Columns


My latest at HuffPo, on coming out of the closet a bit later in life:

Perhaps the most important lesson is that people come out at all ages….It’s not as if the popularity of Glee means that, from now on, all LGBT folk will come out as teens, surrounded by a supportive, talented and ridiculously good-looking show choir.

Full article here.

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Just posted a piece at The New Republic in response to our game-changing victories in the four states with marriage votes:

It is one thing for the state to allow you to marry, and quite another for your parents to show up at your wedding and be happy for you. Both are significant….

The election is over. The pro-equality forces won, and won big. But the fight for marriage is a long game.

Read the full piece at TNR.

My take on the D’Souza affair:

Last week, the conservative luminary Dinesh D’Souza resigned as president of The King’s College, a New York City evangelical school, after it was revealed that he brought his mistress to a Christian conference, apparently shared a room with her, and introduced her as his fiancée — even though he was still married to his wife of 20 years.

Andy Mills, chairman of the college’s Board of Trustees told students, “God has a mighty future for Dinesh, but there are some things he has to go through first” — which is evangelical-speak for “WTF was he thinking?!?”

Read the rest over at HuffPo.

kameny camp

First published at Between the Lines News on October 20, 2011

I was in San Francisco when I received the news, about to go on stage to deliver a National Coming Out Day lecture. A friend texted me: “Frank Kameny passed away today.” The godfather of the gay rights movement was felled by a heart attack at the age of 86.

Like others, I saw Frank as a movement giant. But I also had the great privilege of knowing him personally, having participated on a listserv and exchanged many e-mails with him over the years. Mostly I saw him as a moral force, an elder from whom to draw both wisdom and fortitude.

I last saw Frank two years ago, when I was a volunteer faculty member for Campus Pride’s Leadership Camp. Camp was in D.C. that summer, and when I told everyone that I knew Frank and that I could arrange for him to visit, I drew the expected reaction: the faculty were in awe, and the campers (all of whom were college students) were quizzical: “Who’s Frank Kameny?”

The easiest way for me to answer that question succinctly was to say, “Frank Kameny is like the Rosa Parks of the gay rights movement.” But the analogy is imperfect in many ways. Parks’ civil disobedience was backed by an organized movement; Kameny had to forge a movement. Parks is in the history books; Kameny—like LGBT history more generally—has been largely overlooked, despite his half-century of leadership.

It is no exaggeration to say that every living LGBT person has benefited from that leadership. Frank was out and fighting at a time when being openly homosexual was not only professional suicide—Frank lost his job as a government astronomer in 1957, and never again worked in the field—it also put one in physical danger. But Frank never shrank from the fight for justice.

Elsewhere in this issue is a full obituary, detailing Frank’s many accomplishments. Here I want to highlight three lessons which I personally carry with me thanks to Frank. They were the sort of things of which he would often remind me and others in the vigorous e-mail correspondence he kept up; things that, even now, I can hear his distinctive voice saying.

Jonathan Rauch once wrote aptly that Frank’s voice “has been compared, unfairly, to a foghorn (unfairly, that is, for the foghorn).” But foghorns do get your attention.

The first lesson is parity. Whenever someone asked “What makes people gay?”, Frank insisted that the question could not be separated from the question “What makes people straight?” Because of his unrelenting belief in equality, he challenged any approach that treated homosexuality as “abnormal” or in need of some special explanation.

The second is engagement. Whenever Frank would hear me or other “young” activists griping about some stupid anti-gay argument, policy, or legislation, he would growl “Don’t tell me, tell them! Contact the people who can do something about it.”

Frank himself was constantly writing letters to anti-gay legislators, public figures, and bloggers. Here’s an excerpt from one, written in Frank’s distinctive style:

“Our true God gave us our homosexuality as a divinely-inspired gift and blessing, to be enjoyed to its fullest, exultantly, exuberantly, and joyously.

‘Gay is good, Godly, moral and virtuous, and American. You homophobes are evil, ungodly, immoral and sinful, irrational to the point of utter lunacy and beyond, and un-American and anti-American. You don’t have a clue to what America and true Americanism are all about.”

The reference to “God” is amusing: Frank was an outspoken atheist. But he didn’t mind helping himself to religious rhetorical flourish when the moment called for it.

The third lesson was about seizing the moral high ground. Frank understood that the fight for equality was a MORAL fight if anything is. He once told me that his own proudest accomplishment was coining the slogan “Gay is Good” in 1968; it captured his vision succinctly.

My own work as “The Gay Moralist” has been powerfully influenced by Frank’s example of never conceding “moral values” to the other side.

Let me close with a favorite personal anecdote.

In 2004 Frank came to Detroit to speak at a screening of the documentary “Gay Pioneers,” in which he is prominently featured. Before the film Frank visited my house for dinner. When I offered drinks in my living room, he asked if I had any peach schnapps. To my surprise, I found some in the cabinet, so I poured him some. Then some more, and more again, not really keeping track. Finally, when it was time to leave for the film, we all stood up…

…and Frank proceeded to trip over my coffee table and fall flat on the floor.

Everyone gasped. A news headline flashed before my mind: “Young gay writer kills veteran gay activist with cordial.” But then Frank spryly jumped up, laughed, and boomed in that unforgettable voice, “Too much peach schnapps!!!”

I’m raising a glass of schnapps to you, Frank. We will always remember: Gay is Good.

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First published at 365gay.com on June 24, 2011

This column marks the end of my weekly contribution to 365gay.com. It’s been a good run, and I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you and farewell.

I’ve been a columnist since 2002, when I started contributing to Between the Lines, Michigan’s LGBT newspaper. Those contributions evolved into a bi-weekly column, which was occasionally picked up by other regional papers, as well as the online Independent Gay Forum.

In 2007 Jennifer “Jay” Vanasco—this site’s amazing editor-in-chief—invited me to bring the Gay Moralist column to 365gay.com. Soon thereafter I went from bi-weekly to weekly, a schedule I’ve since maintained with only a few breaks.

Like any regular appointment, a weekly column has its advantages and drawbacks.

On the plus side, I’ve built a steady readership, and the vigorous schedule has kept me on my toes as a writer.

On the down side, it’s not easy to come up with a fresh, column-sized idea every week. I sometimes find myself re-plowing the same fields.

Indeed, my columns tend to fall into four basic types. Here they are, with a link to a nice example of each:

Column type #1 [http://www.365gay.com/opinion/corvino-taking-on-the-new-argument-against-gay-marriage/]: Our opponents are being stupid. But I’m a nice guy and I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. So here’s my best effort to make sense of the stupidity.

Column type #2 [http://www.365gay.com/opinion/corvino-fighting-gay-dehumanization/]: Our opponents are still being stupid. But sometimes you just can’t fix stupid, so instead, let’s just ridicule them.

Column type #3 [http://www.365gay.com/opinion/corvino-sex-and-distortion/]: Now we’re the ones being stupid, and it’s time for someone to hold up a mirror.

Column type #4 [http://igfculturewatch.com/2007/07/12/small-conversions-big-victories/]: Personal story suggesting broader lessons or themes.

Incidentally, each of these linked columns first appeared at 365gay.com. The last one disappeared from the archives when the site went to its new format, but I include it especially because it was my inaugural column for the site, and it remains one of my all-time favorites.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with re-plowing the same fields. I’d like to think that I’m a better writer than I was in 2002, and that I’ve picked up new readers along the way.

But as I’ve changed, and as the site has changed, my weekly contributions have felt more forced. It seems like a good time to step back, enjoy some quiet time, and then explore other opportunities.

In nine years as a columnist, my goal has always been to generate more light than heat on topics that usually do the reverse. I’ve tried to combine logical precision with sensitivity and humor. I’m sure I’ve often failed.

I won’t be disappearing from LGBT advocacy altogether. I’m still working on a book, Debating Same-Sex Marriage, in which I argue against Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). That book is expected to appear next year from Oxford University Press, along with a solo book (yet to be titled) in which I make the moral case for gay equality.

I will continue traversing the country to speak on these issues. My talk “What’s Morally Wrong with Homosexuality?” [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SutThIFi24w&feature=player_embedded] has mostly been replaced by a new program, “Haters, Sinners, and the Rest of Us,” where I draw on my two decades’ experience in the culture wars.

And while I recently retired my marriage debate with Glenn Stanton—again, because of fatigue from re-plowing the same fields—I expect to be doing some debates with Gallagher and others. I still have faith in what the great utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill called “the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

I may also contribute articles to other venues—probably with less frequency but in longer formats. Check my website [http://johncorvino.com/] if you’re curious about what I’m up to, or “friend” me on Facebook [http://www.facebook.com/#!/johncorvino]. (I have a Twitter account, but I never use it.)

And who knows—maybe I’ll even try my hand at a few “Ask the Expert” videos. Anyone need the advice of a moralist?

Thanks to my editor, Jay Vanasco, for her unwavering support. You’re the best.

Thanks to the rest of the staff, including the interns, who keep things running smoothly.

Thanks to the friends and colleagues who have read my drafts and offered thoughtful criticisms: you’ve saved me from many embarrassing mistakes.

Thanks to my partner, Mark—for his support, for his careful proofreading, and for too often putting up with “Not now, honey, I have to write a column.” I love you more than I’ll ever be able to put into words.

Thanks most of all to my readers, sine quibus non. I may not know you, but I’ll miss you nonetheless. Take care of yourselves.

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First published at 365gay.com on June 17, 2011

New York may be on the brink of extending marriage to same-sex couples. As of this writing, the state’s marriage-equality bill appears to be one vote shy of passage. Several state legislators are still undecided. It’s a nail-biter.

Which means that our enemies are out in full force, giving the usual non-arguments.

I say “non-argument” deliberately. A striking fact about the public debate over marriage is that it has ceased to be much of a debate at all.

Consider the California Prop. 8 trial, where our opponents only called a single—and somewhat equivocal—witness.

Or consider Minnesota’s legislative hearings on a ballot proposal to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage. In five hours of House testimony, not a single member other than the amendment’s author argued in favor of the measure. (It passed anyway, 70-62.) Even that author didn’t address the amendment’s merits: instead, he focused on the importance of letting voters decide.

Pay attention: we have reached a point where our opponents have a really hard time publicly presenting arguments against us. This is a clear sign that they are losing.

Our opponents see things differently, of course, claiming that their reluctance stems from the “unrelenting pressure”—as NY Archbishop Timothy Dolan puts it—to conform to the liberal homosexual agenda.

But the real pressure on them isn’t political. It isn’t social. It’s logical. It’s the pressure that one feels in the face of truth.

As evidence mounts that marriage equality is good for gays, for their families, and for society at large, our opponents have increasingly abandoned evidence. Instead they rest their case on bald assertion, claiming that marriage simply IS between a man and a woman, period, end of discussion.

Like a child who sticks his fingers in his ears and sings “la la la,” they offer no real engagement.

For a stunning example of this kind of non-argument, witness Archbishop Dolan’s embarrassing rant against the NY marriage-equality bill. [http://blog.archny.org/?p=1247] In it, he decries our tampering with a “definition as old as human reason,” compares marriage-equality advocates to communist dictators, and displays a willful blindness to history. (For example, he claims that marriage has always and everywhere been “one man, one woman, united in lifelong love and fidelity.” But the Archbishop’s bible—where multiple wives and concubines make frequent appearances—would beg to differ.)

Yet the core of his rant is a definitional objection, which is really a non-argument:

“[Marriage] is the union of a man and a woman in a loving, permanent, life-giving union to pro-create children. Please don’t vote to change that. If you do, you are claiming the power to change what is not into what is, simply because you say so. This is false, it is wrong, and it defies logic and common sense.”

In other words, marriage is what *I* say it is. La la la!

The definitional objection states that same-sex “marriages” can no more exist than married bachelors or square circles. They’re not just bad policy, they’re impossible by definition.

Notice, though, that legislators and ordinary citizens don’t normally worry about things that are impossible by definition. After all, they’re impossible. So what’s the problem?

Presumably, in the Archbishop’s mind, the problem is this: There is something distinctively valuable about heterosexual unions that would be threatened if legal marriage were extended beyond them. But Dolan offers absolutely no evidence for this dubious claim. Instead, he just keeps spinning circles about “this perilous presumption of the state to re-invent the very definition of an undeniable truth.”

By analogy, suppose we were debating whether a particular object should be recognized as “art.” Following Dolan, one might assert that the nature of art is an “undeniable truth,” that we must resist the “stampede” to “redefine” it, and that we must fear government attempts to “dictate” what the “very definition” of art is.

But such posturing would be mostly a distraction. When everyday people argue about whether an object is art, they’re generally not worried about what words mean. They’re worried about whether the work in question should be displayed in galleries and museums, supported by cultural grants, and so on.

In a similar way, when people argue about whether marriage should be extended to same-sex couples, they’re generally not worried about what words mean. They’re worried about whether such couples should be afforded equal recognition, rights and responsibilities.

In other words, it’s a moral and legal debate, not a semantic one.

By repeating the definitional objection without offering any argument for an exclusively heterosexual notion of marriage, Dolan refuses to engage that debate. In doing so, he unwittingly exposes his side’s moral bankruptcy. Let’s hope that New York doesn’t fall for the ruse.

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First published at 365gay.com on June 10, 2011

“Are you married?”

It seems like a simple question. But on closer glance, much depends on context.

In this case, the context was jury duty. I was Candidate #13, sitting in the box during “voir dire,” the process wherein the judge and attorneys ask questions in order to weed out potential juror bias.

“You know, you can get out of jury duty by telling them you’re gay,” a friend had told me the day before. “Just say that because you’re not allowed to marry, you have no faith in the legal system and can’t promise an impartial verdict.”

But I don’t want to be excused from jury duty. I consider it my civic duty. And it doesn’t interfere much with my job (philosophy professor), since I defer my summons until summer, when I don’t teach. Besides, as much as I resent my exclusion from marriage, that resentment scarcely affects my desire to see criminals jailed and innocent people freed.

And so there I sat, eager to serve, as the judge asked each juror a standard list of questions. “Where do you live? Do you recognize any of the people involved in this case? What do you do for a living? Are you married?”

“Oh, shit,” I thought to myself.

“Are you married?” should be a simple question, and at one level, my simple answer is No. I live in a state (Michigan) that constitutionally prohibits me from marrying my partner, and we have not married in any other state.

So, technically, no.

But legal marriage isn’t the only relevant sense of marriage. My partner, Mark, and I have been together for almost a decade. Six years ago we had a commitment ceremony, publicly promising to love, honor and cherish each other for the rest of our lives. We merged our assets and melded our lives, and as far as we and our friends and most family are concerned, we’re married, and the State of Michigan can go screw itself.

How’s that for a response that will get me out of jury duty?

Getting out of jury duty wasn’t my concern, however. “Voir dire” means “to tell the truth;” its purpose is to reveal potentially relevant biases. And the judge’s follow-up question to “Are you married?” was always “What does your spouse do?” He was particularly concerned about spouses who were somehow connected to law enforcement.

Mark is an attorney.

Granted, he’s not a litigator, and we never discuss criminal law. But that’s the sort of thing the judge wanted to reveal when he asked about spouses, and so I felt a moral obligation to mention it.

Actually, to be precise, the judge didn’t ask about “spouses.” He asked men “What does your wife do?” and women “What does your husband do?” As I fidgeted in my chair, I noticed that its placement at the platform’s edge made it impossible for me to plant my feet squarely on the floor—a fact that only compounded my discomfort.

“Are you married?”

The judge had finally reached me. “I have a domestic partner,” I responded firmly.

He asked another, unrelated question, and for a moment I thought the spousal issue had passed. Then, “Oh—and what does your partner do?”

“He’s an attorney,” I responded, making sure to articulate clearly the “he.” I kept my eyes on the judge, although I was curious about others’ reactions as I outed myself to the packed courtroom.

I was not chosen for jury duty.

The prosecuting attorney dismissed me with her first “peremptory challenge,” meaning that there was no stated reason. Maybe it was because I identified myself as gay. More likely, it was because I identified myself as a philosophy professor. As litigator friends have often told me, prosecutors never want jurors who might “overthink.”

But the experience highlighted for me once again the hetero-normativity of everyday life, as well as the unintended consequences of excluding same-sex couples from marriage.

When our opponents insist on treating our spouses as mere roommates, is this really what they want?

Do they want me to say “No” when asked by a judge if I’m married, and to leave it at that? What if Mark were a litigator? What if he worked for the prosecutor’s office? Legally, technically, he’s not “family.”

The disparity between legal reality and social reality is stark here. To take just one more example: suppose I worked for my university’s medical school. Then I would be required to disclose any pharmaceutical stock holdings by myself or my spouse. But Mark is not my spouse, legally speaking.

Some may delight in this “gay disclosure loophole.” Personally, I think it’s just a depressing reminder of society’s blindness to the reality of our lives.

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