Love and (gay) marriage

The history of same-sex marriage is longer than you think; also, YA romance with a trans twist

Wedding-Heard-'Round-the-World-author-CREDIT-Melissa-Davidson

The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World by Michael McConnell with Jack Baker (as told to Gail Langer Karwoski) (University of Minnesota Press 2016) $22.95; 200 pp.

As a child playing with neighborhood girls, Michael McConnell remembers wanting the same thing they wanted: to grow up and marry a handsome man. Their crushes were his crushes, but in the 1950s, that kind of thing wasn’t discussed.

By the time he entered college at the University of Oklahoma in the mid-’60s, however, McConnell had come out to his family and was comfortable with his sexuality. He met other gay men and enjoyed an active social life on campus. Then, on Oct. 29, 1966, he met Jack Baker.

For the first minutes of their get-to-know-you, McConnell thought Baker was much older, or perhaps straight. Baker’s demeanor was businesslike, almost military; McConnell had recently had his heart broken, and was guarded. Still, by the end of the evening, they were lovers; soon after, they were a couple.

Wedding-Heard-'Round-the-WorldBy the early ‘70s, though their relationship had to be kept quiet, McConnell and Baker were “out” enough to want to make real change. Baker, a Minneapolis law student, filed suit against the U.S. Department of Defense over an unfair downgrade in his discharge status. After following Baker north, McConnell fought job discrimination. And then there was the wedding Baker promised McConnell on Baker’s 25th birthday. It would happen — they just had to figure out how.

That would take some time, but Baker was on it. His legal training tickled his methodical mind, until he discovered two loopholes the state of Minnesota hadn’t closed. One led to the next, and both led to their history-making wedding in 1971.

That, of course, isn’t the end of the story. McConnell and Baker continued their activism but their nuptials — the first in America for same-sex celebrants — are the real focus in The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World. That’s a good thing, too, because the love story in this book is what makes it so readable. McConnell’s account is mostly what’s here, and it’s the quintessential romance: boy meets boy, boy marries boy, they live happily (almost) ever after.

Conversely, it’s the almost that makes this book so important: the battles the authors accepted caused emotional hardship in many ways and that almost caused a breakup.
And yet, for the sake of others that came after them, they continued to take on gay rights issues — stories of which are told humbly, yet proudly.

Overall, this is a sweet story wrapped inside a righteous fight, told with charm and grace. It’s deep, yet lighthearted and definitely worth a look. Start The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World — and you’ll have no defense.

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley (Harlequin Teen 2015) $18.99; 416 pp.

Years from now, it’ll all seem so sweet. There’ll always be a soft place in your heart for your first kiss, your first I-love-you, and for the person who gave them to you. You’ll never forget the electricity of holding hands or the rush of being together even after, as for instance in the novel What We Left Behind, you start to pull apart.

Gretchen Daniels wasn’t sure why she didn’t tell her girlfriend, Toni, that they’d be attending college in different cities. Last spring, Toni applied to Harvard and Gretchen applied to Boston University — same city, opposite ends — both reasoning that they could at least spend weekends together. At the last minute, though, Gretchen decided to attend NYU.

What-We-Left-BehindShe didn’t tell Toni until the night before she left. They were juniors in their all-girl high school when Toni first saw Gretchen at a dance and was instantly in love. Everybody thought they were the cutest couple: Gretchen conferred upon Toni a new-found popularity. Toni taught Gretchen what it was like to be genderqueer — or at least she tried.

But the secret that Gretchen held all summer bugged Toni, and she was rightfully upset. She really didn’t have much to say to Gretchen, a silence complicated by Toni’s immersion into a campus group she joined. Freshmen weren’t allowed to be officers of the Undergraduate BGLTQIA Association but upperclassmen let her hang out with them and, under their tutelage, she began to explore labels for herself. She began to think about gender fluidity, and transitioning.

Toni’s lack of communication baffled Gretchen, and she discussed it at length with her new BFF, Carroll, a gay man who loved New York as much as Gretchen did. He was just one of the new friends she’d acquired, but she missed Toni and the closeness they had. She didn’t quite understand why Toni was questioning so much about herself, and she wasn’t sure how she’d fit in her girlfriend’s life if Toni became Tony. Would that change everything?

Better question: by the end of this book, will you care? I have my doubts.

What We Left Behind is very, very slow; in fact, it sometimes seemed to me that it was twice as long as its 416 pages of overly-detailed, same-old dialogue and young adults who were way too angst-y for my tastes. Yes, these kids do things that only increase the melodrama amongst themselves, which is ultimately not all that interesting but which creates an uneasiness in plot, making most of Talley’s characters mighty unlikeable.

And yet, I persevered. I was hoping to learn something from Toni’s gender-questioning. What I got instead was an abundance of language that seemed rather clinical and not always clear. Was that the point?  Shrug.

Romance readers may find a tiny smidge of amour here, if they’ve the time to look for it, but I really wasn’t a big fan of this book. For the most part, best you just heed the title and leave this behind.

And West is West
by Ron Childress (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill 2015) $26.95; 320 pp.

Six degrees of separation. That, supposedly, is the difference between you and any given person on the planet. Your dentist, for example, knows somebody who knows someone who… and pretty soon, you’re linked to a famous scientist or Hollywood star. It’s a fun pastime, that Six Degrees thing, and surprisingly easy to do but in the novel And West is West, it could also be a deadly game.

Living with Zoe wasn’t originally Ethan’s desire. She’d stayed at his Manhattan condo many times — they were a couple, after all — but he was still surprised when he heard himself ask her to move in, and equally surprised that she agreed. Yes, he loved her, which was something he only truly realized just before she left for a job in D.C.

3-And-West-is-West-edHeartbroken, Ethan turned to his other love: coding for United Imperial Bank. For him, it was the perfect job. UIB gave him an office and freedom to write algorithms to follow terrorists in order to follow the markets, creating serious money for Ethan and for his employers. That, plus Zoe, could’ve made him happy.

Except Zoe was gone, then someone set Ethan up to fail at work and his job was gone, too. And just as he thought things were looking up, Zoe was dead and Ethan was left holding the secrets of her life that her parents couldn’t tell her.

It always seemed as though Jessica Aldridge was running. She ran away from her mother’s alcoholism as a child. She ran away from family as a teen. She ran to the Air Force, where she became a highly-trained drone pilot but, since a remote strike had gone horribly wrong and someone had to take the fall for it, she ran from that, too.

But Jessica had just been following orders then. Her real mistake, she understood, was confiding her misgivings to the wrong person: her imprisoned father, whom she barely knew. She also understood that the government wasn’t going to take a breach of security lightly — and with the FBI on her tail, Jessica had to run again…

I have to admit that I was no big fan of And West is West when I started it. Its first few pages were more techy than I expected, and I wasn’t in the mood for that. Whoa, was I glad I stayed.

Once you get past the prologue, author Ron Childress takes readers in a whole different, unexpected direction with what seems like a profile of a psychologically flawed man. Ethan, in fact, is driven, indecisive, and so very imperfect — which makes him the perfect distraction from the page-ripping thriller that is Jessica. It seems unlikely, then, that the two are connected, but you’ll recall that six degrees stuff? Yep, and it doesn’t even take that many steps.

This is one of those keeps-you-up-at-night, miss-your-subway-stop kinds of books that you’ll pass around to friends. It’s one to take to your book club. For sure, And West is West is a solid 10.

Gay & Lesbian History for Kids
by Jerome Pohlen (‘Chicago Review Press 2016) $17.95; 180 pp.

Knowing someone who’s gay, lesbian, or transgender is nothing new; in fact, history indicates that our earliest ancestors acknowledged and were comfortable with people we now call LGBT. Homosexuality appears in mythology, royalty, battlefields, art (Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were said to be gay) and in some religions. In North America, many beloved 19th-century authors, poets and songwriters were gay or lesbian, and Native American culture embraced people who were of “two-spirits.”  Transgender individuals fought in the Civil War or were pioneers or settlers. We know that LGBT individuals existed elsewhere and at other times, too, because laws were made against them.

4-Gay-and-Lesbian-History-for-Kids
That was especially true through the early 1900s. Though we entered “the Progressive Era” in the beginning of the century, it was anything but progressive for people who were gay. When the country was stricken by the Great Depression in the 1930s, things got even worse for the LGBT community and many people had to hide their lives from mainstream society.

In some ways, things got better during World War II. The government needed military personnel and LGBT individuals, like everyone else, needed jobs, so they signed up in droves to fight for their country. Very few were denied a chance to serve but, sadly, after the war was over, many gay and lesbian personnel received “blue discharges,” and were denied veteran’s benefits. Once again, LGBT individuals needed to closet themselves and their lifestyles. Not doing so could mean arrest or worse.

Finally things started to turn around. Activism in the 1960s and ‘70s helped the LGBT community to gain rights and support on other issues, unfair laws were changed, and many people helped make things “get better.” All of which is fascinating information.

However I struggled with Gay & Lesbian History for Kids … though not for the reasons you might think. My biggest issue comes with its potential audience, vis-à-vis the content: mainly, that it contains either a lot of very advanced information for kids who are young enough to be excited about the “21 Activities” here; or a lot of silly, juvenile “activities” for kids who are old enough to handle very advanced information.  Then, too, the presence of said activities may be moot, since they mostly had little to do with LGBT history.

To the positive, I appreciated the pre-20th-century info that author Jerome Pohlen offers; it was interesting, but is it enough to save this book?  I don’t know: the target audience here is 9-and-up, which I think is way too young for the content. Fresh-eyed 12-to-15-year-olds may appreciate what’s inside, but hand it to a reader over 16, and the news probably wouldn’t be all that informative.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

—  Dallasvoice

Labor Day, Walmart and me

cote.lores

Jackie Cote, right, and her wife, Dee

By Jackie Cote

Special Contributor

Labor Day is the traditional end of summer.  For me it’s been a special summer with my wife Dee.

Dee has ovarian cancer, and is now receiving hospice care at our home in New Bedford, Mass. This spring we decided to start ticking items off her bucket list.

We just spent some time in Myrtle Beach, S.C., with Dee’s son and daughter-in-law. There, Dee got to dip her feet in the sand and the water, collect a few shells, and spend time with family. It was fantastic.

Dee’s bucket list is pretty simple: Next we’ll go to New Hampshire, where we’ll take the scenic train route around Lake Winnipesaukee.

It’s been incredibly meaningful to both of us to spend this time together. In our 24 years together, we’ve been through thick and thin, and have always been each other’s rock. Now, when Dee is well enough, we venture out. And when she’s not, we are just making sure to appreciate every minute we have together.

Labor Day is also the day we celebrate ordinary working people. That’s very much me and Dee. For the past 16 years, I’ve served as an associate at Walmart, and for many years Dee was also a Walmart associate.

Unfortunately, on this Labor Day, I’m forced to think about how much employers respect — or disrespect — the people whose labor make their businesses successful. That’s because when I most needed my employer to come through for my family, I was shocked and disappointed that Walmart would not step up, and refused to treat my family with the respect it deserves.

I had always been concerned about Dee’s health, since she had a history of cancer. When we got married — as soon as it was legal in Massachusetts — Dee had been cancer-free for some time. And though we got married primarily for the same reason everyone does — because we love each other — it also meant we would be able to take care of each other financially and legally in the dozens of ways that straight married couples already could.

Starting in 2008 and continuing through 2012, I tried to add Dee to Walmart’s health insurance plan during Walmart’s open enrollment period, in an effort to receive a benefit that was made available to all other married Walmart employees. But when I entered Dee’s gender as “female,” the online system stopped me from going any further.

So I picked up the phone and called Walmart’s headquarters — and I was told that Walmart did not offer health insurance to the same-sex spouses of Walmart employees.

Soon, my inability to insure Dee became more than an insult, when Dee’s cancer re-emerged in August 2012. Over a short period of time, we racked up medical bills in excess of $150,000 that we were unable to pay. In addition to the nightmare of cancer, we endured the stress of being hounded by bill collectors. And Dee particularly felt guilty, being unable to pay the wonderful health workers who were providing her with such good care.

Effective Jan. 1, 2014, Walmart changed its policy to extend spousal health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses of Walmart employees. That’s a good step, but it’s not enough. It’s not enough because Walmart didn’t address the fact that hundreds or possibly thousands of people like me and Dee were greatly harmed when Walmart engaged in discrimination.

The harms we suffered continue this day. It doesn’t address the fact that Walmart changed its policy voluntarily, that Walmart claims it is lawful to discriminate against gay and lesbian workers, and that Walmart could change its policy to again discriminate at any time.

Dee and I want to be able to pay back the medical professionals we owe money to, and we want to be able to focus on Dee’s health without worrying about collection calls. We also want to be able to help other people who are in our situation — former or current Walmart employees married to someone of the same sex, who were unable to get their spouses covered by Walmart’s health insurance plan before Jan. 1, 2014.

That’s why we are working with lawyers at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs to sue Walmart on behalf of all the working families who were harmed by Walmart’s unlawful discrimination. We are hopeful that we can make things right for ourselves and for others.

That would make a meaningful Labor Day.

Jackie Cote is the named plaintiff in the class action lawsuit Cote v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.now pending in the federal court in Boston, Mass. Inquiries about the case, including from similarly situated employees, can be directed to gladanswers@glad.org.

—  Tammye Nash

Kentucky county clerk loses in 6th Circuit

Davis.Kim

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis

The Rowan County, Ky. county clerk who stopped issuing all marriage licenses so that she didn’t have to issue licenses to same-sex couples has lost the latest round of her battle in court.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals denied County Clerk Kim Davis a stay that would have allowed her to continue not issuing licenses in her office. Davis refused to issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples and refused to let anyone in her office issue them. After a lower court ruled against her, she stopped issuing all marriage licenses.

Davis claimed religious objections to same-sex marriage. She said she wasn’t inconveniencing anyone because they could just go to another county and get a marriage license.

In its decision the court wrote:

“It cannot be defensibly argued that the holder of the Rowan County Clerk’s office, apart from who personally occupies that office, may decline to act in conformity with the United States Constitution as interpreted by a dispositive holding of the United States Supreme Court. There is thus little or no likelihood that the Clerk in her official capacity will prevail on appeal.”

Davis has until the end of the month to begin issuing marriage licenses before she faces contempt of court.

—  David Taffet

UPDATE: Death certificate lawsuit charges Ken Paxton with contempt of court

James Stone

James Stone died in February 2015

Neel Lane, attorney for the Texas marriage equality lawsuit, said he filed a lawsuit today in federal court in San Antonio charging Kirk Cole,  commissioner of the Department of State Health Services and Attorney General Ken Paxton with contempt of court and asking for a change on his client’s husband’s death certificate.

James Stone died in February. The death certificate lists his husband as “significant other” and Texas refuses to amend the certificate. The head of the DSHS, under instruction from Paxton, said the state will make no changed.

Lane charges that the ruling made by Judge Orlando Garcia in February 2014 and upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals applies. In his ruling, Garcia ordered the state to stop enforcing a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and to offer all the same benefits of marriage to legally married same-sex couples. The order was stayed and the stay not lifted until after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision.

Lane’s position is that Garcia’s ruling is in effect from February 2014 so same-sex couples’ rights should at least date from there. The Obergefell decision allows couples who were married to file amended taxes that go back three years. Other rights may date back farther.

—  David Taffet

BREAKING: Dying man wants his name on his husband’s death certificate

jay_james79

James Stone, left, and Jay Hoskins at their wedding last August

Jay Hoskins is battling the state of Texas to amend his husband’s death certificate and he’s on a deadline. He’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

James Stone, 32, died in January in Conroe after a battle with Sjogren’s Syndrome, a genetic autoimmune disorder. The couple legally married in New Mexico six months earlier and had been together 10 years. We told their story when churches in his hometown refused to perform a funeral service because he was gay.

Because the death occurred before the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 marriage-equality ruling, Texas listed Stone as single and referred to Hoskins as “significant other.”

Hoskins is filing a lawsuit against the state but Texas claims it doesn’t have to recognize marriages performed prior to the ruling. He would like the matter resolved quickly because he’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer and may only have two months to live.

His attorney, Akin Gump partner Neel Lane, holds a news conference later today and will discuss the case. Check back for updates.

—  David Taffet

After Hood County relents, several Texas counties continue to hold out

Maxey.Glen

Former state Rep. Glen Maxey

Former state Rep. Glen Maxey has made it his mission to ensure same-sex couples can receive a marriage license in any of Texas’ 254 countries.

The biggest hold out until yesterday was Hood County, southwest of Fort Worth.

Today, Maxey has his sites set on Irion and Anderson counties.

Irion County is west of San Angelo and Maxey said he has a couple contemplating a road trip there.

Palestine is the county seat of Anderson County, south of Athens.

Anderson, with a population of about 45,000, is the largest hold out in the state right now. He said if anyone in East Texas needs a marriage license to send him a message.

Here’s Maxey’s account of the drama going on in Anderson County from his Facebook page:

So the drama and gossip from Palestine (better than gay drama queens gossip) says that the Republican County Judge, one Robert Johnston “ordered the County Clerk not to issue any same sex marriage licenses and told the JP’s not to conduct any gay weddings.” I learned about this from a person who heard first hand from one of the people in the meeting where the edict came down. ( Note: None of these officials answer to the County Judge. They are independently elected public officials. But he does control their budgets for pencils and toilet paper.)

We also know that a few couples may have gone to the Anderson County Clerk Mark Staples and were refused. Reportedly, they wanted to get married immediately and they went to a nearby county and got all licensed and married.

—  David Taffet

Alabama hasn’t been happy this week

U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade

U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade

Alabama hasn’t been happy this week and its Supreme Court chief justice seems to think U.S. Supreme court rulings can be appealed. They can’t. Or don’t apply to him. They do.

U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade, the judge that declared Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, issued an order today directing all Alabama probate judges to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The order requires immediate compliance.

A violation of Granade’s order could result in a county probate judge being held liable for contempt of court, attorneys’ fees, financial penalties and any other remedies the court deems proper.

In today’s order, Judge Granade stated:

Although most of Alabama’s county probate judges are issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, some are not. The National Center for Lesbian Rights. ACLU of Alabama, Southern Poverty Law Center and Americans United who represented plaintiffs in the original case asked the judge to confirm that her order is now in effect.

—  David Taffet

Houston senator to DOJ: assure same-sex couples get marriage licenses

Ellis.Rodney

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, urged the U.S. Department of Justice today (Monday, June 29) to assure same-sex couples in Texas are not prevented from getting marriage licenses.

His request follows an opinion issued by Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, yesterday allowing county clerks and other government officials to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of their religious beliefs.

You can read Ellis’ letter here.

—  James Russell

‘It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood’

IMG_1753

In Texas, including at Fort Worth’s Celebration Community Church, you can get finally married.

Two men married tonight before hundreds of people in a hot, loud and packed Celebration Community Church in Fort Worth.

But you couldn’t tell anyone was uncomfortable. There were too many tears.

“By the powers invested in me by the state of Texas,”  the Rev. Carol West said to a cheering crowd, she pronounced the couple husband and husband.

The couple kissed.

“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” West yelled to the crowd.

Shortly after, West’s long-time partner, Angela, surprised the pastor with a proposal. West accepted and a little later, showing off her new ring to a friend, she quipped with a smile, “She went to Jarrod.”

Inside the church, Jesse Contreas was still floored. He married his husband a year ago in New Mexico. Now they can renew their vows here, in Fort Worth. At Celebration.

Contreas works in HIV prevention. His office celebrated when they learned the Supreme Court’s decision.

“Those of us who knew the struggle knew this was an awesome day for the LGBT community,” he said.

Tori Kujala and I talked outside of the church about her feelings.

“I said it on Facebook best, ‘free at last, free at last, Great God above, free at last,'” the 2014 Tarrant County Pride grand marshal said.

She was at work, like most other people I talked to, when she heard the news.

Her boss actually told her when the news struck.

Kathryn Omarkhail and Denise Bennett walked up and were holding hands.

They looked like any other couple there. They were enthusiastic because their marriage is finally acknowledged by their home state.

In 2005, they were barreling on Interstate 35 past Calvary Cathedral while then-Gov. Rick Perry signed the state’s ban on same-sex marriage ban, Omarkhail said. They were driving by in U-Hauls. While Perry celebrated another campaign plank that summer, they were married and moving in together.

Don Kennedy may have been joking when he asked if pastors had set themselves on fire.

“I know plenty of people ready to roast their weenies over a spit fire,” he said. He was joking.

The feeling was palpable for any veteran of the movement for LGBT equality. Even in modern day LGBT debates, the nasty rhetoric is just part of the process. Still, it stings.

Today, June 26, 2015, wherever you were, it really was a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

—  James Russell

More dithering from county clerks, this time by Parker County’s clerk

O

Parker County Clerk Jeane Brunson

Lord, you can really find excuses everywhere, can’t you?

Among the other county clerks hiding under the veil of discrimination is Parker County’s Jeane Bruson, according to the Weatherford Democrat.

The clerk had turned away five couples by lunchtime. She said state law prevents her from issuing licenses to same-sex couples — no matter the Supreme Court ruling or anything.

“There are several factors,” she told the paper. “One of the factors is that the State of Texas specifically states by statute that a marriage license can’t be issued for the marriage of persons of the same sex. That’s in the Family Code.”

Yet the statute she specifically evokes — forms must be issued by the Bureau of Vital Statistics — has been waived by other clerks, including in Bexar, Dallas, Harris and Tarrant counties.

“To alter the old form would be in violation of the law,” Brunson said. “Therefore, my call to the Department of State Health Services said that they were consulting with the Attorney General’s Office and they would notify all county clerks as soon they had been given information as to how to proceed.

She admitted she could probably get away with it. “It sounds like it could be done easily if you say it quickly but I’m not going to break the law for anyone.”

Even if there is no law to break.

—  James Russell