Saturday, May 10, 2014

I'm Here: About My Recent Silence, and About Yesterday's Judicial Ruling in Arkansas Striking Down Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

I apologize for my silence in the past several days. Steve and I are away now on a short trip, and I haven't found much reflection time to permit me to blog in the past several days. This was one of those trips about which you don't think much, and then it comes barreling into your life, and everything else suddenly takes second-seat to the need to pack, meet a flight, and then pursue the business of the trip, which, in our case on this trip, has been all about attending lectures at the National Genealogical Society Conference in Richmond — another opportunity made possible for us by cashing in frequent-flyer miles.

And so I'm quite a bit behind about thanking you for your very welcome comments here, and about posting any new pieces in the past few days. I'm hoping to have more time to blog after our return home tomorrow (God willing).

I'll admit, too, that the feeling of heaviness of heart about which I blogged following the two recent canonizations has not lifted, and this makes me reluctant to blog, since who wants to read an interminable tale of woes? The heavy feeling has, in fact, deepened with the recent renewal of the Vatican attack on American religious women, and with Pope Francis's total silence as this takes place.

As that happened, one of the major Catholic groups advocating greater inclusion of gay folks in the life of the Catholic church made a point of recommending Phyllis Zagano's recent National Catholic Reporter article about the controversy in the Charlotte, North Carolina, Catholic diocese after Sister Jane Dominic Laurel spoke to high school students there, about which I blogged several weeks ago (and here). The choice of the Catholic group advocating for greater inclusion of gay folks in the life of the church to recommend an article I had critiqued underscores a message that Catholic gay groups far more institutionally "connected" than I am have been intent on delivering to me: the message is that my viewpoint is not welcome in "real" Catholic discussions.

That I myself am not welcome . . . .

How could I possibly read the message of this Catholic group promoting inclusion of gay folks in the church otherwise, as the group chooses to recommend an article by Phyllis Zagano that I had critiqued, and after she had responded to my critique by stating in a comment here that the discussion of her article at Bilgrimage proves that "rational discussion" of gay issues has "disappeared"?

That's quite some message of inclusion and welcome, isn't it? (Admittedly, it's not a new message to me from the "connected" groups advocating for inclusion of gay folks in the Catholic church; they have never made any conspicuous point of inviting me into their conversations or recommending this blog, since I am, it appears, a "disconnected" Catholic who doesn't deserve a place at their table. Not the kind of Catholic who receives Voice of the Faithful awards for encouraging all Catholics to use their talents to better the church . . . .)

And this message, of course, adds to my feeling of heaviness these days.

But on the positive and hopeful side: as some of you may know by now, yesterday a circuit judge in my state of Arkansas, Judge Chris Piazza, struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, opening the door to same-sex couples to marry civilly in Arkansas. Max Brantley tells the story at Arkansas Times yesterday.

As he notes, the county clerk of Pulaski County, the county for which Little Rock is the county seat, has already instructed county officials to begin processing marriage applications from same-sex couples this coming Monday. There will definitely be a strong attempt to stop this process, and I expect a stay to be issued immediately.

The stay would put the state's attorney general Dustin McDaniel in a quandary, since he has stated publicly that he himself supports marriage equality, though he is obliged to defend the law outlawing same-sex marriage as the attorney general. I am struck — I'm heartened — by the conclusion of Judge Piazza's ruling:

It has been over forty years since Mildred Loving was given the right to marry the person of her choice. The hatred and fears have long since vanished and she and her husband lived full lives together; so it will be for the same-sex couples. 
It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it.

I am heartened by Judge Piazza's ruling. As I've told readers here in the past (I haven't been able yet to locate these postings, to provide you with links), I've been doing my own small, quiet work to chip away at the prejudice in my state's judicial system for some time now, and have seen some encouraging results as I've opened my mouth and spoken out. 

In 2003, after Steve and I went through horrific experiences with the judge handling my guardianship of my mother at the end of her life, I filed a complaint with the state's judicial ethics commission. That complaint ended by noting that the judge had very perceptibly treated my partner Steve and me in a prejudicial way because we are a same-sex couple.

I wrote,

I am painfully aware that in the state of Arkansas, same-sex partnerships have no legal status or recognition (though the recent Arkansas Supreme Court ruling striking down the sodomy law does set a legal precedent for at least partial recognition of these partnerships). Nonetheless, I believe that a judge ought not to act out of prejudice, but ought to be impartial and professional in her dealing with all types of people. Mere courtesy demands that people be addressed by their names and/or titles, not in the third person. I would have expected Judge G. to understand this, as an African-American woman. 
I do not believe that conventionally married men of my professional status or background who take their aging and ill parents into their home and provide loving care for them as guardians are routinely treated with the lack of respect, the suspicion, and the sheer harassment Judge G. accorded to my partner and me.  

Several years down the road, the state's judicial ethics commission revised its guidelines for judicial behavior, and I was delighted to see that a number of the points I made in my complaint to the commission (the commission did not act on my complaint, by the way) were incorporated into the new code governing ethical behavior of judges — points about treating every person in court with the human respect and dignity he/she deserves as a human being, and about avoiding any appearance of prejudice. The revised code explicitly mentioned sexual orientation as it prohibited expressions of prejudice by judges.

It has been a long road, and often a hard one. But there are points along the road when one can stop, look back, and think that the slog has surely been worth it.

The ruling yesterday by an Arkansas judge is such a point in the road, for me. 

The graphic: a pilgrimage marker for the Camino de Santiago; the photograph is by Alamy and is from The Telegraph.

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