Friday, March 23, 2012

SFGMC - "Testimony"

Wow...  Just watch.

TESTIMONY - Music by Stephen Schwartz
Lyrics taken from and inspired by the It Gets Better Project

In writing TESTIMONY, Stephen Schwartz collaborated with Dan Savage, creator of the groundbreaking "It Gets Better Project." Schwartz has set the heartfelt words from the "It Gets Better" videos to music, weaving them into a breathtaking, emotional new masterpiece that speaks to anyone who has ever felt out of place.

TESTIMONY was recorded and engineered by Leslie Ann Jones, the legendary multi Grammy award-winning Director of Music Recording at Skywalker Sound. Performed by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus under the direction of Dr. Timothy Seelig.


Monday, March 12, 2012

ExPat Moments....

Being an American living overseas is  always  an interesting  experience.  Regardless of your political affiliations you find yourself having to defend  U.S. Policies, be they foreign , domestic, economic, or what have you   on a  regular basis.  This is most often due to  the fact that you are usually the only American in the room.  So by default you become the voice of America, whether you want to be or not.

This  past week however,   was one of those rare occasions where  I found myself  defending the  United Kingdom from disparaging comments from fellow American Expatriates.

Earlier in the week, Eric and  I found ourselves  at a pre-election kick off reception for  Democrats Abroad.  the event  was held at a well known American style restaurant  called  The Texas Embassy.  It was odd to be in a room full of so many Americans in the center of London.   Eric got a kick out of trying to place the different  American accents he was hearing.

For me,  it was nice to be in a room full of Americans who share most of my political beliefs.  We all  were  greatly amused by the complete circus  that the Republican Presidential Primary process has been.    Everyone  there was  fairly confident in the  re-electability  of President Obama, when put up against  any of the  potential  GOP nominees, and  the  desire to increase Democratic voter turn out among the  expat community clearly  is aimed at helping with the much less certain race to control Congress  in  2013.

Yet I will be honest,  it was hard to  get  excited about  the whole thing.   It was hard to tell, but  from where we were sitting,  it appeared  that  Eric and I were the only same-sex couple there.  The upside to that was a number of people, including the  chairman of the UK chapter of  Democrats abroad, were  very deliberate in coming up to us,  welcoming us to the event,  and making it clear they were very happy to see us there.  

Yet  as the  speeches  started, touting the  successes of the  Obama-Biden first term,  I couldn't help feeling a little bit annoyed.   I have written  at length about my disappointment  with  President Obama, on the issue of the  Defence of Marriage Act,  and all the related issues connected to that.   Mainly, in our case,  the  right  to sponsor a legal spouse for  immigration  to the United States.   A bill was  introduced in  2009 that would  correct this injustice, but  since  its introduction, the bill has gone nowhere.

Yes  President Obama has worked wonders pulling   America out of  deep dank hole that  8 years of Republican rule had dug.  Yet  for couples like us,  the key issues that impact our lives  have remain largely untouched.   When  pressed on the issue of Marriage Equality,  the best answer the   first  African American President of the United States can come back with,  is  how he "struggles" with the issue and that his  position is still  "evolving", and then goes on to say his baseline position  basically amounts to the same  "separate but equal" argument that was used to support racial segregation 50 years ago.

Meanwhile,  here in the United Kingdom,  the  Conservative  Prime Minister,  David Cameron speaking at his party's annual  conference.  (The British equivalent of the  American GOP National Convention, ) had this to say on the subject of  Marriage Equality here in the UK.

Which brings us to  last night.   Eric and I had the  great good fortune to spend the evening with some of our  most amazing friends.    Our friends Peter and Simon  who live quite close to us here in London, ( but we don't see nearly enough of,)   had us over for dinner at their flat.  Also with us, was  our dear friend Daniel from New York, who was visiting us for the weekend, on his way home from a business trip in Paris.

Also there,  were Mike and Mark,  two friends of  Peter and Simon.    Who like us,  are a bi-national same sex couple,  where one partner is British, and the other American.  Who also like Eric and myself,   moved to the UK to be together, rather than stay in a long-distance relationship waiting for DOMA to be repealed.   Where we did our civil partnership here in  London, then applied for a spousal visa,  they were married in Massachusetts, which was then recognized by the  British government for immigration purposes.

The American half of this couple is an interesting fellow.  Originally from Boston,  he has lived here in the UK about a year longer than I have. From all appearances, he and his husband have a pretty good life.   Good careers, great friends and the civil equality that living in the UK affords to couples like them, and like us.   Yet  he had almost nothing good to say about life in the United Kingdom.

No matter the topic of conversation,  in his opinion, everything  here is pretty much inferior  when compared to the United States.   As the evening   went on, seated next to this person at dinner,  I  found myself aggressively  defending   my  adopted country from  the mostly  inaccurate aspersions from a countryman  from my homeland.

Yes,  there are significant  differences  between life in the US and life in the UK.  Yes, there are many things here I find  odd,  frustrating, and even down right ridiculous at times.  But when all is said and done,  in both our cases,  the United States essentially told us that  our marriages didn't  count,  didn't even exist as far as the federal government was concerned.  The United States,  tells thousands of American citizens just like the two us,  that  we are  something less than  equal, and if we want to spend our lives with our spouses, we  have to do it some place  else.

That some place else is,  in both our cases  the United Kingdom.  This  quirky, imperfect,  cramped, damp, foggy island in the North Atlantic  has proven to be more free than the country that claims to be  "the land of the free".  Yes America has better food,  but  England has  better laws.   Yes Hollywood makes  better  movies, but  London  has much better theatre.   Yes America gave the world Star Trek, but  England  gave it Doctor Who.  Yes, I may have left part of my heart in San Francisco,  but  it was London, not "liberal SF" , that said;   "Welcome!   You  have the SAME right to live with  the  person you love,  as anyone else does.  Make yourself at home." 

Yet  as the evening  went on,  I realized at least to some degree,  why my new friend felt as he did.  It really has nothing to do living  in the United Kingdom, but instead, has everything to do with the  inability to live in the United States.   As a fellow  "DOMA Exile",  I too struggle  with  feelings of  bitterness at  not even having had the option to live in my own country with my spouse.  As President Obama likes to say;  "Let me be clear."    I love London, but I did not choose to live here.  The bigotry and inequality of  the laws in the United States made that choice for me.

So, if it sounds like I prefer the UK to the US, you would be wrong. I am an American. I have no desire to be a citizen of any other nation on Earth. The sight of the American Flag fluttering in the breeze over Grosvenor Square, gives me a tug at the heartstrings every time I see it.

Yet the hard truth is, it is England that has said I should never have to choose between the Person I'm married to, and the country I live in. My own country is quite willing to force me, and thousands of my fellow Americans to make that exact choice.

So  say what you want about tube strikes, and  baked beans on toast for breakfast.  The fact remains  that  until  United States grows up and stops using minority rights as a political football,  it is  England,  that is living the ideals of  Liberty and Justice for All,   that  America (for now),  still only talks about.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Why Truth Scares Bigots....

(via  Last night was the West Coast premier of  "8"  Featuring an all-star cast including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jane Lynch, Kevin Bacon and others, "8" is a play written by Academy Award winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and directed by acclaimed actor and director Rob Reiner. 

It is a powerful account of the case filed by the American Federation for Equal Rights (AFER ) in the U.S. District Court in 2010 to overturn Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that eliminated the rights of same-sex couples to marry in the state of California. Framed around the trial's historic closing arguments in June 2010, "8" provides an intimate look what unfolded when the issue of same-sex marriage was on trial.
We stayed up  until  3:30am London time to watch the live stream on You Tube.   The closing  arguments in Perry v. Schwarzenegger  may seem an odd subject for a play.  Yet the reasons  behind the production are  important..  Opponents of  Marriage Equality in California  fought  tooth and nail to prevent video of the trial from becoming public.   Their stated argument was they wanted to  protect their witnesses  from "harassment" by  Gay activists.   

After I read the transcripts,  It  became very clear why the  defendants in the case  didn't what the video of their testimony viewed by the public. All the arguments made in ridiculous  TV ads, flyers ,and  softball  "interviews" on  Fox News, may have made for  great  campaign rhetoric, but  none of it could stand up to even most basic standards of evidence.  
The argument  that  allowing same sex couples the same basic civil rights as everyone else would somehow "damage and redefine" marriage, completely fell apart when faced with actual cross examination under oath. The brilliant  David Boies, attorney for the  plaintiffs  summed it up perfectly when he said; "the witness stand is a lonely place to lie."

The defendant's  arguments  basically boiled down to a couple of points.  The first, was that  allowing  Gays and Lesbians to marry would  "redefine" and therefore weaken and irrevocably  damage the  institution of Marriage.  So if we take that  argument seriously, to give gay couples the same rights as straight couples, not more rights, not any new rights that straight couples do not currently have, but only the exact same rights, would injure, damage and potentially even destroy heterosexual marriages.

Okay... , there is really only one question then. How? Would gay marriage mean that straight couples would lose any of the 1,100 federal benefits and protections that they currently have?  Would legal gay marriage mean straight couples couldn't file joint  tax returns, have, adopt or raise children, pass on social  security survivor benefits, or make medical decisions for each  other? Would the legalization of marriage for gays and lesbians mean that straight people could no longer marry and those who were  married had to get divorced? Would the marriages  of  any heterosexual change in any way?

The answer of course is no.  When faced with the reality of that, admitted even by their own star witness, they fell back on the second argument.   Society has a compelling interest to step in and prevent  same sex couples from getting married.  The "reason" for this  being,  same sex marriage somehow would result in  fewer children being born  and growing up in heterosexual two-parent households.

Uh... what??   If you have having trouble figuring that one out, don't feel too bad.  Turns out the defendants in the case couldn't offer any proof either, so  like the whole,  "Gays will destroy marriage" argument,  the  idea that Marriage Equality will end straight  procreation as we know it,  fell apart with an equally loud and absurd thud. 
So why  are  people like  Maggie Gallagher,  Tony Perkins,  James Dobson, Pat Robertson and their assorted ilk, so hell-bent (pun intended) on taking civil rights away from Gays and and Lesbians?  Conservative evangelicals say that gay marriage cheapens or lessens the value of the institution of  marriage in the eyes of society. But since none of the marriage rights or benefits that straight couples have would change if gays were able to marry, what opponents of gay marriage are really saying is that letting gay couples marry cheapens their straight marriages in their eyes. 
Letting gays and lesbians get married would mean they would  have a right that only heterosexuals previously   had. And that makes them mad. It's not just that Gallagher and those like her want to prevent gays and lesbians from having equal rights, they want make sure that gays and lesbians have as few rights as possible, if any at all. They see equal rights for everyone as an attack on them.

That's interesting. Even though  the institution of marriage clearly would not change in ANY way, the defendants in the Perry case,  firmly believe that marriage would lose value, status and might even come to an end, if gay couples were able to marry. It suddenly occurred to me there is a word for someone who is irrationally fixed on the artificial preservation of inequality that they feel is in their favor. Merriam-Webster's dictionary has the same word for it.

Pronunciation: 'bi-g&t
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle French, hypocrite, bigot
1: a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices
The testimony of in the Prop 8 trial, shows  vividly what  opponents of Marriage Equality really want . This small group of even smaller minds, who out of fear of losing what they feel is their superiority, want to put the civil rights of people they don't  like up to popular vote.   The Perry case put hatred and bigotry on trial, and  hatred and bigotry lost.  The bigots will appeal and appeal and stall and  block.  Yet  is only a matter of time.  
This case will eventually get to the supreme court.  Like Loving v. Virginia,  like  Lawrence v. Texas,   and yes like Brown v. Board of Education , it will be the US Supreme Court that  will be asked to  stand up for the equal protection under the law of all Americans.