Baldwin County Probate Judge Tim Russell, as of Thursday, has opted to no longer perform any kind of marriage at his office.
He said the decision was largely related to an increasing work load within the Probate Office, but acknowledged that he’s “morally opposed” to same-sex marriage.
Russell, who has been the county’s Probate Judge for five years, said he’s committed to conducting one more marriage—a heterosexual marriage to a former county employee—but, after that, he’s done.
When I was 17 I got my first job that didn’t involve fast food, as a technology assistant in the central office of the Baldwin County Board of Education. The job was a new one they’d created for a high school student who had shown promise in computer science. It seemed glamorous to me then, but really it was a way to find someone who was willing to string ethernet cable through schoolhouse attics in the middle of July for minimum wage. It was a legitimately great job as a kid, though, and I loved most of it. The people I worked with at the central office were pretty entertaining, like the finance director who made everyone turn off the lights one afternoon in the hopes that it would make the computers run faster.
It was eye-opening in some sad ways, though. I felt overwhelmed by what happened one day when I returned from a job in the field. The women who worked in the upstairs offices near mine had gathered around the window that faced Courthouse Square, Bay Minette’s main gathering spot. They were laughing and quietly whispering to each other, so I walked over to see what was going on. On the courthouse steps, across the street from our office, stood a man and woman who had just been married. They were an interracial couple, a white woman and a black man. And I felt my stomach drop when I realized that they were the source of the laughter and gossip in the office that day. I heard a woman I’d always seen as a kind, grandmotherly figure posit that “they must have had to drive over from Mississippi; they don’t allow that there.”
In hindsight, my naïveté as a teenager is startling. I knew racism was alive and well in my small town, but I’d foolishly believed the lie that it was some certain kind of behavior that was the target of scorn. I’d never seen it so openly directed toward people simply living their lives, having their pictures taken with their family on a happy, beautiful summer day, outside on the courthouse steps.
Today, men and women in Alabama, some who have been in dedicated relationships for decades, can marry for the first time. I’m filled with emotion for those couples—it’s a day I honestly never imagined would come when I was a teenager still living in the closet. But it’s also a terribly sad day for those couples in Baldwin county, my birthplace, because their county’s probate judge has chosen his personal bias over the orders of a federal judge, common sense, and simple human decency. No one can get married on those courthouse steps ever again, according to Judge Russell.
Marriage equality will be federal law by the end of the summer, if the U.S. Supreme Court decides their pending case the way many legal experts expect them to. But thirty years after Loving v. Virginia, as a teenager in that school board office, I learned that gaining equality in the eyes of the law wasn’t the same as gaining the respect of your neighbors. Alabama, and the rest of the south, still have miles to go before we live up to the values on which our nation was founded—and many miles to go before we live up to the Christian values so many southerners claim to hold in their heart. The south may never find a place in its heart for queer people, and there will always be those who laugh at us. But they can’t deny us our rights forever. We will always be a part of the south, and this will always be our home.
“The Attorney General does not explain how allowing or recognizing same-sex marriage between two consenting adults will prevent heterosexual parents or other biological kin from caring for their biological children … He proffers no justification for why it is that the provisions in question single out same-sex couples and prohibit them, and them alone, from marrying in order to meet that goal.”
— U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade, overturning Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Exodus International, the most well-known of the “ex-gay” advocacy organizations, announced yesterday that it’s “shutting down” and the president of the organization issued a public apology to “the people that have been hurt by Exodus International.” I’ve written about my experience in the ex-gay movement before but I’ve had a hard time formulating a response to this latest news.
The immediate and most obvious reaction is one of relief. The ex-gay message has been thoroughly discredited and has harmed thousands of LGBT and questioning men and women, many of them teenagers. So it’s good to see Exodus and its president publicly disavow it and apologize for the harm they have done by selling it.
But my next reaction was of concern. I was lucky in that it didn’t take me long to realize that reparative therapy was a sham. But what about the thousands of LGBT men and women who have invested years of their lives and hundreds or thousands of dollars on Exodus’ conferences and literature? What about the young people undergoing reparative therapy right now? My heart aches for those people, knowing the sense of betrayal they must feel today.
And my final reaction was one of suspicion. While I appreciate Alan Chambers’ apology, it doesn’t make me trust him. I think the appropriate course of action would be to apologize, shut down the organization, and then perhaps spend some time humbly reflecting on the damage to the world that I have caused and the responsibility I have to try to correct it. I don’t think I’d wait to make my announcement until my annual conference, for which I charge attendees hundreds of dollars to attend. I almost certainly would not forge ahead with the conference, continuing to assert myself as a trusted authority on the subject of what’s best for LGBT people. I definitely would not start up my new organization on the same day I shut down the old one. I think I’d probably take down the pages on my site that solicit donations.
I accept Alan Chambers’ apology as someone who was hurt by Exodus’ actions in the past. I’m glad that they’re no longer trying to sell Christianity to gay people by claiming to be able to fix them. But I’m not much more optimistic about them trying to sell Christianity to gay people by claiming to love them just the way they are.
I was a Boy Scout for a few years as a young kid. I loved it. But if I had a son today, there’s no way our family could be involved in scouting. That’s sad to me, because I think the experience is valuable — not only was it a lot of fun, but I learned life skills beyond making a fire with flint. It doesn’t seem like the people in charge of the BSA learned them though. You don’t have any honor, any integrity, any honesty if in this day and age, you can’t stand up to elements of intolerance within your organization. Quite frankly, in 2013, it doesn’t even take that much bravery for large organizations in America to take a stand for LGBT equality, making today’s non-announcement a little extra lame. Meanwhile the Girl Scouts continue to stand as models, both for girls and for other youth organizations.
A few years ago I wrote about my experience in, and rejection of, the “ex-gay movement.” I mentioned John and Anne Paulk’s book, Love Won Out, part of the materials that my youth minister gave me when I came out to him in 1999. I mentioned in that post that John Paulk was recognized while chatting in a Washington, D.C. gay bar less than a year later.
I hadn’t kept up with the Paulks much after that. I knew that they’d continued to peddle the ex-gay bullshit, though. It turns out someone was paying much closer attention, though. Last week Truth Wins Out published in great detail what the Paulks have been up to since moving to Portland, Oregon.
Instead of publicly exposing Paulk, as I had the first time in DC, I wanted to give him an opportunity to come out with dignity. It was my hope that he was now on a journey to self-acceptance and would gladly renounce his “ex-gay” past and demand that materials with his story were taken out of circulation. I called John on the telephone and he angrily yelled: “get out of my life. I never want to hear from you again.”
There’s a part of me that feels guilty for reading it; it’s exactly the kind of story that I usually feel like is no one’s business. But I don’t find it interesting because of the drama; it’s not entertainment for me. It’s a sad, cautionary tale of a man and woman who bought the lie that was sold to me, and seem unable to come to terms with reality even decades later. People should read about the Paulks so that they can stop this nonsense if it’s foisted upon a gay or questioning youth that they know. No kid should ever again be given a copy of a book like this when what they really need is support.
First president to honor the sacrifices of gay and lesbian veterans. First president to protect the employment rights of gay federal employees. First president to recognize the right of gay couples to marry. That’s why.
Sealing their wedding vows with a kiss shortly after 9 a.m., Chelsea residents Phyllis Siegal, 76, and Connie Kopelov, 84, seen above, became the first same-sex couple to be legally married by City Clerk Michael McSweeney in his Lower Manhattan office.
Siegal and Kopelov have been a couple for 23 years, but today is the first day that New York State has allowed the two women to get married.
If there’s anything abominable about marriage equality for gay people, it’s that these two women had to wait 23 years to get married. The time for debate is over. If you still can’t get behind the rights of your gay friends and family to enjoy the same rights you do, there’s simply something wrong with your heart.
(Thanks for the tip,@andrea_r!)
Today is National Coming Out Day, an event founded in 1988 to bring attention to LGBT issues and to foster a sense of community among gay people by celebrating the act of coming out. In the years since then, we’ve made incredible progress. While the pace may sometimes seem unbearably slow, the world is a much better place to be gay than it was in 1988, the year Coming Out Day was founded, and the year I realized that I was gay.
But despite the progress, growing up gay is still an incredibly difficult thing to do. The feelings of isolation and persecution attached to being a gay kid are pretty terrible, and no one delivers the abuse better than one’s peers. Even in this more progressive new century, gay kids are being bullied to the point of taking their own lives, in heartbreaking numbers. And so Dan Savage did something about it: he started the It Gets Better Project, a place for gay people to share their stories and to say what we wish we could have said to the gay kids who have ended their lives: that it does get better. Every person, gay or straight, holds the potential for a happy life.
We are the kids who have been bullied for being gay, lesbian, bi or trans. We pledge to stay open and strong. We are also the friends, family members, teachers, mentors, and allies of anyone who’s ever felt like they didn’t fit in, gay or straight. We pledge to talk to the kids in our lives to put an end to the hate, violence, and tragedy — and to offer advice on coping, strategies to make it better, and to remind kids that It Gets Better.
I’m an extremely private person, and so while I hate talking about personal life, and really hate talking on camera, I’ve added my voice to the site. My life is living proof that no matter how terrifying growing up gay can be, it does get better; that life is so much more than the adversity you might face growing up. So, here are my thoughts on the matter.
In 1997, wracked by guilt and consumed with questions I’d been asking myself since I first realized that I was gay five years earlier, I asked the youth minister at my church for help with “a little problem.” The particular evangelical brand of Catholicism that had gained popularity at the time, Life Teen, espoused the idea that gay men and lesbians could be “converted” into healthy, hearty heterosexuals with the right blend of therapy and prayer. And so I set upon a journey, with a Catholic therapist and a copy of the book Love Won Out, the autobiography of a supposed “ex-gay” man named John Paulk. For the next year, I did untold damage to my mental health by attempting, basically, to will the color of my eyes to change. I was lucky in that it didn’t take me too long to realize it wasn’t going to happen. The further I got away from home, and high school, and church, the more I realized that the normality I’d been seeking didn’t actually exist. In 2000, John Paulk was recognized while flirting in a Washington, D.C. gay bar.
This week, George Rekers, another prominent leader of the ex-gay movement, was found to have repeatedly employed the services of a rent boy. I’ll skip the details other than to commend the prostitute on his use of the euphemism “long stroke” to describe the particular kind of massage performed for Rekers.
The gay community has some issues. Gay men don’t take their health seriously enough. Homophobia is still a serious, sometimes deadly problem in parts of the world. Yet I can’t help but wonder if the gay community’s biggest issue is this group of gay men, like John Paulk and George Rekers, willing to sell out their fellow man to advance a political or financial agenda. How cold must your soul be, to know you’re gay and make your living by trying to convince other gay men that they’re sick?
George Rekers is a sad man. Sadder still are the closeted gays and misinformed straights who will lovingly reassure him through this “troubled time.” It’s time to start recognizing this for what it is — mentally ill gay men unable to cope with the reality of their sexual orientation. That the religious and political conservative communities continue to cite these men as examples of “overcoming” homosexuality is a sick fraud. The next time you hear someone mention the “Ex-Gay” movement or “reparative therapy” for homosexuals, just remember three words: the long stroke.
Update: I was in good company when I had this on my mind tonight. Just a few minutes after posting this, I watched Rachel Maddow (one of my favorite people ever) say this:
“What hasn’t been appreciated about the George Rekers rentboy case is just how miserable he’s tried to make life for other gay people in this country. And, the fact that he’s still doing it! … The reason George Rekers’ pitiful closeted hypocritical life news is actual news is because he’s quite actively engaged in trying to change this country to make it a more difficult place to be gay. Particularly a more difficult place to be a young gay person. While he’s simultaneously hiring at least one young gay person to not carry his baggage.”