Waldlaw Blog

Friday, October 20, 2006

Remembering Gerry Studds

I grew up in Massachusetts. Every summer, as soon as school got out, my family would move to Woods Hole, where my parents shared a laboratory at the Marine Biological Laboratories. My brother and I would roam the streets and beaches of Woods Hole all summer, swimming and riding our bicycles and hanging out with friends. When I think "childhood home," I think Woods Hole. Woods Hole is a community surrounded on three sides by water. The majority of people there when I was growing up were in some way affiliated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the Marine Biological Laboratories, or the Marine Fisheries. Then, of course, there were those who worked on or around the ferry docks, where ferries carried people to and from Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket on a daily basis. In other words, everything in and around Woods Hole had something to do with the ocean. From 1973 until 1997, Gerry Studds represented Cape Cod in the United States Congress. He was known best off Cape Cod for having been involved in the 1983 Congressional page sex scandal. On Cape Cod, he was known as a champion of the ocean and those who earned their livings working on it -- during his House tenure, he served as chairman of first the House Merchant Marine Subcommittee and later the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. Gerry Studds was very popular on Cape Cod for maintaining his local focus -- ceaselessly championing the causes of the folks who made their living from the sea -- while tirelessly working for peace and justice issues at home and abroad. He captured the flavor of that part of the world -- he was equally popular with the very liberal elite scene of the Cape Cod summer people and with the very different year-round population of fishermen and marine workers of one kind or another. Gerry Studds was the first member of Congress to openly come out as gay, back in 1983 when that year's page sex scandal erupted. He candidly admitted having sex with a 17-year old page -- not a crime, since the age of consent was 16 -- and at the same time publicly declared his homosexuality. He was publicly censured by the House leadership, and many thought his political career was over. Not Studds. Not only was he reelected; he received two standing ovations from supporters in his home district at his first town meeting following his congressional censure. Gerry Studds married his longtime partner, Dean T. Hara, on May 24, 2004, a week after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts. In a sad footnote to Gerry Studds' long career of public service, Mr. Hara has been informed that he will not be eligible to receive Studds' federal pension despite their legal marriage, because he can't qualify as a "spouse" under the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Had Studds been married to a woman, she would have been eligible to collect $62,000 each year for the rest of her life based on Studds' 24 years of service in Congress. Because Studds was married to a man, that man will get nothing. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, this is the first time that the legal spouse of a Congressman has been denied a pension upon the Representative's death. Gerry Studds spent his entire life fighting for the things he believed in. It would be a fitting tribute to him if his death -- and the obvious unfairness of denying his legal spouse the pension that should rightfully be his -- served as a basis for our country finally turning from prejudice and laying the federal Defense of Marriage Act to rest once and for all.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Search for Common Ground with Pete Wilson

Local television news anchorman and talk show host Pete Wilson is getting blasted -- and was briefly threatened with being fired -- for his blunt and unkind comments about Bevan Dufty and Rebecca Goldfader and their baby daughter. For those of you who don't live in San Francisco, Bevan is on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and Rebecca is a dear friend of his. Both Bevan and Rebecca are gay. They decided to have a baby together, and that baby was born last week. Bevan and Rebecca have been very public about their decision to have a baby, and their plans to move in together and raise their child together. (In fact, I wrote a blog about them on April 8, shortly after the news of their pregnancy went out on the wires, congratulating them and welcoming them to the San Francisco "non-traditional" family community.) Anyway, Pete Wilson made a bunch of comments about Bevan and Rebecca and their daughter on his radio show on Thursday, including the statement that: "I do not now nor have I ever accepted the idea that a baby is a toy, that it is a social science project or a possession. A baby is a human being, a delicate thing, our past, present and future. It is not a science experiment. It is not an opportunity to see how far you can carry your views on parenting, alternative life-styles, or diversity in family structures." First of all, let me say that I don't think it is appropriate to make mean and rude comments about any individual couple's choice to have a baby. This is not an area where public dialogue is warranted. As one woman asked to comment on the whole Wilson/Dufty story said: "If I thought it was anybody's business beyond the people's involved, I might have formed an opinion." That said, would any of us disagree with Pete Wilson about his sentiments that babies aren't toys or science projects?? Do Bevan and Rebecca disagree with Pete Wilson about these sentiments?? Pete Wilson is absolutely right -- babies are precious, and they are our future, and their care and upbringing needs to be taken very seriously. There, see, we have common ground.... The place where we come apart is this: According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Wilson "said he supports same-sex marriage and adoption for same-sex couples and single parents. His problem with the decision by Dufty, who is gay, to have a baby with a friend who is a lesbian is that the couple have no romantic attachment." So here's my question: should children only be raised by parents who are having sex with each other?? I mean, Bevan and Rebecca have known each other for a long time, love each other, and have made the commitment to live together and raise a child together in a stable home. But apparently that isn't enough, because their attachment to each other isn't "romantic." As if romance between the parents were the one thing most likely to lead to a stable, well-adjusted childhood. Well, let me tell you that when it comes to raising children, romance may not be all that it's cracked up to be. Children born into romances often find themselves in trouble when the romance wanes, as so many romances do. Wilson said: "Look around you, folks. You think the high divorce rate in this country has been, generally speaking, good for kids? So, why not start out divorced? See if that'll work." Bevan and Rebecca -- and the many other lesbians and gay men who have embarked on the adventure of co-parenting together -- aren't "starting out divorced." They are starting out with a clear-eyed, lifelong commitment to raising a child together in a stable, loving way. A commitment that isn't based upon their romantic feelings for each other, and therefore is less likely to falter if their "love affair" should hit some bumps in the road. Their children are at least as likely to experience stability and consistency as the children of couples who are romantically involved -- the only clear difference is that these children's parents won't be having sex with each other. Is that really the factor that is most likely to predict good parenting??? Oops, I guess that wasn't common ground.... But I have to say that I strongly agree with Pete Wilson on one more point. When interviewed about his talk show comments, he said: "I still believe the argument is a perfectly appropriate argument. I think the argument needs to take place about the number of directions we have gone with parenting and children." I couldn't agree with him more. For years now, I have been telling everyone who will listen that we need to be having a national conversation about what we mean by the terms "parent" and "family," given how much our family structures are changing. I, for one, am glad that Pete Wilson isn't being fired for diving into this conversation, even if he was rather rude in the way he went about it. We do need to be talking about these issues, and being honest about how we really feel, and sharing our views and experiences, and trying to ... well, find common ground. If Pete Wilson believes that children should only be raised in the context of a romantically-based relationship, I'm sure he isn't the only one, and his voice needs to be a part of the conversation. So, rather than trying to shut him up, I'd rather talk to him. I'd rather take the time to figure out where we agree and where we disagree. This discussion is too important to put off any longer. And we all need to bring our honest views to the table. Pete Wilson included. There, you see, we do have common ground. Now let the discussion begin!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Why We Should NOT Recall Justice McGuiness

In this morning's CalLaw news digest, there was a note that Justice William McGuiness -- who authored the majority opinion in the California Court of Appeal decision denying marriage equality to same-sex couples -- is up for re-election in November. To quote CalLaw: "An overlooked tidbit regarding the First District’s ruling against gay marriage: William McGuiness, author of the majority opinion, is on the ballot for retention this November. Appellate justices must run for retention every 12 years, meaning they must secure a majority of 'yes' votes to stay on the bench. Few issues fuel as much passionate disagreement as gay marriage, and so with yesterday’s ruling, McGuiness just inserted himself in the middle. Because the First District is very liberal — its main population centers are San Francisco and Alameda Counties — could McGuiness’s decision spark a political response from the pro-gay marriage crowd?" As extraordinarily annoying and simple-minded as Justice McGuiness's decision is, I could not support a recall effort for one basic reason: to recall appellate court justices based on their political leanings is to undermine the independence of the judiciary from the political process. In California, we've seen first-hand the havoc that can be played by politically-motivated judicial recalls. Remember the recall of Chief Justice Rose Bird?? She was anti-death penalty, and voted her conscience in many of the death penalty cases that came before her. And she was recalled for voting her conscience, and pro-death penalty justices were elected in her place. And California appellate courts have had a shameful history of bending over backwards to uphold death sentences ever since -- even when there was major legal error that would clearly have warranted reversal. As a result, we have a bunch of really lousy, result-driven law on the books in California, where legal principles get shredded to make sure that the death sentences are upheld. And the rest of us have to live with those lousy, result-driven decisions. As much as I hate Justice McGuiness's decision in the San Francisco marriage case, I cannot support the recall of judges who vote their consciences. That's what judges are supposed to do. And our legal process suffers more from launching recalls that leave appellate judges looking over their shoulders every time they have to vote on a controversial matter than it does from a few bad decisions along the way. We always knew that marriage equality was going to the California Supreme Court -- let's focus our energy on pro-active efforts to make sure we win there, rather than on re-active efforts to punish the judges who have ruled against us along the way.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

What We Can Learn From the Foley Scandal

When I read about the Foley scandal, my initial reaction was "finally the Rebuplicans are imploding!" It is ironic that an unnecessary war didn't do it.... The increasing chasm between rich and poor in our own country didn't do it.... Fears about global warming didn't do it.... Rising gas prices didn't do it.... Massive erosions of our civil liberties didn't do it.... Yup, welcome to America where it takes a sex scandal to impeach a President or bring down a political party. Then I saw that organizations with names like the "Family Research Council" and "Concerned Women for America" are saying "see, we told you that gay people are bad" and thought "oh no, here we go again!" In today's San Francisco Chronicle, Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, is quoted as saying: "Not all diversity should be accepted, and not all conduct or beliefs should be tolerated." I couldn't agree more. But the Family Research Council's allegation that House Speaker Dennis Hastert ignored warnings about Foley out of fear that a strong reaction would appear homophobic is patently ridiculous. Remember, folks, this is the Republican Party we're talking about -- the ones who want to amend the United States Constitution to make sure that stable, committed same-sex couples can't get married -- the ones who used fear of lesbian and gay families to win the 2004 presidential election. If they're afraid of appearing homophobic, then I'm afraid of appearing to care about the rights of contemporary families. At its core, the Foley scandal isn't about homosexuality. It's about sexual harassment -- the abuse by people in power of their access to people with less power -- and about pedophilia -- the sexual interest of adults in youth below the age of consent. These issues are not "gay" issues by any stretch of the imagination. NAMBLA aside (do they still exist??), the gay community neither embraces nor champions the type of conduct involved in this case. That said, it continues to sadden me that politicians remain so afraid to admit that they are gay -- in an open, honest, responsible way -- that they resort to lies and deceptions and engage in ugly, behind-the-scenes behavior such as this. IF Foley is gay (and I say if because I have no idea if he is or isn't), then the Republican Party should be held accountable not only for covering up the fact that he was sexually harassing under-age pages (which is the real issue here, regardless of sexual orientation), but also for having worked so hard to create a climate where he couldn't live his life in an open and honest way. So -- what we can learn from the Foley scandal? 1) Gay people need the support of our government for our committed adult relationships and families, to create a national environment where people can't use their (alleged) sexual orientation as an excuse for irresponsible (even reprehensible) conduct such as Foley's; and 2) What's an election season without a good sex scandal?!

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Fight for 3 Parents Goes to Canada

A Canadian woman is petitioning the Court of Appeal there for a finding that her son has three legal parents. Here is the scenario: She and her partner chose to have a child, and chose a known donor to provide the sperm. The child, now 6, has lived his whole life with the two women, but also sees his dad twice a week. As a practical matter, he has three parents. So now they are petitioning the court to recognize that reality and make it legal. This is a scenario that I see all the time, here in San Francisco in the Law Office of Deborah Wald. Many lesbian couples with known donors are raising their children with the donor acting as dad. And I have gay male clients who have used friends as surrogates where the surrogate continues to act as a mom although the kids live with the two men. Outside the LGBT context, I just spoke this weekend with an attorney in Seattle who is fighting to get legal recognition for a 3rd parent in Washington state under different circumstances -- in that case, the kid has a mother and a father and a stepfather who has raised him since the child was a baby, and all three parents agree that the child has three parents and should have legal relationships with all three. This issue is on the horizon -- through blended families, LGBT families, and other families created with the help of assisted reproductive technologies (such as egg or sperm donors), more and more kids have more than two people involved in their creation and parenting. And more and more of the parents are recognizing that openness is often a good thing for children, and are nurturing relationships between their children and all the various people who have helped create and raise them. And that often adds up to more than two. It will be fascinating to see how the Canadian court rules -- and how the Washington court rules -- and how other courts rule as these issues continue to come up. In the meantime, here's the article from 247gay.com, for those of you who are interested in more details: Lesbian Asks High Court to Name Her Third Parent of Partner's Child 09.28.06 By Troy Espera A Canadian lesbian is petitioning the Ontario Court of Appeal to recognize her as the third parent of a 5-year-old boy she's raising with her lesbian partner. According to CNN, final submissions in the case were heard Tuesday and a decision is expected within six months. The application, if allowed, it would mark the first time in Canada a child would legally have more than two parents, and would fundamentally change the definition of the word "family." CNN reports that the biological father and mother and her female partner must remain anonymous because of a court ruling protecting their identities. "The family has evolved over the years in a way that the law should recognize the reality of this little boy," said the father's lawyer, Alfred Mamo, told CNN. The original application made three years ago, requesting a declaration of parenthood, would give the mother's same-sex partner the same rights as if she were a biological parent. Ontario’s Globe and Mail reports that the application failed because the family court ruled that it did not have the authority to make the decision. The applicant appealed, arguing that she was in a special situation because same-sex couples require assisted human reproduction, reports Globe and Mail. So if the law does not allow for three parents, it is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee of equality, she argued. "It's discriminatory, because one of them gets legally recognized—the biological mother—but the non-biological mother, who is equally part of the process except for the biological bits, can't be legally recognized even though they both decided to have a child, planned for the child, arranged for the procreation and the birth, and they both jointly parent the child," the woman's lawyer, Peter Jervis, told Globe and Mail. According to CNN, the Alliance for Marriage and Family, representing conservative groups opposing the appeal, has filed a brief in the case, stating its belief that under family law in Canada, children can only have two parents. Janet Epp Buckingham of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada told CNN that in order to change the law “you would need to have the full hearings in the provincial parliament and it should be a legislated change." The Globe and Mail reports that the lesbian couple, who have been together since 1992, haven't told their five-year-old son about the legal proceedings but are worried he is coming to realize what is going on. He lives with them in London and sees his father twice a week. © 2006 GayWired.com; All Rights Reserved.