We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.
Judge John E. Jones III, Memorandum Opinion, Whitewood v. Wolf, 2014
That’s the last sentence in a presiding judge’s opinion paper regarding one of the latest equal-marriage trials, this one in Pennsylvania. If you happen to recognize the name of the judge, then you’ve got a good memory! Yes, it’s the same judge that presided over a landmark Pennsylvania case a few years ago regarding “intelligent design,” which is just re-branded Creationism nonsense. Today we’re going to discuss another case that is rapidly becoming known as important, and what this case potentially means for the future.
I guess I thought that after writing that galactically-awesome smackdown of creationism in the trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board, that the federal judge involved, John E. Jones III, would just get up on his white horse and ride off into the sunset, leaving behind only a shiny bullet in the trembling hands of the town’s pretty schoolmarm. I absolutely recommend everybody read that paper, by the way–it’s long, but it’s not only hilariously contemptuous of Creationists and constantly-astonished at the breathtaking lies-for-Jesus these “good Christians” kept telling, but on a more practical note the paper presents a lot of very accessible and competently-presented science debunking Creationist claims, all written from a layman’s standpoint; if you need ammunition against Creationism, that paper is just about everything you need.
That said, Judge Jones got a lot of flack about writing that paper and making that decision. Phyllis Schlafly wrote that he’d “stuck the knife in the backs of those who brought him to the dance” (meaning the Republican President who’d appointed him and the voters she mistakenly thinks have anything to say about what reality is). I saw Christians on that terrific Nova special on PBS, Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, lash out at him for being an “activist judge” (by which they mean “a judge who disagreed with them”). That’s the worst thing they can think of calling a judge, though they don’t seem to know what that actually means; the term actually means a judge who lets his personal feelings cloud his decisions, but Hizzoner is actually a Christian and his paper is so meticulous that it’s hard to imagine someone reading it and coming out on the other end of it thinking that he ignored evidence or the laws of the land to make his decision, so I’m not sure where they get that idea other than being butthurt.
The decision and the paper he wrote about how he came to that decision were praised by pretty much everybody except Creationists, weirdly enough, who all got very upset with him for not siding with them; I didn’t see any of them actually attack the arguments he raised and demolished, just as Christians don’t tend to try to refute anything I write about Christians Behaving Badly. No, they just wanted to make him shut up and kowtow to “the will of the people,” which as we all know is how people’s essential human liberties are meant to be given out and maintained–oh, no, wait, that’s actually tyranny of the majority, something one of the framers of the Constitution (James Madison) totally opposed, and actually, in the United States of America human rights aren’t actually up for debate or votes. My bad. I keep getting all confused by all these Constitution-fetishists who clearly have never actually read the Constitution.
It must suck to be so thoroughly on the wrong side of history, because now right-wing Christians have gotten another stinging slap on the face from Judge Jones regarding equal marriage. And I really, really, really encourage you to go and read his final paper on the trial, available at this link. Whitewood v. Wolf is important not only because it’s yet another trial regarding marriage rights, but because Judge Jones’ paper says some hugely important things about the arguments used by opponents of these rights–right before he destroys those arguments.
In sections very tellingly labeled with lines from the traditional Christian wedding vows, Judge Jones lays out the toxic-Christian arguments against equal marriage. In the section labeled “For better, for worse,” he makes it clear that gay and lesbian marriages look exactly like straight marriages–that these gay and lesbian couples “have shared in life’s joys” just like straight couples have. Indeed, I’ve actually asked toxic Christians exactly how same-sex married couples’ lives differ from those of straight couples, and I’ve never gotten an answer to that question (but I’ve gotten a lot of silencing tactics!). I can only see one real difference: how the couple’s children, should the couple choose to become parents, get acquired. There isn’t much of a chance of a same-sex couple experiencing an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy or an “oopsie” situation–but that’s not a bad thing, now is it?
In “For richer, for poorer,” he makes clear that these couples face serious economic hardships and difficulties arising from Pennsylvania’s refusal to accord them the status of married couples. He retells the humiliation these couples feel when it comes to file taxes (since they must file as “single”). One widow testified about how much of a financial burden she’d faced when her partner died and her inheritance was taxed at the state maximum, which a “real” married couple wouldn’t have faced at all. Another talked about how worried she was for her partner, who was an artist who couldn’t support herself; as the breadwinner of the family, if she died, her partner would face hardships that a straight widow wouldn’t face when her husband died. Another couple talked about how much money they’d spent getting legal documents drawn up and maintained to provide at least a fraction of the financial protections that any straight couple gets for free just by being legally married in Pennsylvania. Incidentally, I can tell you, as a straight woman who for a long time was “living in sin,” these documents do not provide more than the barest fraction of protections–and these protections can be ripped away in many cases by a partner’s angry or resentful relatives, who take precedence over any non-marital partner. Bigots like to say that same-sex couples can “just” get those documents and get the same perks and benefits, but that is 100% ignorant bullshit even for straight couples trying to duplicate marriage’s benefits without the legal recognition of a marriage. Judge Jones ably demolishes that myth in just a few paragraphs.
In “In sickness and in health,” Judge Jones discusses the agony of same-sex couples who face a hospitalization. One thing that anti-equality folks like to say is that bigoted laws won’t stop same-sex couples from having hospital visitation rights or a say in the care of their partners, but that just isn’t true, as one plaintiff discovered; her partner was hospitalized, and nobody would tell her where her partner was or what was happening to her because she wasn’t a legal spouse.
And in “Until death do us part,” Judge Jones recounts the degrading experience of a plaintiff whose wife died. The plaintiff testified that she wasn’t even listed on her wife’s death certificate as a spouse–just as an “informant.” Think about that for a second. If you’re married, think about what it’d be like to get your beloved husband or wife’s death certificate back from the funeral home, and see your name on there listed just as an “informant.” Think about what it’d be like to see the marital status line say “Single,” or as the plaintiff saw, “Never married.” Your entire relationship would be callously, cruelly negated just like that, as if you didn’t even exist, as if you hadn’t ever made a lifetime commitment to your spouse at all. Every time you saw that certificate, you’d see that line on it. I can’t imagine how I’d focus on much of anything else! Even in death, same-sex couples do not get any dignity or humanity.
All of these dozens of inhumane cruelties get visited upon same-sex couples–why? Because they aren’t the correct genders? That’s why they have to suffer in this way? That’s why toxic Christians feel justified in abusing them so much? How could anybody be so evil and so awful to fellow human beings who just want to have the same rights as anybody else gets? Well, the lawsuit actually deals with the “why” of it, and Judge Jones here perfunctorily dispenses with each and every one of the lame reasons the state offered for treating same-sex couples like garbage.
* Why yes, actually, his court does have jurisdiction over this matter. The defendants tried to say that the judge was “bound to overturn the District of Utah’s decision,” which Judge Jones thought “constitutes nothing more than speculation on the part of Defendants.” I can read between the lines well enough to see that he thought the very suggestion was nothing but a Hail Mary pass. Indeed, offering conclusions with no evidence is something he should be well accustomed to seeing Christian zealots do, considering his past experience with the Dover Area School Board!
* Why yes, the plaintiffs have met the burden of proof in demonstrating the very real harm and inestimable injuries they’ve faced as a result of Pennsylvania’s bigotry. Judge Jones said in response that he thought the plaintiffs’ stories more than amply demonstrated exactly that. Once again, I’m not sure how the state could possibly make such a wild claim; did they not listen to any of the plaintiffs talking?
* Why yes, marriage is a human right. Moreover, marriage isn’t about children or about transfer of property so much as it is about making an intimate connection with the person we love. Judge Jones explicitly spelled that out, since toxic Christians have a little trouble reading for comprehension. The right to choose our own partners is a big part of how we express the Constitution’s promise of the right to liberty. Toxic Christians squirm and wiggle out of this problem by saying that the right just details marrying whoever we want among people of the opposite sex, but that’s ridiculous, a self-serving negation that only toxic Christians themselves can feel satisfied saying. Judge Jones takes on that repulsive myth head-on. Fifty years ago, he obliquely implies, these same toxic Christians would have said that the right to marry only covered marrying whoever we wanted among people of the same race. And those toxic Christians would have sounded just as ridiculous and self-serving. The judge also categorically denied that people give up any of their fundamental rights just because they happen to be gay, considering that even convicted prisoners have had their right to marry upheld (and as a bonus, prisoners also don’t tend to procreate, so their marriages should be doubly problematic to bigots). No matter what someone’s done or who someone is or how someone was born, that person still gets basic American rights, and the right to marry–meaning the right to unite in a state-recognized commitment with the person you love–is just one of those rights.
Despite LGBTQ people having made strides, the judge reiterates in his opinion that they are still subject to some astonishing and breathtaking bigotry from many communities; in half the country, it’s perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay, and until recently sodomy (meaning “sex between men,” not “anal sex” per se, though that too was illegal in various states despite being practiced by plenty of straight couples) was illegal. Considering I’ve heard toxic Christians bleat and whine about exactly the things the judge discusses in that part of his writeup, this was some fascinating reading; he takes each point in turn (“Gay people can pretend to be straight but black people can’t pretend to be white,” “Gay people totally dominate the media nowadays,” “But but but won’t someone think of the children?!?”) and applies a sharp legal mind to each just as he did to the lame arguments of Creationists not too long ago.
Huh. I just realized that at this rate, fundagelicals are batting 0 for 2 with the various culture wars they started. They’ve completely lost the equal marriage/LGBTQ rights war; there will still be skirmishes, but this decision shows that judges are going to be increasingly reluctant to give in to Christian demands for control. And these Christians have also lost their Creationism dust-up; a huge percentage of Americans may still cling to various forms of nonsensical ideas about how the universe works and how things got to where they are today on Earth, and they may even totally be in denial about science and reality, but those nonsensical ideas and science-denial dogmas are not legally entering publicly-funded school science classrooms, which means children have a fighting chance of not being indoctrinated before they learn how to weigh evidence and think critically about claims.
About all they’ve got left is the war on women, which they may find a lot easier to push given American attitudes about “purity” and victim-blaming; indeed, I’ve read interviews of Christian leaders admitting that they were going to start focusing on trying to stop abortion-access rights now that they’ve finally accepted defeat regarding LGBTQ rights. I can also see fundagelicals moving toward a new culture war around the twin specters of racism and classism; we hear dogwhistles constantly about these issues, if not outright gaffes and foot-in-mouth moments from the Jesus Party–er, Republican Party, sorry–and various fundagelical leaders. Immigration reform is going to be next to impossible to accomplish while those leaders are busy terrifying white Americans into thinking that scary brown people are coming for their jobs and safety.
You know, maybe I’m just crazy or something, but I’m trying to think of anywhere in anything Jesus is supposed to have said to Christians that looks remotely like anything I’ve outlined in the preceding two paragraphs. Feeding the poor and comforting widows doesn’t look much like building a huge-ass fence across the Mexico-US border or keeping full-time employees below the poverty line, does it? And “love your neighbor as yourself” doesn’t seem like it is just the first part of a sentence ending “unless your neighbor wants to share his or her life with someone you don’t approve of,” does it?
Maybe that’s why Christianity is failing as hard as it is: it’s lost its mission; it’s forgotten its first love; it’s fallen from the grace it tried so hard to embody at first. Let’s face it, these folks opposing equal marriage are, by and large, religious zealots. They think Jesus is telling them to stop able-minded adults from choosing who to marry; they think their religion gives them the right to tell other adults how to live their most private lives, to trample on other people’s private decisions, and to make judgements about stuff that doesn’t even remotely impact their own lives or affect them in any way. They think that their onetime dominance in politics and culture–a dominance that wasn’t actually supposed to be theirs in the first place in a country that was founded on purely secular humanist ideals–gives them the right to approve and disapprove of other people’s decisions and lives. And they think that their Savior told them that if they don’t approve, then they have the right to interfere with those other people’s decisions and lives.
Judge Jones wrote in his report about some of the purely heartbreaking stories he’d heard on the bench from some of the plaintiffs in the Whitehouse case: about couples who were denied hospital visitation rights; about newly-married couples who, upon crossing the Pennsylvania state border, looked at each other in pain and said, “We’re not married now;” about couples who were denied basic human dignity after one spouse died; about how degraded and humiliated these couples felt because of these big-ole-Jesus-smile-wearin’ Christians’ efforts to degrade and humiliate them for not living their lives in Baby-Jesus-approved ways. I defy you to read Judge Jones’ writeup and not feel the tears spark in your eyes. I sure as hell know I did. I can’t bear to read it again, it was so powerful. That a Christian could read that writeup and not come away with the deepest shame for having sparked those feelings in other human beings speaks volumes to me of Christianity’s utter heartlessness and abusiveness.
Nothing good can possibly cause such pain in people. Nothing good treats people that way. Nothing good can possibly work such evil in people’s lives. The fruits of this campaign against LGBTQ people are corrupt and rotten, leading to pain and humiliation–and further ostracism and distancing from Christianity.
It’s hard to think that Christians actually imagine that they’re “reaching the lost” somehow by treating people this way. That said, I don’t seriously think they’re even trying to do that anymore, for the most part; I think they’re just interested in keeping control and privilege, and demonizing and mistreating LGBTQ people is part of their game plan.
See, Christian “love” looks a lot like abuse and control to me. I realize there are a lot of Christians who are working against what the mainstream is doing. I appreciate them and hope they win the fight for the heart of their religion. But there is a rotten and stinking, festering and vile side to Christianity that clearly lends itself to this kind of abuse and control, and I say that because it seems like a huge swathe of Christians (and a striking majority of the religion’s current thought leaders) not only try to exert that kind of abuse and control but have successfully convinced themselves that this abuse and control are some kind of “love” that they are bringing to a parched and thirsty world.
No, for love we must look to folks like Judge John E. Jones, who wrote, in the closing of his opinion regarding the case he had just decided,
The issue we resolve today is a divisive one. Some of our citizens are made deeply uncomfortable by the notion of same-sex marriage. However, that same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional. Nor can past tradition trump the bedrock constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. Were that not so, ours would still be a racially segregated nation according to the now rightfully discarded doctrine of “separate but equal.” . . In the sixty years since Brown was decided, “separate” has thankfully faded into history, and only “equal” remains. Similarly, in future generations the label same-sex marriage will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by marriage. We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.
I can think of no better way to say it than this: that we as a nation are better than this bigotry. We are better than the kind of petty, abusive, nasty, controlling paternalism and zealotry that way too many Christians think is the “love” they were ordered by no less than their god to show to the world. But what this opinion sounds like to me is real love: giving, nurturing, allowing people the freedom to decide for themselves who they will love and who they will commit to marriage with and how they’ll set up their relationships. That’s love. I don’t see love in bigotry or in control of strangers’ lives or in the degradation and humiliation of elderly same-sex couples who just want the dignity and respect that all human beings deserve.
And the more of this fake “love” these toxic Christians try to trample the rest of us with, the faster their religion will fall into the ash heap along with the law that Judge Jones tossed out this week. Folks, nobody is fooled. Christians need to seriously re-assess how they’re approaching this topic and seriously reconsider how they’re treating people, or else their religion is going to die–and either way, humanity wins, as I like to say!
My heartiest congratulations go to those in Pennsylvania who are finally seeing the end of their struggle, and to those in the other states who are seeing the same–even Idaho! Who’d ever have seen that one coming?
One by one, state by state, heart by heart, real love is winning.