Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Amendment One, Part Three

The third in a series.  This installment is also known as "it doesn't count if you move."

Remember playing Hide ‘n’ Seek when you were a kid?  The whole idea was to hide from “It” then make a run for home base when the coast was clear.  Once "home," you were safe.  Well, some folks take the same approach to marriage with reasoning that goes something like this – if I can’t get married in my home state, but can somewhere else, I’ll cross state lines to have the shindig and get the certificate, then high-tail it back home.

It’s a good strategy and it worked for years.  Across the Great Pond, Gretna Green was just a sleepy village in Scotland until England passed a law stating that those under 21 couldn’t marry without parental consent.  Scotland let lovebirds as young as 16 get hitched, so Gretna Green (which was conveniently located just over the English border) became the “go to” wedding locale for teen sweethearts.  Read the history here – it wasn’t easy, but the weddings were recognized as valid, since they were valid where they were performed.

In the United States, it’s different.  While your driver’s license is recognized as giving you the right to operate a motor vehicle when you cross state lines, your marriage may not be as portable.  We’ll use the example of first cousins getting married.  (In all states, second cousins can marry, so let’s just ride right past that.)  North Carolina allows those marriages, although NC prohibits double first cousins from marrying.  (The statutory language is a bit confusing, so just think of it this way – two sisters marry two brothers.  Those couples have children.  Those children cannot marry in NC which, genetically speaking, just may be for the best.  Then again, we also have a law on the books validating marriage between former slaves, so any number of wacky things are considered to be possible in North Carolina.)  

Anyway, back to cousin marriage.  A number of states say, “No way, no how.”  Such states include Ohio and Nevada (with Las Vegas in its borders, I’ll admit to a certain level of surprise).  A number of states say, “Don’t do it here, but if you come back here married to your cousin, well, that’s okay by us.”  Such states include West Virginia and Louisiana.  Look here for an entertaining comparison of state laws.
Interestingly, divorces are viewed entirely differently.  So – Legal Lesson Three:  If you get a legal divorce wherever, it’s going to be recognized in another state either under something called the Full Faith & Credit Clause or through a legal principle known as“comity” (which is a legal way of saying “courtesy.”  We want them to respect our public acts and records, so we respect theirs).  Interesting to note that this applies to the dissolution of a marriage, but not the establishment of a marriage, since both involve state action – let’s be clear here, you’re not married when the preacher says so; you’re married when that state-issued piece of paper is signed and filed at the Clerk of Court.  The rest is lovely, but not legally required, nor legally binding.  The paper is non-negotiable.  

Back to the topic at hand.  Full Faith & Credit (and comity, for that matter) doesn’t apply if the marriage “offends the public policies” of another state, which is why a marriage between two committed gay folks done legally in Massachusetts or wherever has no legal effect here in North Carolina under the current law.  Amendment One, with its ham-hocked language about marriage being the ONLY valid domestic union, makes it worse.  You’ve done everything right and move here to enjoy our mountains and beaches, invest millions in our hard-working manufacturing force, and pay the second-lowest business taxes in the country – well, your marriage has no legal protection here.  And with that missing sentence that won’t be on the ballot, the validity of any contracts you may have drawn up (such as a pre-nuptial agreement) are in question. 

I dislike second-class citizenship and ultimately, that’s what Amendment One is about.  I get that gay marriage makes many people uncomfortable, which is why the next post will deal with Leviticus, Romans, and - believe it or not - Lemon.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Amendment One, Part Two

In this post, I look at the title of the amendment - the "Defense of Marriage Act" - and ask just what exactly I'm supposed to be afraid of.

In Part One, I discussed the fact that the language that will appear on the ballot is not the same language that was passed by the legislature and the problems that may cause.  Click here for the link to that post and this link goes into more depth about the problems with the current language.

Here, I'm going to look at the language that will be on the ballot next May.  It's deceptively simple.  "Marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state."  With this single sentence, North Carolina seeks to not only outlaw gay marriage (which is already prohibited by law in this state), but also invalidate the concept of domestic unions and civil partnerships - domestic unions that permit unmarried couples (gay or straight) to receive the benefits of married couples without using the word "marriage."  There is evidence that there is support in North Carolina for these sorts of domestic arrangements - but it all hinges on just how the question is asked.

This is where things begin to boil down to the basic.  In my case, no one blinked when I politely requested that I be allowed to stay overnight in my husband's hospital room - I've got the ring and the last name.  For many gay couples, that's not a given, despite changes in the law.  See here for the law (which affects all hospitals receiving Medicaid and Medicare funds, so it covers pretty much everybody) and here for Wisconsin's approach.  Keep this in mind when you hear the argument, "Oh, it won't affect that.  A patient can see anyone they want to."  If you're in a committed relationship, there are certain things you are expected to do - visit your sick spouse in the hospital.  Pick your kids up from soccer practice.  File a joint tax return.  Maintain life insurance to benefit the other in case of some terrible accident.  Empty the dishwasher when it's clean.  Only the last one isn't up for debate under this bone-headed law.

Also -"Defense of Marriage Act"?  What's with the name?  I most certainly don't need the National Guard called out to defend my marriage.  That's the job of me and my husband - to protect this marriage and defend it from all enemies, foreign and domestic.  No one else's marriage - be it Paul Newman and Joane Woodward's 50 year marriage or Kim Kardashian's 72-day marriage (my, she hasn't finished writing the thank-you notes yet!) - attacks my own.

In North Carolina, we're very pro-marriage.  So much so, that we'll let a 14-year-old walk down the aisle, provided she's pregnant or has already had a child and is marrying the child's father.  (A 14-year-old boy can also take advantage of this provision to marry his pregnant girlfriend, provided the pregnant girlfriend is at least 14.)  Seriously.  Click here - and remember that not too long ago, the age for a pregnant girl to marry the "putative father" (to get all legal-like on you) was TWELVE.  I'll let that serve as Legal Lesson Two - marriage is such a bedrock institution of our society that children who can't test for a driver's license can enter into it, yet it's too fragile to permit a committed gay couple to get within two furlongs of it.

The other argument seems to be, "Well, we're the only state in the Southeast that hasn't amended the constitution in this way."  To me, this is the "if everybody jumped off a bridge" argument.  Not to mention, following South Carolina's lead on social issues turned out so very well for us back around 1860, didn't it?

Next Post:  Why saying "but it was legal where we got married!" probably won't cut it when you move.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Amendment One, Part One

Please note that this is in no way to be confused with the FIRST AMENDMENT, of which I am a strong supporter.  Nope, Amendment One is a measure due to be voted on in May in my home state of North Carolina.  It was passed during this last legislative session and is one of the most ham-handed, badly worded, and downright wrong pieces of legislation I've seen.  And I've written legislation before,* so I know a little something about this.  Here's the text of the amendment as it will appear on the May ballot.

"Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State."

Sigh.  It's bad when lawyers write legislation, but it's so very much worse when others do.  I'm going to look at this very closely over the next few posts, as I think it's terrible for the state on a number of levels.

First, some background.  The amendment is the brainchild of one particular state senator, James Forrester, who had (until his death on Halloween; write your own snarky comment about the timing) a remarkable gift for saying truly bone-headed things.  There are also some allegations that he padded his resume, but as in the South we don't speak ill of the dead (mostly), that controversy, much like the senator, has been laid to rest.

The amendment, however, has not.  Mind you, North Carolina already has a law on the books prohibiting the marriage of anyone other than one man/one woman, so a constitutional amendment seems to be a bit of overkill.  That's my first issue with it; but don't worry - it's not the only one.

Originally, the amendment contained a second sentence - one that will NOT appear on the ballot due to somebody's error.**  Only the sentence I included at the top of the post will be voted on.  The other, which read "This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts," is that language that was intended to guarantee that private business could extend benefits to same-sex couples (or, for that matter, unmarried hetero couples).  Without that language, those protections become much murkier.  This single sentence amendment also puts domestic violence protections, child custody agreements, and a host of other legal matters into muddy water for both same-sex and unmarried couples.  Don't be fooled by anyone who says, "Well, that's not what it's about and it won't come up."  Yes, it will and there's no clear path of which way a court will interpret the language.  Let's go to Legal Lesson One.

Legal Lesson One:  When it comes to interpreting language in contracts and legislation, courts look to something called the "Four Corners Rule."  No, this has nothing to do with the basketball offense made famous by Dean Smith.  You want a court to rule on a provision in a written document - the court is going to look at the language IN THE DOCUMENT, not the stuff that you tell the court should have been there, but gee, somehow got left out.  If it's not in the "four corners" of the document, it doesn't exist and won't be brought into existence just because someone really, really wishes it was there.

So before you ask the fine folks of North Carolina to vote on an amendment, let's make sure it's the one you really mean us to vote on.  There are no "backsies" in the law.

Next Post:  There ought to be a law - Oh, wait, there is one!  (or "Why my marriage is supposed to be threatened more by a committed gay couple than by the fact that 14-year-olds can marry in North Carolina")

*'Struth.  Back in my old life working in the State and Local Tax division of a major accounting firm, I drafted legislation to be considered by another Southeastern state that was intended to grant incentives to film and TV productions doing business in the state.  It's an interesting life I've led.

**For more on the winding path of the amendment, please access this link.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Come Ye Thankful People Come

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us.  A holiday I greatly enjoy, although I'm thinking that I ought to give Evacuation Day a try.  Sounds like quite a fun time (pole climbing?  Really?) and I hate that it has been pushed off the national stage in place of Black Friday melees as we are encouraged to go into debt to save money on things we don't really need, but the retailers are trying mightily to convince us that out lives will be but hollow shells without having.

Then again, melees are getting to be quite common with us.  Let's see . . .

In Berkeley, where you'd think they have some experience with student protesters, an English professor was grabbed by her hair and hurled to the ground.  Look at the clip - she's the first one who gets so hurled (but not the last) - and tell me what she's doing that warrants such treatment.  Her specialty is British Romanticism - obviously a clear and present danger to the cops decked out in full riot gear.  At the same protest, English professor Geoffrey O'Brien was beaten while on the ground and suffered broken ribs.  Robert Hass, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet who once held the rank of United States Poet Laureate, was repeatedly jabbed with a police baton.  He's 70 years old.  Guess the cops were fearful of blank verse.  Don't take my word for it - check out the link and watch the video.  Cameras are everywhere these days.

In solidarity with their Berkeley brethren, students at UC-Davis sat down with linked arms on the quadrangle, refusing to move.  That's okay, said the cops, we know how to deal with such uppity, meddling kids!  Open wide!  The chancellor, Linda Katehi, had called in the UC-Davis police to clear the quad and had since minimized the actions of the police.  (That's her, at the top of the post.)  Again, cameras are everywhere.  In a reaction that I find nearly poetic, her students watched her leave the administration building after an hours-long impasse during which she refused to address the students.

That's all.  Just watched.  And it's not with the cries of rabid wolves, or even the baleful eyes of the defeated upon seeing their conquerors.  No, this is much, much worse - it's the cold contempt of those who find the coward in their midst not even worth the trouble it takes to call the coward names.

Oddly enough, I find this heartening.  Look, even if you think the student protesters and the Occupy Wall Street ilk are malcontents, the undeniable truth is this - they have the same Constitutional rights as you do.  And to borrow from George Orwell, "When I see a policeman with a club beating a man on the ground, I don't have to ask whose side I'm on."

Our country is in trouble.  The super-committee is about to admit they can't agree on how to cut the deficit, so they're just going to go home.  The trigger that was to punish such milquetoast behavior may be "untriggered," in which case why are we even bothering to pretend that our representatives are grown-ups, as they all seem to merrily dance as the ground crumbles.  Newt Gingrich (very close to "Grinch," I'd like to point out) thinks that we need to put 10-year-olds to work with caustic chemicals to teach them the value of a dollar (wouldn't it be better to find opportunities for their PARENTS to find work?  Just askin') - an idea so loony, so out-and-out crazypants that I went to FoxNews for the link.

Maybe we should all line the sidewalks, watch these architects of disaster leave their workplace and not talk to them.  I'm not sure what is left to say.

And yet I'm grateful.  I'm grateful for a country in which excessive force used on students takes the form of pepper spray, not bullets.  I'm grateful for youthful enthusiasm and idealism that says that dammit, this time, things CAN change.  I'm grateful for the presence of cameras to document what happens so the spin stops.  And I'm grateful for students who understand the power of shame.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Keeping Your Eye on the Balls

Sports do a lot of good.  I really believe that, done properly, sports can teach valuable skills such as cooperation and team-building.  Heck, I teared up upon viewing The Blind Side.  I'm not heartless.  However, done improperly, sports can also teach that bullying the weak and uncoordinated is good, that physical prowess makes you better and deserving of special treatment, and that the ability to hit, kick, and/or catch a ball somehow is a direct measure of your worth.  Mind you, I am no advocate of the "everyone gets a trophy!" mindset.  Not everyone has athletic ability, just as not everyone has artistic or intellectual ability.

I think it's always a good idea to follow the money and there's just too much money in sports.  We no longer build cathedrals to the Divine, but we pass bond referendums to finance sports palaces for multimillionaires.  We expect our children to learn in trailers propped up on cinderblock foundations, but Booster Clubs find the cashy money for a new field house.  Why?  Because there's money in sports.  TV revenues are huge and everybody wants a piece of the pie.  Student athletes get breaks that ordinary ramen-noodle eating students don't.  (Sorry, but in my world, if you live out-of-state, that scholarship should be valued at the out-of-state price and if that means the school gets fewer of them, oh, well.  Blame geography.  Or better yet, teach geography!  [Side note - highest paid geography major?  Michael Jordan.  Seriously]).  At the same time, those student-athletes put their still-developing bodies through the wringer for a school that's making a fortune off of their efforts, yet they receive no compensation if their ACL blows out, thus ending their careers.  And college is just practice for the meat grinder that is professional sports.

It becomes easy to ignore the wrong.  The player who gropes girls.  The student tutor who has too much of a hand in the term paper.  The wealthy booster who gives a car to a prospective star player as an enticement to attend a particular school.  And then there's Penn State, which goes so far beyond "scandal" that a new word needs to be coined.  (And The Citadel is expressing "regret" for its lack of action.  Same story, different day.)

Sports aren't bad.  Slavish devotion to them is.  John Scalzi explains this better than I could, so I'll re-post him here.  The language he uses is a little harsh, but  (in my opinion) completely justified in this case.  As an occasional reader of H.P. Lovecraft, I was delighted to receive a sweatshirt for Miskatonic University as a gift.  But I never, never want to be an alumna of Omelas University (look at Scalzi's post - it'll make sense then).

Paterno was a great coach.

And that excuses absolutely nothing.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Life has been a bit challenging lately.  I always hesitate to talk about this sort of thing, because I know full well that my "challenges" often aren't a blip on the radar to other folks and no one likes a whiner.  But I also believe that there's a great difference between whining (which involves demanding that the Universe change its approach just because I'm in the flight path) and remarking at how troubles seem to come in battalions some days.

I wrote here a few weeks ago about the loss of my friend, an amazing, talented, generous woman who taught me some very valuable lessons about teaching, work, and life.  At work, we've just finished our review by the regional accreditation agency and, while we came through it unscathed, there was a certain amount of stress, mental bruising, and the occasional hive outbreak from that experience as we put our best face forward.  (I doubt I was the only one who kept thinking of Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island exhorting his staff "Smiles, everyone, smiles!")  Then, last weekend, on a night that was certainly dark and rainy, if not actually stormy, my faithful car simply dropped in the harness.  It's pre-registration for the spring semester at my college and that never fails to bring out the jumpy ones.


You know, problems tend to be as large as we let them grow.  I had the privilege of knowing my friend for nearly a decade.  Students often simply need someone to shut up and listen.  FryDaddy's sister and brother-in-law loaned me their still-smelling-like-new car for a couple of days so I could get to work without having to hitch rides.  FryDaddy drove all over western North Carolina to ferry me up to a doctor's appointment, where my post-surgical sinuses got a clean bill of health and my mother and I had some time to spend together.  FryDaddy and I headed up to Asheville (look closely and you'll see "evil" smack in the middle of that town's name.  Weird.) for me to collect my last few continuing legal education credit hours, a very non-painful process that involved staying in a nice resort hotel surrounded by fall-colored mountains.  The conference got me fired up about a legal organization I volunteer with and we had a few hours in the sparkling November sunshine to stroll around downtown Asheville and sample handmade chocolates (dark covered crystallized ginger is fabulous!  FryDaddy unwisely left the rest of the truffles here with me.  Perhaps I shall blame the kitten), look at exotic spice blends, and browse that rarest of critters, the successful independent bookshop.  Then, upon our return home, we found our car troubles were, if not solved, at least the first cousin to solved through a long-term loan of a "so tough you can't kill it with an axe" Jetta.  It has a few scars, but who among us doesn't?  Plus the unexpected (and undeserved, to speak truthfully) generosity of two friends has eased a few burdens.

I'm not kidding or exaggerating - sometimes we think the storm is there to punish us when it's really loosening the fruit from the tall branches so we can reach it on the ground.

Look around.  There's a lot to be grateful for, both in what you have and in what you don't.

I've gotta try to remember that more.