Custer’s Last Stand for Blusterers Against Equality
As a recent gaylywed, I am always proud though sometimes a little uneasy referring to my spouse as my husband. That’s especially true when I’m talking to people I don’t know. I keep anticipating some kind of negative response from someone, if not verbal at least a sneer or a frown. That’s rather what I expected one recent day at the supermarket when I bought a dozen boxes of the same cereal because they were BOGO (buy one, get one free).
“You sure must like this cereal,” the brawny teenaged bagger said as he loaded up my cart.
“Not me,” I replied. “My husband loves this cereal.”
I gave the teenager what must have come across as a sheepish look and silently counted to three waiting for his reaction.
“Looks good,” he said enthusiastically. “I’ll have to try it sometime.”
What, gay marriage? I wondered. I caught myself stifling a laugh as the young man nonchalantly kept on bagging.
Since John and I returned from Delaware last fall as a married couple, no one I’ve encountered in Florida has been anything less than blasé about our marriage—and we live in a small town in a traditionally conservative part of the state. Indifferent was the case at my doctor’s office when I informed the woman at the intake desk that my emergency contact is now my husband; that was also true at a bank where we added a joint account this month. It was even the case when an elderly customer in our shop made a wrong assumption and asked if my wife and I owned the business.
“My husband and I are the proprietors,” I said, again counting to three not knowing what the man with a walker who wore a Veterans of Foreign Wars baseball cap might say next.
“Well, you two certainly do a good job of selecting your merchandise,” he said with a grin. And that was that.
Handling our affairs as a married couple has become less complicated in the weeks since Florida acceded to numerous court orders (including rejection of an appeal to the US Supreme Court by State Attorney General Pam Bondi) and began licensing same-sex marriages and recognizing out of state ones like ours. When we first got back from Delaware, we sent a friendly local bank official into a tizzy by demanding to be listed as married on our IRA accounts. The manager asked us to wait while she went into a huddle with the bank’s president, senior vice president and I-don’t-know-who-all, and they debated whether they could face legal trouble for allowing our marital status change in a state with a ban on its books. I had argued to her that the IRS accepts our marriage, in fact demands that we file taxes as a married couple, and the bank cannot force us to make false statements on accounts they report to the IRS. Finally, the manager emerged and said, “You’re our first, but let’s go for it.”
Since marriage equality arrived in Florida, our married friends similarly have reported only positive experiences informing others—whether accountants or insurance agents, medical professionals or mortgage brokers—that they are wife and wife or husband and husband. Even at the motor vehicles office, nobody has experienced any reluctance or unpleasantness about changing their licenses to a new married name.
What is now abundantly clear to me is how accepting the public has become of same-sex marriages. Yet, from many news and social media reports, you’d think there is a big old pot of backlash boiling up against us. In several states Republican legislators are racing to try to pass new laws to stymy gay marriages, and in some states officials are vowing to resist federal court orders.
For instance, in Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas, Republicans have introduced bills that would forbid state or local government workers from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples despite any and all federal court rulings to the contrary. The bills also would strip the salaries of employees who issue the licenses. In other words, they would be paid to not do their jobs but if they did their jobs they wouldn’t be paid.
Another bill in South Carolina would give employees the ability to “opt out” of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples if they objected on the basis of a “sincerely held” religious belief. In Utah and North Carolina, bills would allow officials like judges, mayors, and county clerks who perform marriages as part of their job description to refuse based on religious grounds.
In Florida, some county clerks have stopped performing wedding ceremonies for heterosexual couples as a way to avoid allowing gay/lesbian couples to be married in their courthouses. That may be stupid, but at least it’s equitable.
Then there’s good old Alabama where Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court Roy S. Moore says he intends to defy recent federal court orders allowing same-sex marriages because “nothing in the United States Constitution grants the federal government the authority to redefine the institution of marriage.” Moore, who quotes oblique Bible passages a lot, calls the courts’ actions “judicial tyranny” and told state courts to ignore them.
For those of us of a certain age, such diehard tactics dredge up images of Governor George Wallace confronting federal authorities on the steps of the University of Alabama in 1963 and Bull Connor ordering police violence against civil rights protesters in Birmingham. A few years ago, I wrote in this column that federal enactment of marriage equality could lead to a civil-war-like reaction from the reactionaries.
Well, we’re seeing it now, especially in the South. But as his ugly theatrics proved to be for George Wallace in his war against racial equality, the bluster of guys like Roy Moore are likely to be Custer’s last stand for the haters of marriage rights. Their desperate crusade is inspired and led by the same old Bible-thumping politicians who have dogged us for ages, claiming that our rights violate their religious freedom to persecute us. But our freedom to wed the one we love won’t play as a wedge issue anymore because almost nobody is listening to their harangue anymore.
Although a majority of people may say they’re sympathetic to the notion of “religious” exemptions for business owners who don’t want to bake us a wedding cake, a new Associated Press poll also finds that only 39 percent of Americans now oppose the freedom to marry. And the opposition numbers are sinking fast—not that public attitudes should ever have anything to do with civil rights.
Still, it’s exciting and heartwarming to realize how much public opinion has shifted in our favor. As John and I have discovered, heterosexual Americans of all ages, walks of life, and political stripes are either outright supportive or they simply don’t give a rat’s arse that marriage is available to gay couples. They understand that it’s already here in 36 states, that it hasn’t harmed their heterosexual wedded bliss or their spirituality, that they have gay friends and relatives who want the opportunity to be married and that gay marriage is good for the economy and their own businesses.
Now, if we can just get the US Supreme Court to make the fair and just decision this spring, we can move on to other matters—and the bagger at my supermarket can try whatever he likes.