Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Marriage Equality Situation in Arkansas, An Update: Rallies, Editorials Full of Flying Fur, Duelling Bible Verses, the Whole Shebang

So it occurs to me to update you all about what has been going on in Arkansas since our supremes stayed marriage equality. Shortly after the stay, this happened

When you click the link, the white face you'll see in the sea of black ministers protesting equal rights for gay citizens of Arkansas belongs to an Arkansas senator (R., it goes without saying) who's also a Baptist minister, a man named Jason Rapert. This past Sunday, the state's newspaper of record (our sole statewide newspaper, beyond the statewide alternative free newspaper Arkansas Times), the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, gave Rev. Rapert ample space in its opinion section — a full two pages — to bash the judge who knocked down our state ban on marriage equality, Judge Chris Piazza. 

I'd point you to Rapert's article in the Dem-Gaz, but the paper's website allows only subscribers to read articles. The Arkansas Times also has a limit for the number of articles one may read at its site without being a subscriber — a point I thought I'd mention in case you click at that site for any length of time to follow news about marriage equality in Arkansas or other local topics. For the summary of Rapert's remarks by Max Brantley, editor of the Times, see this posting at the Times's blog this past Sunday.

Rapert's primary argument in his screed this past Sunday is the tired old claim that "activist judges" are nullifying the will of the majority expressed through votes and legislation. At his Facebook page on June 1, Judge Wendell Griffen, who's also a Baptist pastor and who married Steve and me and a number of other same-sex couples in the brief period in which marriage equality was permitted in our state, responds to Rev. Rapert. The posting is marked public, so I think that if you scroll through Wendell's Facebook feed, you'll find his response.

As he notes, 

Rapert's major premise (and the one that warrants a rejoinder) is the false view that the will of a majority defines what is just. The great evil (and I use that word deliberately) of Rapert's mindset is one long shared and touted by the publisher and editorial leadership of the Democrat-Gazette, namely, that might (here articulated as the collective judgment of 750,000 voters) makes something right. This is the error to be confronted, challenged, and discredited, for that is the upshot of Rapert's essay.

And as Wendell goes on to point out,

Racial segregation in public education was lawful by popular vote in Arkansas, across the South, and practiced elsewhere with the force of law. The U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional 60 years ago last month in Brown v. Board of Education. Racial gerrymandering of electoral districts was lawful by popular vote. The U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional almost a half century ago in Gomillion v. Lightfoot and Baker v. Carr. Judge Piazza's recent rulings are correctly understood in the light of these and similar decisions. 

Wendell has sent this rebuttal to the Dem-Gaz. I'm not going to hold my breath until the paper's editors make a decision about whether or not (emphasis on not) to publish this statement. As Ernest Dumas notes in an op-ed piece (and also here) in today's issue of the Times, the Dem-Gaz's ultimate goal in permitting Rev. Rapert to demagogue the issue of gay rights is to try to bully the Arkansas Supreme Court into ruling against Judge Piazza's striking down of the ban on marriage equality.

And so people like Judge Piazza and Judge Griffen are right in the sights of the demagogues, with the statewide newspaper's full complicity. They're being used as whipping boys to demonstrate to our state supremes what will happen to them, too, if they dare to uphold Judge Piazza's ruling.

What's also at stake in all of this — and this is clearly in the forefront of the thinking of the editors of the Dem-Gaz, which is very much a nasty little Republican rag — is the elections just on the horizon in a state that has moved into the Republican column after the election of the country's first African-American president. Polls are indicating that, though the GOP thought it had the senatorial race between Republican (and Koch-brothers'-boy) Tom Cotton and Democrat Mark Pryor sewn up, the race may prove much tighter than the Republican party had anticipated.

And so detaching just enough votes of African Americans angry about gay rights from the Democratic side of the tally may make a world of difference in that close and very much contested senatorial race, which is of great importance to the Republican party at a national level, since the GOP is hungry for control of Congress. It is not, therefore, in the least accidental that Rev. Rapert chose to rally African-American ministers in his initial sortie against Judge Piazza's ruling striking down the ban on marriage equality.

To anyone who knows the history of Arkansas — to those of us who grew up here during the Civil Rights period — all of this is, of course, in many ways very much déjà vu, with the ironic twist that a minority community against whom majoritarian votes were long used as a weapon of oppression, while we in the majority shouted God this and bible that, is now willing to turn around and do the very same thing to another minority community, claiming that now the use of majoritarianism to deny people human rights is a good thing.

Because God and bible.

And I should say "some members of a minority community" are now willing to turn around and try to deny rights to the gay community, but not all members of the African-American community are willing to go that route. Judge Wendell Griffen is, after all, African American himself and also, as I've noted, a Baptist pastor, and he's all the more despised by those who want to demagogue the issue of gay rights while pitting the black and gay communities against each other because he has built bridges between his church and the gay community — precisely as a Baptist pastor who believes that he and his church are called to do this as an expression of their faithful discipleship.

Many of us who remember how white Arkansans behaved during the Civil Rights period, how we kicked and screamed and shouted God and bible and dirty activist judges, are now thoroughly ashamed to find our statewide newspaper and our political leaders perfectly willing to lead us down that same self-defeating, morally disreputable path all over again, when, in all likelihood, marriage equality will be the law of the entire land not too far down the road, and we'll be revealed all over again to have been immoral bigots fighting against the human rights of the next targeted minority to come down the road following people of color.

And so that's where things stand now, as those of us who got married during that brief period when there was an opening to marriage equality in Arkansas wonder what our marriages now mean, whether the state Supreme Court will illegitimate our marriages, whether we have the same rights as other legally married couples in the state. Well, we know that we don't have the same rights, since the state university system immediately snatched away the option for spousal benefits for legally married same-sex couples after the supremes stayed marriage equality, though it had just announced it would make those benefits available to newly married same-sex couples.

And that does affect Steve and me, and I have stories I could tell and may tell in the near future about this, since it's turning out that, though I now have healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act for the first time in almost a decade, many of the medical providers who are listed as available to me and others with the particular "brand" of ACA coverage I have turn out to be mysteriously unavailable when I call them to ask about their availability — and so it appears to me that doctors and dentists, some of them at least, are trying to circumvent the ACA and/or to torpedo it by refusing services to people with bona fide health insurance under the ACA.

I'm monitoring that situation as I call dentists in recent days to try to find a dentist among the many listed as providers under my new insurance plan who will take me as a patient, and as I find I'm meeting one stone wall after another and being treated very rudely by many of the dental offices I contact — clearly, because my insurance comes through the ACA. I'll definitely share more specific information about this when I feel I have a firmer grasp of what's going on with all of this.

And I mention it in this context since the question of spousal benefits including health coverage through Steve's workplace, which is part of the university of Arkansas, is a live question for us, and the placing of gay couples in limbo, which is what Rev. Jason Rapert and his cronies at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette want for those of us who just married in Arkansas, creates serious problems for those of us who are married — problems that Rev. Rapert wants us to struggle with, it appears to me, in the name of his all-merciful Jesus Christ.

P.S. A cousin of mine in Raleigh, North Carolina, who got wind of Steve's and my marriage has sent me a card to tell me that, as a wedding gift for us, she sent a donation to Judge Wendell Griffen's church, New Millennium Baptist Church in Little Rock.  I cannot think of a finer wedding gift for us.

P.P.S. Please see this footnote to the posting above.

The photo: some kind, loving cousins gave a dinner party at a restaurant this weekend to celebrate our marriage, and snapped this photo of us with the wedding cake they had a baker make for the occasion. I thought I'd share this photo at the risk of boring you with yet another marriage-themed photo.

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