Dear Colin Craig,

“New Zealanders are getting so tired of politically correct posturing. Political correctness doesn’t change how people think, it just prevents them speaking up. I am happy to speak up and go on record as one who would vote against this proposed bill.”

I’ve written before of my opinion of the “political correctness” canard, and Craig swans out with it as if it’s an actual argument.

“The marriage institution being a relationship between a man and a woman predates government. It is not the job of government to start re-defining marriage.”

And it’s not your job to be defining it. If the government’s going to have marriage written into law, then it must keep up with society’s changing definitions of what it means. The definition of marriage has changed more than conservative Christians care to remember or even believe.

Saying that marriage is an institution that belongs to a one cis-man, one cis-woman couple is like saying that writing belongs to right-handed people. The importance of right-handedness certainly predates government, and in modern times it seems rather silly to think of it as being any kind of privilege (it’s easy to forget that only a generation ago, children were being caned for writing with their left hands).

If Colin Craig does “not support an ever expanding state meddling in the affairs of it’s citizens”, then he’s contradicting himself by saying that we should therefore oppose marriage equality. But then, cognitive dissonance is something people like Craig have become rather skilled at.

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You can marry your cousin, so long as he isn’t gay

North Carolina. Once again proving the adage that democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.

The state, where it’s legal to marry your cousin, recently went to the polls to vote on a constitutional amendment prohibiting not only same-sex marriage, but also civil marriage and domestic partnerships.

Last time the state made an amendment to their constitution about marriage, it said this:

All marriages between a white person and a negro, or between a white person and a person of negro descent to the third generation inclusive, are hereby forever prohibited.

While we have all the legal trappings that civil unions grant in New Zealand, we still don’t have the dignity conveyed by marriage or the respect it has in society, and we also still cannot adopt.  We’re forced to compromise with a “good enough” alternative.

North Carolina, however, seems to believe that teh gayz don’t deserve any recognition of their relationships and should forever be relegated to being second class citizens. Once again, they’ve used the cry of “religious freedom” as a cudgel against the rights and freedoms of others.

Hopefully it won’t be long before they realise the folly of their ways and look back at Amendment 1 as an embarrassing blight upon the history of their state.

Jumping the gun

I’m a couple of weeks late on this one, but in late April, a lesbian couple were thrown out of [public.], a bar in Wellington, after sharing a quick kiss while waiting for a taxi. One of the two, Rebecca Galbraith, wrote this in a letter to the bar:

“At 2.50am, as we were leaving for a taxi, I leaned over to briefly kiss my girlfriend, something I had not done yet as we were in the company of friends, when a man abruptly tapped me on the shoulder and informed both of us to leave, immediately.

“… I have no doubt he was watching us for the entire time we were at Public.

“… When standing on the street, I turned to the man who kicked us out and said this would not happen if we were a straight couple. And he agreed, and shrugged, and said ‘it’s not my place’, and with a smirk, claimed he ‘wished it could be different’.”

The outrage was as immediate as it was expected. Victoria University Queer Officer Genevieve Fowler championed their cause, helped push the story to the media and offered to help write a complaint to the Human Rights Commission that Galbraith was lodging. The Wellington Young Feminists’ Collective started organising a “Pash-in” at the bar to protest their outright homophobia, and the Wellington Queer Avengers were quick to join in. [public.] was lambasted across the press, both mainstream and queer.

The owner of the bar tried to defend the actions of the bouncer, but no one would listen. Why should we? They turfed a couple out of their bar for the crime of sharing an innocent kiss while lesbian. The management is clearly homophobic and need to learn not to discriminate.

Except there’s a teensy problem.

Just a little one…

It didn’t happen as Rebecca Galbraith said.

[public.] released CCTV footage of the night to selected media showing the couple hugging and kissing for an extended period of time without security doing anything, and later slinking off to a corner beyond of the camera’s view, which is where they were approached by the bouncer 10 minutes before the bar was due to close. They were not asked to leave because she “briefly kiss[ed her] girlfriend.”

Having been shown the CCTV footage by 3 News, Galbraith decided not to continue with her complaint to the HRC, and seems to have gone into delete everything mode. Fowler has also done the same after whipping up hate for the bar. The WYFC cancelled the pash-in, citing not the fact that the women wern’t honest, but rather because they were over it, and the Queer Avengers continued to support the women and said “their complaint should be taken seriously.”

Galbraith played the gay card, and lost. In the process, doing damage to the reputation of a bar that was innocent, because a lot of people jumped the gun. To call it a “debacle” is an understatement.

I understand our reactions when we’re faced with apparent discrimination — I’ve done it in the past, too (and I’m likely to do it in the future). As queer people, we’re conditioned to believe that discrimination is waiting round every corner. Due to the many real discriminations that we face we see queerphobic boogeymen lurking in every shadow.

But we have to be careful how we face those fears, and make sure that we’re reacting to real threats, rather than imagined ones.

Within hours of Galbraith posting her now deleted comment on [public.]’s Facebook wall, the comment list was filled with people accusing the bar itself of being disgustingly homophobic. Boycotts and protests were called for and organised and the media was contacted. The outrage was pouring.

The owner of the bar commented on the now deleted post (because it’s deleted, I’m unable to quote it, so you’ll have to take my word for it) explaining the situation, but that only seemed to fan the flames. Partly because it wasn’t worded very well (the owner was understandably stressed about the situation), but mostly because they had already been set up as the villain in everyone’s eyes.

We need to approach these sorts of accusations with scepticism. We have an incredibly important principle (one of the most important) in both our law and our society. That is the presumption of innocence. The onus of proof lies on whom asserts, not on who denies. And that proof must be beyond reasonable doubt.

In the beginning, we were given one side of a story. Instead of assessing it rationally, talking to the bar, or looking at things like the fact that they were told to leave minutes before the bar was due to close for the night, people jumped to conclusions. They leapt to a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy — two women kissed and were then told to leave a bar, therefore they were told to leave because they’re lesbians.

The bar released CCTV footage confirming their side of the story, and it all came tumbling down like a house of cards in a strong breeze. The media were not happy at being played (Hillary Barry’s “’nuff said” comment at the end of this clip is testament to this). Fowler, who may not have been complicit in the deceit but still went straight on the attack, is now facing criticism as Vic Uni’s Queer Officer, and rightly so — in my opinion she has one option: admit she got played, apologise for not appraising the accusations and launching an offensive against the owners of [public.], and offer her resignation to the mercy of her constituents.

I believe that Queer Avengers and the WYFC owe their apologies to the bar for the respective parts they played (these are otherwise good organisations that I have a lot of respect for and they do a lot of good work. I don’t want to look like I’m demonising them over this issue), as do any other organisations that participated. Discrimination is a real and serious problem in this country. But if we’re going to take direct action against it, we need to base our action on evidence. If we’re going to protest or boycott or take legal action against a business or individual, we need empirical proof. If that evidence doesn’t manifest or turns out to be fabricated after we’ve taken action, then we lose credibility. If we continue to take action after being shown we got it wrong, we throw credibility out the window.

And Galbraith and her partner owe not just the bar, but all of us an apology for erroneously playing the gay card and making a huge issue out of nothing. It may have simply been a misunderstanding, and at the time the women may have genuinely believed it was because they were lesbians, but they kicked up an awful lot of dust, and did a significant amount of truth bending. They smeared the bar on Facebook, in the media, and threatened to complain to the Human Rights Commission. Now, undoubtedly, the couple have learned their lesson, and having been there I can say that the stress from the media attention is not fun. I’m certainly not suggesting they be vilified as liars and frauds. But once egos have healed, public apologies must follow.

When people’s reputations and careers are on the line, we have to tread carefully.

Whither Utah?

The Utah Legislature have recently passed a bill that prohibits the discussion of homosexuality in schools, and if the governor signs the bill into law, the state will become the first in the US to prohibit teachers from telling students about contraception.

“… we as a society should not be teaching or advocating homosexuality or sex outside marriage or different forms of contraceptives for premarital sex.”

So saith Sen. John Valentine.

This kind of legislation has been used over and over again to deny LGBT rights. We’re seeing it now in Russia—ironic how the US is passing laws more expected from their historic enemies.

LGBT teenagers are facing a wave of bullying and violence in American schools, and states from Utah to Tennessee, as well as school districts, are responding by further grinding the bullied students into the dirt. The Anoka school district, for example, blames pro-equality activists for driving gay students to suicide.

Hillary Clinton warned the world not to be on the wrong side of history, but many parts of her country find themselves precisely there.

“Tolerance is a two-way street”

The New Jersey Legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill, which Governor Chris Christie swiftly vetoed, renewing his push for it to go to a referendum. Because apparently, minority rights are supposed to come at the explicit approval of the majority .

But onto Alaska. Proposition 5 is going before the Anchorage voters which would add “sexual orientation” and “transgender identity” to the list of protected classes.

Of course, this has a few people frothing at the mouth.

The Alaska Patriarchy Family Council has a cry. They’ve posted a list of 10 reasons to oppose the proposition [pdf]. Most of them are banal hand waiving—claiming it’s poorly worded or not needed. But there are a couple that I’d like to address, because the same arguments pop up here as well.

Prop. 5 forces our city government to take sides in the “culture wars”

That’s the government’s job. When it comes to human rights, the government has to take sides—and they must side with liberty. Should they have not taken sides, there’d probably still be slavery, and segregation.

Religious institutions are not adequately protected

Translation: “It’s a breach of my human rights to prevent me from breaching other people’s human rights!”

*cry*

This one pops up a lot. In New Zealand, the Human Rights Act 1993 has a provision exempting organised religion from being subject to the legislation. This is indefensible. You don’t get to claim your religion exempts you from not being allowed to discriminate against other humans, without forfeiting your own protections.

No matter what your religion tells you to do, you cannot discriminate against people. That’s the law. If you want to live in a free society, you have to make concessions. You can believe whatever you like in your head, but you cannot discriminate.

This brings me to their last point:

Tolerance must be a two-way street

Right back at you.

I’ve been yelled at, I’ve been called names. I’ve had straight men look at me as if they’re worried I’m going to rape them. I’ve had friendly, jovial conversations suddenly turn to painful silence, getting looks across the table as if he would have stabbed me if he had a knife. I’ve feared for my safety. I’ve feared for my life.

Mostly from people who were previously pious—people who preached compassion and love, now revealing their bottomless pits of hate.

And when I try to defend myself, when I try to call them on it, I’m the bigot.

The first thing they demand is that I respect their beliefs. Their beliefs that I’m evil, that I’m a sinner, that I should die.

Simply by being open, I’m intolerant. Simply by existing I’m breaching their freedom.

Tolerance is a two-way street? I wouldn’t know, because people like the Alaska Family Council are taking up both lanes, and have set up roadblocks.

It’s the whole privilege thing, and it needs to end.

As Rachel Maddow says in the video I linked to above, you don’t vote on human rights. That’s why they’re called “rights.”

I had no idea Starbucks sold sodomy—I should drink there more

“It is disappointing but not surprising that Starbucks wish to re-define marriage and believes that support for sodomy and homosexual marriage is a core value.”

That from “Right to Life”, a group that is usually protesting women’s rights but has now turned their attention to Starbucks and those dirty gays.

It may seem a rather strange move for an anti-abortion group to suddenly start caring about gay rights, but they do go hand in hand—they’re all the same right-wing, religious fundamentalists, and they see it as all part of the same liberal agenda.

So, why Starbucks?

In the U.S., the fight for marriage equality is slowly marching across the various states, and many large companies, from McDonald’s to Microsoft*, are declaring their support for the total equality that their constitution promised. Starbucks was one of the companies to join the growing list, and it was this statement that got the fundies’ proverbial knickers in a twist:

“Starbucks is proud to join other leading Northwest employers in support of Washington State legislation recognising marriage equality for same–sex couples. From our very earliest days, Starbucks have strived to create a company culture that put our people first and our company has a lengthy history of leading on and supporting policies that promote equality and inclusion.”

I know, shocking stuff. I’ll get the smelling salts.

Why would companies need to openly support LGBT rights? Often companies are accused (by pundits on both the right and the left) of being tokenistic for the sake of sales, that they’re using it as a shallow marketing ploy. But often companies go the other way, and avoid talk of minority rights for fear of upsetting the bigots who organise boycotts, like Right to Life or One Million Moms (who recently spectacularly failed to organise a boycott against JC Penney for hiring Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson).

But as Microsoft pointed out in a statement, marriage equality “would be good for our business and for the state’s economy.” By promoting a world where all their employees are able to life open and freely, they’re able to have workers who are happier, not just at work, but outside it too, and therefore are more productive.

Yes, it’s for the benefit of their bottom line, but that still makes things better for us. They’re not exploiting us, they’re recognising that our rights make things better for everyone.

Back to Right to Life:

“The family is at the centre of a culture of life, it is the foundation of a stable society. It is the family that brings forth children, future citizens who are essential for the continuance of society. The promotion of same sex marriage is an attack on the institution of marriage and on society itself. Right to Life supports the human rights of the homosexual members of our community, however there is no human right to homosexual marriage.

“… Those in the community who believe that marriage is exclusively for one man and one woman will be offended by the attack of Starbucks on the family. They are encouraged to boycott Starbucks Coffee shops and to take their business to coffee shops that support the family and who do not support sodomy and homosexual marriage.”

“The attack of Starbucks on the family.” That says it all.

I had originally written a spiel about “traditional marriage” being a relatively new concept, marriage as an institution failing and that they’ve found a scapegoat in the LGBT community, but that’s irrelevant. We already know that. And they won’t listen anyway.

They feel so entitled to this world that they view anything that isn’t them, as an attack on them. They don’t want to prohibit same-sex marriage or LGBT rights to protect children or society. They want to prohibit it because they think they are entitled to own it all themselves—and they want us to graciously thank them for the privilege of existing in their world in the first place, as if we’d just forget all the hate they spewed when we fought to simply make ourselves legal.

All the problems with the world have their own sources, and none of them come from same-sex marriage.

So, I shan’t be boycotting Starbucks, and I can’t imagine many people doing the same at the ridiculous call of dishonestly named Right to Life. Also, I can’t think of many cases of sodomy leading to abortion at all…


My actual hand holding the coffee I didn't just boycott.

* I find it interesting to note, that both Microsoft and Apple, as well as the likes of Google, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, and many other computer companies, all openly support marriage equality. Right to Life are only calling for a boycott against Starbucks—I wonder if they used a PC or a Mac to write up their press release, or if the servers hosting it use any Oracle technology. If they want their boycott to be honest and consistent (two words you don’t usually find associated with such pro-hate groups) then they’re going to find themselves rather cut off. Even if they did it all on paper, they’d probably run into technology owned by Xerox.