: “It is…clear…that the High Court will turn a deaf ear on any request for relief from the Ninth Circuit’s decision.”

Oct. 16 2014 1:17 PM

Hear Liberace Defend His Flamboyant Attire in 1968

Blank on Blank is a fabulous little web series produced by PBS Digital Studios, in which old celebrity interview tape is gorgeously animated; each segment features the star discussing a particular issue, the second “blank.” In the most recent release, Liberace explains his kitschy sartorial choices to journalist Jay Kent Hackleman in the summer of 1968. The conversation, which crackles with a kind of adversarial energy from the start, is telling: The interviewer’s initial annunciation of “garb” is soaked in knowing hostility, and Liberace immediately defends his super-gay style in terms of currents in men’s fashion: “The male peacock is beginning to show his true plumage.” Indeed.

From there, Liberace quickly reframes the discussion in terms of wholesome American values like hard-work and self-determination—God and country make a number of appearances. “You must realize that I once was poor myself,” he explains. “I worked to get where I am today, and I’ve worked hard to spend $100,000 a year on my clothes … I feel I have a perfect right to spend my money as I damned please.” By the end, Liberace’s determination to contextualize his campy, effeminate clothes in any terms other than homosexuality leads to a rather bizarre discussion of social welfare programs and the moral value of the entertainer in society. The snippet is a fascinating look inside the closet (both kinds) of the man, and one that proves Liberace was as talented a rhetorician as he was a piano player.

Oct. 16 2014 9:00 AM

Why We Need “Queer” 

Despite its widespread use in classrooms, pride parades, and LGBTQ blogs like Outward, the term “queer” remains contentious for some—and confusing for many more. We’ve devoted two segments of “Ask A Homo” to clearing things up, but it’s important for those who actually identify as queer to explain why that term fits better than any other in their own words. This documentary short from filmmaker—and queer person—Ainara Tiefenthäler offers that perspective.  

Oct. 15 2014 2:24 PM

Why Are We Celebrating? The Catholic Church Still Hates Trans People

Since his papacy began in March of 2013, Pope Francis has been lauded by moderate Catholics, liberal-minded religionists, and even the occasional non-believer as a breath of (77-year-old) fresh air. At the time of his election, the Catholic Church was just beginning to pick up the pieces after its decades-long child abuse scandal had been exposed, and religious identity and church attendance among American Catholics was at a record low. Here was someone exciting, someone (supposedly) different—a smooth-talking Cardinal from Buenos Aires with a more politically polished style than his by-the-book predecessor.


But style is not policy, and in that regard, Francis has actually done little to distinguish himself from Benedict. Like past Catholic leadership, this pope opposes abortion and believes marriage is strictly between a man and a woman; and, for good measure, Francis even excommunicated an Australian priest who happened to support women's ordination and marriage equality. Meet the new boss … who is basically the same as the old boss.

Oct. 15 2014 9:15 AM

Ask a Homo: Are You Gay?

Welcome back to Ask a Homo, a judgment-free zone where the gays of Outward answer questions about LGBTQ politics, culture, etiquette, language, and other queer conundrums. In this edition we consider whether it’s ever acceptable to ask someone if they’re gay, or is the polite thing to wait until they self-disclose.

If there are questions you’ve been dying to ask a member of the real rainbow coalition, this is your chance. Send your queries—for publication—to slateoutward@gmail.com, and please put “ASK A HOMO” in the subject line. Note that questions may be edited.

Oct. 14 2014 4:56 PM

Magistrates Who Refuse to Grant Gay Marriages Are Law-Breakers

Same-sex marriages became legal in North Carolina on Monday morning, and so William Locklear and Randall Jackson planned, quite reasonably, to solemnize their 31-year relationship on that day. But the pair encountered an ugly surprise at the Pasquotank County Courthouse when they arrived: The magistrate refused to marry the two men—because, he informed them, his religious beliefs forbade him from doing so.

And so it begins. The fight over legalizing anti-gay bigotry in the guise of “religious liberty” has finally moved from the marketplace to the courthouse. The baker who wouldn’t make a cake for lesbians is old news; the hot new homophobia revolves around marriage licenses, not flour and frosting. Already, conservatives in red states are drafting legislation granting anyone authorized to perform marriages—including civil servants—the right to refuse a marriage certificate to gay couples. And as courts bring marriage equality to deeply conservative states like Idaho and West Virginia, an increasing number of magistrates and county clerks will likely start refusing marriage licenses to gay couples based solely on their own personal prejudices.