CAT | Ohio State and Outlaws
Today the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University hosted an event entitled, “The National Agenda for Same-Sex Marriage.” The event featured a discussion on the history of same-sex marriage with renowned panelists Evan Wolfson and Holning Lau.
Wolfson, a graduate of Harvard law, worked with Lambda Legal on the first marriage cases in Hawaii, argued before the Supreme Court in Boys Scouts of America v. Dale, and is the Founder and Executive Director of Freedom to Marry.
Lau is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School and is currently a Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law with an expertise in family law and sexuality and law.
The event featured each with introductory remarks followed by a question and answer from those in attendance (one count had the attendance at 176, nearly filling the Saxbe auditorium). I tried to keep somewhat of a narrative of the event, transcribed here.
PART 1: Holning Lau’s Introductory Remarks:
Holning Lau began the event by focusing on Perry v Schwarzenegger. Lau explained that the case is particularly notable for three reasons:
(1) The role of Ted Olson
The presence of Ted Olson, a notable conservative, as counsel in favor of equal marriage elucidates the shifting dynamic of views on same-sex marriage. The most significant shift in the discussion has been the shift from self-identified conservatives. Olson’s role in the case exemplifies that the issue is not defined as a liberal versus conservative issue, but rather that there is common ground that both sides of the political spectrum can/should support.
(2) The existence of factual findings in the record
Since there was a trial that built a factual record, the case illuminated that the passage of Proposition 8 was founded on myths. The record clears misconceptions of what is fat and what is fiction. These clarifications support why conservatives may want to favor same- sex marriage: same-sex marriage has no impact on opposite-sex couples, there has been no “doomsday” consequences from states that have recognized same-sex marriages, and that there are specific improvements to the well-being of same-sex couples.
(3) Judge Walker holding that denying access to marriage is a form of sex discrimination
The argument that banning same-sex marriage is sex discrimination, at a cursory level, is that if you base marriage policies on strict gender roles on what the male and female are expected to do – the role of the father/husband and mothers/wife – then the strict gender roles are discrimination based on sex.
PART 2: Evan Wolfson’s Introductory Remarks:
Evan Wolfson continued the discussion with a broader overview focusing on two points:
(1) Gay people want the freedom to marry for the same reasons that non-gay people want to marry.
Wolfson premised this remark that it needed to be stated even considering the assumption that young people, like most in the crowd, are more supporting of equal rights for the gay community (and they are more supportive even if raised in traditionally non-supportive households like Evangelical Christian) because most young people know actual, real gay people and not just stereotypes of gay people.
On the main point that gay people want the freedom to marry for the same reasons, Wolfson listed some of the many reasons why people, both gay and straight, want to marry: emotional and economic, practical and personal, social and spiritual, and for love and in the law.
He added that deny access to the common vocabulary term of marriage is to say the gay population is unworthy of something so important; it is to deny that safety net of the law that touches every area of life.
(2) There is a strategy for ending this discrimination and for holding the country to the promises of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence
Looking at history, Wolfson and Freedom to Marry developed a “Roadmap to Victory” as a call to action with three tracks that must be taken simultaneously, not subsequently.
First, we need to win access to marriage in more states.
Second, we need to continue to improve the public opinion. We need to grow, solidify, and diversity what is now a majority of support for marriage. What was just 26% approval 15 years ago at the time of the first case for marriage in Hawaii has grown to 52% as of August 2010 according to two national polls. This shift is due in part to the younger generation findings its voice and a general shift in views with people like Ted Olson, Laura Bush, Bill Clinton, and even Glenn Beck.
Third, we need to tackle and end discrimination at the federal level, such as the Defense of Marriage Act.
Wolfson noted that this is the path America is on and it is a path seen in history. Yet the push must continue. It must be through litigation, through removing bad legislation, but most importantly, it must be through personal engagements and conversation.
Part 3: Questions and Answers
The rest of the event included questions and answers. For simplicity’s sakes in the responses, EW = Evan Wolfson and HL = Holning Lau.
Question: Is there any strategy to respond to backlash from the hard line right?
EW disagreed that it should even be called a “backlash” since the policies of discrimination have been established for a long time, so in a sense, “they” started it. Now it is just a matter of tearing those already established discriminatory practices down. It is more of a struggle between two opposing views, and the anti-gay forces are now in the minority.
HL added that it was also to engage the opposition in discussion as much as possible. There can be gains in the movement by finding the source of opposition whether it be religious or otherwise and trying to find common ground.
Question: How is it best to address someone who has both a religious view against same-sex marriage as well as a view that promotes specific gender roles and identities?
EW noted that you are not necessarily going to convince everyone. Progress is an interplay of law, society, and culture; each will lead or follow the progress at various times.
HL agreed that you can’t win over everyone and added that younger generations are generally more likely to be skeptical of explicit gender roles.
Question: With 52% majority approval, is there any preference or benefit to progress coming through the Supreme Court, federal legislation, or incrementally through the states?
EW warned that even with the two polls showing a majority, there is no self-actualizing component of change. The public opinion may be an essential ingredient, but we still need to turn that into action and active engagement. He also added that we cannot expect cases to reach the Supreme Court or to wait for that. We can’t take it for granted. We need to maximize our change of winning with a multi-faceted approach.
Question: What is the most effective thing that non-lawyers can be doing?
EW said that the single most important thing to do is to talk about the subject: explain to colleagues who gay people are and what marriage means to them. He added that we can’t take for granted assumptions that those that understand the issues are in favor of same-sex marriage or that those that are not there yet will not ever get there. To have these discussions, he recommended arming yourself with the talking points and arguments of history and of fairness. Lastly, he added that this push needs to not just happen in California or New York, but it needs to happen in Ohio. We need to begin talking about Ohio families and the harm they suffer from the state’s discriminatory laws.
Question: Is the push for marriage equality necessarily the best focus for the community or is it even an institution that the gay community should seek at all?
HL noted that the seeking marriage equality is just a part of much larger push for law reform that includes broadening the scope of family reform. He added that with marriage it may be that the institution is over-privileged, and maybe it needs reform in other ways.
EW added that focusing on marriage equality is important because it represents the most reprehensible form of discrimination: state sponsored discrimination that singles out one group of citizens for different treatment. EW also noted that there have been more progress in legal protection in other areas – creation of Gay Straight Alliances in schools, progress in employment discrimination, ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell – that come as a product of the campaign for marriage equality.
Question: Are there any poll results for the level of support in Ohio, particularly for the segment of Evangelical Christians?
EW did not know the numbers for Ohio offhand, but he did cite to a New York Times piece by Nate Silver that used a regression model of various trends to predict when the public opinion should be sufficient in each state to make the push for equality. What matters, however, is not the exact numbers, but the current lack of protections for the LGBT citizens of Ohio.
(Note: EW did not know Ohio’s “time” from Silver’s model offhand, but it is the year 2013. Time to get to work, everyone.)
Question: Is there any push today to include more curriculum on sexuality in schools?
EW was not too familiar with this area but did note that there are organizations like GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) working on this.
HL added that there is more to the question of acceptance in schools than formal curriculum. There is now freedoms to set up Gay Straight Alliances and a 1st Amendment recognized right to bring whoever you want to prom.
Question: Obama recently changed his stance and is now open to reconsidering same-sex marriage. Any comment on this?
EW said the source of Obama’s shift is likely due to acknowledging the momentum of the movement and in recognizing that there are no solid arguments against same-sex marriage. Obama is on a journey just like anyone else and we need to help him along that journey. It is our job to tell him, and others, to tell the story of why it is important to both gays and straights.
Question: What are some other “products” that can come from progress in marriage equality?
HL said its everything from employment discrimination, housing, treatment of the transgender community, and in schools and bullying.
EW added that ending formal policies does not end the fight. It did not with racism or sexism and it will not end the work here either. But, he recognized that it will still be a major step in advancing the work.
Question: How has the Perry litigation and other marriage cases sought to redefine and dismantle gender roles?
HL noted that Perry was an excellent opportunity to dismantle traditional gender roles.
EW added that aside from the intrinsic challenge to sex roles in the cases, the progress for marriage equality is the most effective way to dismantle expected gender roles.
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The event was part two of three of “The Gay Agenda” series and was co-hosted by OutLaws, the Moritz Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the national and Moritz chapters of the American Constitution Society.
Part 3 of the event, focusing on potential backlash to progress in the movement, will be held in February 16, again in the Saxbe auditorium at the Moritz College of Law.
Special thanks to Professor Marc Spindelman who moderated the discussion and for three students who put together the superb event: Joseph Wenger, Ashley Carter, and Richard Muniz.
This morning, from 10:00am to 10:30am, the Westboro Baptist Church was scheduled to protest at the Ohio State University student union building. From their infamous website godhatesfags.com, they gave this reason: “These college students spend more time pursuing their drunken sins than their academic studies. Their professors happily teach them the ubiquitous lie that “it’s OK to be gay” and its [sic] just fine to flip off God and mock His servants.”
I happily donned my purple Legalize Gay t-shirt to join an expected throng of counter protesters. As I walked towards the student union, I came upon the scene at the corner of High Street and 11th, right next to the law school building.
I can see the lunatic WBC leader, Maggie Phelps, but where were all the counter protesters? There were a few intermingled within the WBC gang, but the Facebook event showed 1800 attending and another 2348 maybes!
It only took a few minutes for the phalanx of funny sign-carrying counter protesters who had congregated at the student union building (the schedule destination) to be re-routed a few blocks south to overwhelm the WBC.
While the WBC tried to seduce our gay-minded mentalities with a cheesy rip-off of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” (video), only substituting lyrics of hate, the small group of intolerant whackos were no match for the congregation of love-promoting OSU students. It felt good to be in the majority.
There’s a powerful scene in the movie “Milk”, where Harvey Milk thanks the opposition, because opposition unites. That message was echoed recently by gay-rights activist Cleve Jones, thanking the Mormon church for bringing the community closer together after Prop 8.
With that same thought, I can do nothing but thank WBC for bring us together today. For the fifty or so cars and pedestrians that passed by their demonstration, hundreds of young adults came together in unison preaching love and tolerance.
The message was clear: our future is bright.
I took a final video of the crowd chanting, “Hey, hey! Go home! These homophobes have got to go!” as WBC packed up their belongings and headed to their next destination for the day (where they will inevitably be met by another several hundred counter protesters).
Oh, and the award for the best costume-plus-sign combination has to go to this lady rocking a Boba Fett mask and a sign that read: “God Hates Trekkies”.
(Click on the image, or any other in this post, to see the entire set of photos I took.)
The June issue of The Advocate magazine had a piece entitled, “150 Reasons to Have Pride in 2010,” and Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel made the list for the interview he did with the GLBT publication, Outlook Columbus.
The Advocate article starts, “Thanks to his rousing statements for marriage equality, silver fox Keith Olbermann is reason number 38 to have pride in 2010. Read the other 149 reasons here.”
Reason #51 (found on page 24 of 48 of the web article):
“BECAUSE AN ALLY MAY BE HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT:
The Ohio-based gay newspaper Outlook: Columbus snagged an interview in March with Jim Tressel (pictured), the high-profile football coach at Ohio State University. When writer Michael Daniels brought up the reluctance of collegiate athletes to come out, Tressel said it was the duty of coaches and professors to create a tolerant atmosphere: ‘Whatever a young man feels called to express, I hope we will help him do it in a supportive environment. Everybody is important, and maturity is learning to find and appreciate those differences in others.’”
You can read the entire Outlook Columbus interview with Tressel here. (My apologies for the format of the article; Outlook Columbus has a specific viewer for its magazine, making it impossible to directly link an article.)
It is fairly well-know that Tressel is a conservative Christian, making his perspectives on the subject and even the willingness to do the interview more impressive and refreshing.
I also had the opportunity to ask a fellow classmate who played for Tressel if his remarks were genuine. Knowing that those in the sports industry, especially with the experience and resume of Tressel, develop a unique skill to say the right things to the media, I had my doubts. My classmate said that Tressel had such a respect for diversity, the totality of a person beyond just being an athlete, and that he was sincerely interested in helping the student-athletes develop their own self-image.
Just another reason to be glad I came to school at Ohio State.
A new student union opened its doors today on the Ohio State University campus to all sorts of fanfare—ribbon cutting ceremony, giveaways throughout, etc. To celebrate the opening, there are a myriad of activities planned for the first 30 days.
I’d like to specifically direct your attention to the GLBT functions (the entire list of events is here). I’m going to try to make it to as many of these as possible and to report my experience accordingly. If anyone wants to tag along, let me know.
Tuesday, April 13th
11-1pm: “Movies &Munchies”
Multicultural Center Lantern Room
“Early Works of Cheryl Dunye” In these smart & funny stories, black lesbian filmaker Cheryl Dunye explores issues of race, dating, friendship, and love. A facilitated discussion will follow.
Friday, April 16th
All Day: GLBT National Day of Silence
11-1pm: GLBT &Ally Community Resource Fair &Cook-OUT
Meet GLBT student organization leaders and Central Ohio Community organizations. Enjoy free food, games, and prizes. GLBT students and allies will mix, mingle, and discuss ways to build community.
Saturday, April 24th
7pm: The Red Party for AIDS Awareness
Outlook Columbus interviewed Ohio State Football Head Coach Jim Tressel, and in doing so, became the first GLBT publication to interview a Division I NCAA football coach one-on-one. (At least, so is stated in the reprinting of the interview in OutSports, and I have never seen a similar interview that would invalidate the claim.)
Michael Daniels, who performed the interview, asked Tressel some excellent questions and received equally poignant responses. I’ve extracted my favorites.
Daniels asked how the principles of faith and belief in one’s self that Tressel writes about in his book, “The Winner’s Manual,” can apply to understanding people of other races, genders or sexual orientations.
Tressel’s response: “We try to tell our guys that an authentic you is the best you.”
Daniels asked Tressel why he felt it is more common for athletes to come out after they retire rather than during their careers.
Tressel spoke about how as an elite athlete, your identity since you were young is that of an athlete. “You’re the tallest, you’re the fastest, you’re the best player. All their feedback has come in terms of their role as a player, and they are often hesitant to go beyond that narrow role.” Then, referring to his role in the process as a collegiate coach, he adds: “An opportunity, and a real challenge, we have when they come to college is to get them to see themselves with a broader lens.
“The greatest achievement we can have as coaches is that a young man leaves us with a concept of who he is, what he wants from life, and what he can share with others – someone who is ‘comfortable in his own skin,’ and that identity can go in a number of directions.”
Daniels then asked him a big question: how would the team, fans, and university accept a gay player at OSU?
Tressel, continuing with a string of wonderful responses: “We strive to teach and model appreciation for everyone,
“One, we are a family. If you haven’t learned from your family at home that people have differences and those strengthen the whole, then you are hopefully going to learn it as part of the Ohio State football family.
“Two, every part of our team is important and every role has value – no job is too small and no person is irrelevant – that’s a great lesson that transcends into society. […]
“Whatever a young man feels called to express, I hope we will help him do it in a supportive environment. Everybody is important, and maturity is learning to find and appreciate those differences in others.”
As a gay student at Ohio State, I was extremely proud to see this article posted today. I frequently write about how organizations, coaches, etc. can have a profound influence in battling homophobia—even the ability save lives—if they are explicit with their support. I am thankful for Tressel’s willingness to do the interview and the perspectives he shared.