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Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Busy Snowbird: Florida Smirk #1

On Tuesday last Columbus, Ohio, my hometown, had a high of 16º whereas---get ready for it---the Fort Lauderdale area, where I’m snowbirding for the first three months of 2013, had a high of 76º.  I’ve been sending these “FS” (Florida Smirk) notices regularly to my friends in the Buckeye State, knowing it will make me ever so popular back home.  Today the temperature was 77---and . . . ah, what was it where you are?
This is my first adventure ever snowbirding, and it’s been wonderful so far.  Here is a précis:

1.  The Trip Down.  I watched the weather carefully before I left, wanting most of all to have a good first day (since the other two days of travel would be further south and the weather less of a factor).  As it happened all three days were perfect, so I lucked out, spending the first night in Knoxville TN, the second in Savannah GA, and arrived in the late afternoon on Tuesday, January 1 (the day my lease began).  I’m renting an apartment that’s half of a duplex, and it’s quite spacious and beautifully furnished by the gay couple who are my landlords.  I have no taste at all (and one of these days this is going to lead to the revocation of my "queer card"), but my landlords have splendid taste, and visitors who know me are dutifully impressed (“You didn’t decorate this yourself, did you?”---an observation, and not really a question).

2.  The Cats.  I’m told that cats focus mostly on their environment and are uncomfortable when taken out of it.  For two and a half years my cats, Barney and Mama (about which I’ve written a good deal, see “Related Posts” below) have lived happily enough in Columbus, Ohio, in a home where there are corners and details they know more about than I do (what’s under the shelves in the garage, for example).  For reasons I’ve explained before (see “Snowbirding, My iPhone 5, and the Coming Crazy Cat Trip”) I decided to drive the cats down to Florida, but rather than have them confined for the three-day trip in cat carriers, I had specially built for them the “cat condo,” which my handyman friend Allan Holmes constructed after much effort.  It consists (see photo) of two independent car carriers which can be connected first to each other and then to an area twice as large in which there is a disposable litter box, plus food and water.  Allan contrived clever sliding doors to separate the cats or allow them to move freely back and forth throughout the cat condo, which took up most of the back of my Prius (with the back seats folded down).  It worked fine except for a problem caused by the condo shifting in the car, which allowed the cats to escape into the car, but only after I was safely parked outside the Knoxville TN Holiday Inn at the end of the first day’s journey.  At least they weren’t loose in the parking lot, so I grabbed Mama first, walked her into the hotel room, put her down, and then went back for Barney.  I solved the condo-shifting problem the next day so there were no further mishaps.
The cats explored the hotel room with interest (it was a “pet friendly” Holiday Inn both nights---which costs $50 extra), figured out the disposable litter box (whew!), and slept with me in bed much as usual.  But the second night in Savannah GA, Mama climbed on my chest and frankly quizzed me: “Is this it?  From now on we’re just going to be stuck in that tiny cat jail all day and then live in these similar little rooms each night?”  I assured her that there was a permanent home coming the next day, and she suspiciously granted me the time in which to prove it.

Our rented home in Wilton Manors FL (a suburb of Fort Lauderdale) is quite wonderful.  The cats love the huge screened-in sun porch (large enough to comfortably take a ping-pong table), and I thought they were pleased to be here until the second night when Mama staged a protest.  At 3 a.m. she began pounding the front door venetian blinds and howling, “Take me back to that place with the garage!!!  I calmed her down, assured her she was a much loved cat, etc., but she tearfully asked me if we were ever going “home.”  I lied to her and told her this was home from now on.  Why did I lie?  Because if I’d told her the truth---that in three months we’d reverse the process and go back to the place with the garage---I’d have had venetian blinds protests every night until the end of March.  Let the return be a surprise.
In the meantime, Barney Cat (small of brain though large of size) was content enough with Florida, and the three of us have settled into a comfy existence.  Actually, that porch was the major selling point for the cats.  They’d learned the word “porch” (including Barney, for whom new words are a rarity) within 15 minutes of our arrival.
Barney and Mama on the Porch

Me, Judy and David
3.  Too Busy.  I thought I’d just sort of settle back and do nothing in Florida (well, I brought some legal work with me, but never mind that), and I was wrong.  First thing was the difficulty of getting settled, which is quite a task, and then meeting up with my friends down here, particularly Wayne Pawlowski and Ted Heath, a married couple I’ve known for decades (I went to college with Wayne at the University of Maryland---he was 18 and I was 21!).  They had me over for supper by the pool the evening I arrived, martinis at the ready.  My cousin Judy Calley, who lives in Florida (see “Long Lost Cousin at Flamingo Crossing”), came down to play bridge with me (and we came in second!), just as my first partner, David Merry (see “Milking Cows”), arrived for a three day stay with me.  Wayne took the photo (and in the mirror you can see his knees and Ted sitting watching him take the picture).  I told Judy that undoubtedly it was a lifelong dream of hers to be surrounded by gay men, and she confessed this was true.

It turns out that if you’re living in Florida in the winter, people will come to visit you.  A friend from Palm Springs flew in for two days, a gay couple from Columbus is visiting Fort Lauderdale for a week and we’re going out for supper on this coming Sunday, and next Monday I will have the number one fan of my novel, “Imaginary Friend,” Barbara Williams, President of the Great Lake Atheists as a guest for three days while we explore the possibility of setting up book readings of my novel here in South Florida.  More friends are filling up the calendar.

The local gay bridge club is outrageously called “Quick Tricks,” and I’ve been regularly playing in their games.  I joined the Island City Fitness Club, which has, according to the handsome young man who signed me up for a three month membership, a clientele that’s 98% gay.  It’s a real pleasure to workout there.  A real pleasure.

John and Mama
 My next door neighbor is a gay man name John Rossetti, and he’s a joy to have as a friend.  He is originally from Columbus (quite the coincidence that), and he’s possibly the nicest person on the planet.  He let me tap into his wi-fi without charge, and he’s always bringing in my trash bins, and doing chores unasked for, just out of kindness.  He loves animals, and we’ve been going to movies and having the occasional meal together.  With Wayne and Ted I’ve been to the theater, I went to a cabaret with friends from Pennsylvania who own a home here, and I’ve even had a minor romantic encounter with a man I met the first week I was in Florida.

What can I say?  I’m living the good life in Wilton Manors FL.  Call that Florida Smirk #2, and then come down and see for yourself.  Mama, Barney, and I will welcome you to the Sunshine State as if we were the Ohio branch of the Chamber of Commerce.
Snowbirds in Florida [Click to enlarge]
Related Posts:
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
“Milking Cows,” June 8, 2010
"Teaching English to Cats," August 6, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"Two Cat Stories: Mama and Barney in the Wild," July 9, 2011
 “Mama Cat Saves My Life,” October 23, 2011
"Stepping on Cats," February 8, 2012
“Long Lost Cousin at Flamingo Crossing,” March 31, 2012
“Doug Update: Health, Acting, Book Readings, and Snowbirding,” September 9, 2012
“Snowbirding, My iPhone 5, and the Coming Crazy Cat Trip,” December 5, 2012
“Barney Cat and the Big Mammal Nightmare," January 7, 2013

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Gay Marriage, DOMA, Proposition 8 and the Mysterious Supreme Court

On this blog I’ve sometimes speculated about what the United States Supreme Court will do with the growing issue of gay marriage (see “Jumping the Broom: How "Married" are Married Gay Couples?” in Related Posts below, for example), but that ticking bomb is about to explode.  Before the end of June, 2013, the Court will decide two major cases involving the issue.  What is amazing concerns which cases the justices decided to hear. 

The Court held a hearing to determine whether to grant “cert” (shorthand for “certiorari,” a Latin word meaning “send up the record,” i.e., “grant the appeal”) on five cases that were presented to it by the lower federal courts.  Four of these cases challenged the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal statute forbidding the federal government to recognize any marriage not between a man and a woman, and the fifth was the ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a federal trial court’s ruling that Proposition 8, which amended that state’s constitution to stop gay marriages after the California Supreme Court had allowed them, was unconstitutional so that gays could continue to marry in California.

The Court decided to hear one of the four DOMA cases and, to my utter amazement, also took up the Proposition 8 case.  Let me discuss each in turn.

The Defense of Marriage Act  

The DOMA challenges are not surprising and the Court’s result is predictable.  Part of DOMA was clearly unconstitutional when Congress enacted it and forced President Clinton to sign it in 1996.  The statute has two main components.  The first states that the federal government is forbidden from recognizing the validity of any marriage not between one man and one woman.  Thus even if a gay couple were legally married in a state that allows gay marriages, say Massachusetts, they could get no federal benefits from that marriage: not health insurance should one partner work for the federal government, nor Social Security for the partner, no immigration protection for the partner, nor tax benefits of any kind.  The second part of DOMA provided that states not wishing to recognize a gay marriage validly entered into in another state need not do so.  Thus Ohio, where I live and where our state constitution (like many others) forbids gays the right of marriage, need not extend marriage rights to a gay couple married in Massachusetts.

The purely federal part of DOMA was always unconstitutional, and the only reason that it's taken this long to make that clear was that court challenges had to work their way to the Supreme Court, which takes awhile.  But our Constitution’s 14th Amendment requires “equal protection of the law,” and we would have chaos if people a state deemed married were “unmarried” for federal purposes.  What’s equal about that?  States have always had the primary responsibility for marriage laws, the U.S. Constitution says nothing at all about marriage, and the 10th amendment to that Constitution simply states in its entirety “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  Every federal court seriously considering the constitutional challenge to the part of DOMA that says the federal government can deny federal recognition of gay marriages has ruled the statute unconstitutional, including all four of the DOMA cases the Court considered in its recent certiorari hearing.

The case that the Court took for decision has arguably the best facts for the gay plaintiff, which itself indicates how the Court will come out.  In this case, Windsor v. United States, Edie Windsor and her longtime partner Thea Spyer were residents of New York who first met in 1963.  They married in Canada and not long thereafter Spyer died.  At the time of her death New York did not permit gay marriage (as it now does).  If Windsor and Spyer were a heterosexual couple then the surviving spouse would not have to pay the federal inheritance tax, but since they were homosexual and DOMA therefore withheld any protection of their marriage, Windsor was stuck with a $363,053 federal inheritance tax bill.  She paid it and then filed this suit for reimbursement, arguing that DOMA is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.  The federal trial court agreed, and on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (which hears cases from the northeast) that ruling was affirmed [699 F.3d 169 (2d Cir. 2012)].  The Second Circuit ruled there were no factual or policy justifications for DOMA, and struck down the portion of it that denied federal benefits to legally married gay couples.  There was a dissenting opinion arguing, in essence, that a history of long-entrenched homophobia is itself a justification for DOMA---well, Judge Straub doesn’t quite put it that bluntly.  What he actually said at the beginning of his dissent was:

            The majority holds DOMA unconstitutional, a federal law which formalizes the understanding of marriage in the federal context extant in the Congress, the Presidency, and the Judiciary at the time of DOMA's enactment and, I dare say, throughout our nation's history. If this understanding is to be changed, I believe it is for the American people to do so.

Windsor v. United States is beautifully argued in the majority opinion, and I, along with almost all legal commentators, predict that the Court will affirm the decision of the Second Circuit, so Edie Windsor will get her tax payment back, and from now on all the thousands of federal benefits that flow to married couples will be available to all married couples.  It will be a big day in the history of gay rights.

Proposition 8

In May of 2008 the California Supreme Court handed down a decision declaring that the California Constitution required that gays be allowed a right to marry in the state.  Gays promptly trooped to the altar in large numbers, many of them from out of state.  But the public outcry, led by the Catholic and Mormon Churches, put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that November called “Proposition 8,” which would change the California Constitution to forbid recognition of gay marriages.  Proposition 8 passed, and although the California Supreme Court then held that gay marriages entered into prior to Proposition 8 remained valid, further gay marriages were forbidden in the state. 

A lawsuit called Perry v. Schwarzenegger was promptly filed in federal court using the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution’s Equal Protection clause as grounds for holding Proposition 8 unconstitutional.  The State of California, the defendant, agreed with the gay plaintiffs and declined to defend the lawsuit, but the proponents of Proposition 8 hired lawyers for the defense and the case proceeded to trial.  All of the evidence at trial showed that there were no factual or policy justifications for condemning gay marriage, and that the sole animus of Proposition 8 was homophobia writ large.  It was the only justification the defense could offer: we hate homosexuals and don’t want them to have any rights.  Federal Judge Vaughn Walker eventually decided in favor of the plaintiffs and ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional.

The case, now renamed Perry v. Brown, was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which affirmed Judge Walker’s decision but narrowed the constitutional grounds for doing so.  Instead of holding that the 14th Amendment should be read to give equal protection to marriage rights for gays across the country, the Ninth Circuit said that was too broad.  Instead the court compared the situation to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Romer v. Evans (1996), in which the Court struck down an amendment to the Colorado Constitution that would have invalidated existing Colorado laws protecting gays from discrimination.  The Court in Romer stated that if a state was going to take away existing civil rights it had to have a rational reason for doing so, and, again, mere homophobia is not a rational reason.  Analogizing to Romer the Ninth Circuit said that Proposition 8 took away the existing right of gays to marry without a valid justification, and thus violated the Equal Protection Clause.  The Ninth Circuit’s opinion was 2-1, and an appeal was heard to the entire Ninth Circuit, asking all the Circuit judges to rehear the case, which they refused to do.  

The case, now called Hollingsworth v. Perry, was appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear it, with a decision expected by the end of June (when the Court’s term ends).

Here’s why it amazes me that the Court agreed to hear Hollingsworth v. Perry: unlike the DOMA cases where clarity in the law is important, if the Court simply refused to hear the appeal nothing much would change in the country except that gay marriages in California would be legal (and nothing could ever be done to make them illegal).  Given that gay marriages are spreading across the country in any event, that hardly seems worth the Court’s time.  Did the Court take the case to reverse the Ninth Circuit (a liberal circuit, often reversed by a generally conservative Court)?  That can’t be right because of the current makeup of the Court: four liberals, four conservative, and (as I’ve said before on this blog) the most powerful judge in the world, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who gets the deciding vote on all these delicate questions.  But Kennedy has been splendid when it comes to gay matters.  He wrote the opinion in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down all the sodomy statutes in the United States as unconstitutional, and, more importantly, he is also the author of Romer v. Evans.  Thus he is unlikely to suddenly rule that the narrow ruling of the Ninth Circuit, which tracks Romer closely, is wrong, and that homophobia is a sufficient ground to deny gays a marriage right they were enjoying when Proposition 8 passed.  This means there are at least five votes to affirm the Ninth Circuit (and perhaps more---some of those conservative Justices undoubtedly have gay family members, friends, clerks, etc., and the handwriting is on the wall that gay marriage is going to be universal in the very near future).

Could the Court have agreed to hear Perry because it wants to take a giant step: say that Judge Walker’s trial court decision is right: the 14th Amendment gives everybody in the country the right to get married?  If so, WOW!  That would mean that gays could get married in Alabama the day after the decision was handed down.  I’d like that, of course, but it’s too much to expect.  The Court will say that some day, but not in 2013.

What’s Left of DOMA and Bans on Gay Marriage?

Even if, as I predicted above, the Court rules DOMA unconstitutional as to its federal non-recognition of gay marriage, that doesn’t strike down the portion of DOMA that gives states the right to refuse recognition of gay marriages legally entered into outside that state.  What about that part of DOMA?  It’s got to go too, of course, because, as I said above, we’ll have chaos if people are married only in some parts of the country, but not others.  We are a very mobile society in the United States, and already we have messy issues like can an Ohio court (where gay marriage is not valid) grant a divorce to a gay couple married in a state where their marriage is valid (the answer, according to Ohio courts is, apparently, yes).  The United States Constitution requires that “full faith and credit” must be given by one state to the public acts of another, but whether that will apply to gay marriage is complicated by the existence of a very old United States Supreme Court decision holding that a Mormon polygamist marriage need not be recognized by a state not allowing marriage to more than one person.  Eventually (and soon) the United States Supreme Court will have to answer that question.  But these legal tangles have a predictable ending in the long run: gays will be able to get married in all U.S. jurisdictions eventually  But important steps in that direction will likely occur before the end of June---just as gay pride parades gather all over the country---and those in favor of gay marriage have every reason to be hopeful.

Related Posts:
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
“Jumping the Broom: How "Married" are Married Gay Couples?” July 17, 2011
Straight People: Thanks From the LGBT Community,” November 20, 2012
"Gay Marriage, the Supreme Court, and the Future," June 26, 2013
“Gays Will Be Able To Marry in All States By July of 2016 (and Maybe 2015): A Prediction,” February 14, 2014
"Gay Marriage, The 6th Circuit, Jeffrey Sutton, and the Supreme Court," November 13, 2014
"Alan Turing: Torturing a Gay Genius to Death," November 26, 2014
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013
“Oral Arguments on Gay Marriage in the Supreme Court: What Was and What Wasn’t Said,” April 28, 2015; 
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

Monday, January 7, 2013

Barney Cat and the Big Mammal Nightmare

As I’ve explained in prior posts my cat Barney was abused by his prior owners starting from his kittenhood, and this abuse is evident today (he’s five years old, almost six) in many ways.  He won’t let a hand come towards his head from the front because he was apparently frequently slapped or beaten from this direction.  Most cats love to rub up against humans, but Barney, while very affectionate, never does this because he was likely kicked if he tried it.  In bed at night my other cat, Mama, is a heat whore like most cats, and picks the warmest part of my body to cuddle up against, but Barney sleeps in a corner of the bed, never touching me, afraid that the big mammal will punish him if he slips up and does so.  
I’m a teacher and I love Barney so I’ve worked patiently in the nearly three years we’ve been together to convince him that no matter what the other big mammals did to him in the past, I won’t treat him badly.  Now, if I go slowly, he will allow my hand to pet him from the front, and every once in awhile he’ll tentatively allow his head to brush lightly against my hand before scurrying away from the still-anticipated blow. 

In the bedroom he’s getting braver (especially on cold nights) about sleeping next to me and even touching, and recently he’s become curious what it would be like to go under the covers and really get warm.  I raise them up for him, he peers intently down into the dark recesses of the lower part of the bed, and sometimes he’ll cautiously venture to explore down there before panicking and scurrying back to open air. 

On Christmas Eve we had a breakthrough, Barney and I.  He went down under the covers, but when he became worried he’d be punished and bolted for the opening, I grabbed him and held him tight, with just his head showing, nestled next to my head, and the rest of his body held comfortably next to mine.  He struggled for just a few seconds and then succumbed to the pleasure of the touch and the realization that I’ve never hurt him intentionally. 

Also, he’s learned to love me.  I truly don’t think he’d ever before been loved by anyone, and though he’s an affectionate cat, even with total strangers, he had never loved anyone.  But last year I noticed him sitting near me, just gazing at me fondly, and purring.  It was a big moment. 

Once Barney had accepted that he was being held next to me under the warm covers and that I was petting him, he relaxed into the experience with gusto.  He began to purr loudly (right in my ear), and then as sleep enfolded him the purring would get softer and softer.  But right before he completely dozed off he would suddenly have a panic attack: “I’M TOUCHING THE BIG MAMMAL AND HE’LL PUNISH ME FOR DOING THAT!!!”and try to wriggle free from my grasp.  I was having none of it, holding Barney tight until the terror subsided, the loud purring resumed, then the soft purring, and finally the inevitable next panic attack. 

This cycle, of course, made sleeping damn near impossible (for either of us), but somehow we finally did conk out, head to head and happy. 

I had a vivid dream, much more vivid and lifelike than usual.  In this dream I was sitting up, fully dressed, leaning against the backboard of a bed in a hotel room.  The door to the room was on my right, and a large window to my left.  On the floor next to the window someone had torn up a magazine into many pieces and then arranged the pieces into some sort of pattern on the floor between the window and the bed.  As I looked down at this pattern, trying to see what it meant, I was startled to see there was a man sitting on the floor half concealed by the window’s curtain, his arms folded around his knees, staring intently at me.  He appeared to be in his 30s, scruffy---like a vagrant.

I asked him who he was, but instead of replying he rose slowly to his feet and showed me a small ax he was holding in his right hand.  Suddenly he turned and threw the ax into the wall to my right, near the farthest corner of the room.  The ax stuck there but he moved quickly to retrieve it.  While I protested and made conciliatory noises (“What’s wrong with you?  How can I help you?”) he held the ax out toward me so I could examine it and then casually tossed it---spinning around and around---onto the floor next to the door.  He gave me a look that seemed to say “I’ll give you a chance: see if you can get to the ax before I do.” 

I decided that the time for conciliation was over and that yelling for help was the wisest course.  I’m too old to be fighting over an ax with a crazy man half my age.  But when I yelled “Help!” it came out as a pitiful squeak, like some teenage girl in a bad horror movie.  That annoyed me.  One thing I do have is a big booming voice that can silence a large noisy room (very useful for a teacher), so I decided to bring out that voice.  As loud as I could (which is very loud indeed) I yelled


 The next thing I saw was Barney flying from the bed, spread-eagle, screeching in terror. 

I’d yelled loudly enough that I’m amazed neighbors weren’t pounding on my door shortly thereafter, and I’d done it right in poor Barney’s ear.
I promptly hunted him down, picked him up and petted him good while reassuring him that it was an ax murderer that I was battling and not my beloved Barney.
He seems to have forgiven me because since our move to Florida last week (as our snowbirding adventure begins), Barney’s taken to sleeping under the covers with me, happy as cats get.
Related Posts:
“Dog Meat,” December 27, 2009
"Parakeets and Me," February 5, 2010
“Bears,” February 23, 2010
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
"Milking Cows," June 8, 2010
"Teaching English to Cats," August 6, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"The Dogs In My Life," April 18, 2011
"My Parents and Dummy," May 13, 2011
"Two Cat Stories: Mama and Barney in the Wild," July 9, 2011

“Mama Cat Saves My Life,” October 23, 2011
"Stepping on Cats," February 8, 2012
“Snowbirding, My iPhone 5, and the Coming Crazy Cat Trip,” December 5, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013