Why You Should Give a Damn About Gay Marriage
(Product Details: Paperback, 202 pages, Alyson Publications, April 2004)
From the cover of Newsweek, to the Rose Garden at the White House, the long simmering issue of gay marriage has erupted into full boil. While countries such as Canada and Belgium have recently legalized gay marriage, the US seems steadfastly locked in the past. Change, Davina Kotulski argues, will only come through organized activism, but the importance of legalized gay marriage remains unclear to many in the GLBT community. There are no less than 1049 federal rights granted to heterosexuals that remain out of reach to gays and lesbians as long as they don’t have the right to marry. This quick and simple read outlines the rights, benefits and protections afforded through marriage, exploring the negative effects of not having these rights through case examples of real couples who have experienced hardships and composite vignettes illustrating how couples can be hurt by lacking access to these protections. Through learning of the great disparity between how same-sex couples are treated compared to heterosexual couples, and of the membership privileges society affords married couples readers of this book will begin to see new possibilities in their lives, and be inspired to join the growing freedom to marry movement.
Why You Should Give a Damn About Gay Marriage by Davina Kotulski, Ph.D
Book review by Joe Kort, MSW
Q: What do a serial rapist, a murderer, a child pornographer, a lifer, and an armed robber share in common?
A: As long as they’re heterosexual, they can all get married in prison and never even have to live with their spouses. But you can’t!
This is just one of the many questions openly lesbian Davina Kotulski, Ph.D., asks in her first book, Why You Should Give A Damn About Gay Marriage (Alyson Books, March 2004). With the many current judgments, opinions and feelings swirling around the topic of gay marriage, the facts get lost. Her witty, engaging, informative book is easy to read and up to date.
When discussing this issue, it’s important to have these factual numbers on hand. Kotulski’s book helps us stay focused on such as there are “more than 1,049 federal rights that accompany civil marriage, and some additional 300 per state.” Perhaps her most profound point regarding these numbers pertains to the upcoming presidential election. Candidates claim, “I support the individual state’s right to choose” regarding rights and marriage for same-sex couples. Of course they do, Kotulski says, since “state rights consist of 25% of the rights of heterosexual married couples”. “That way”, Kotulski argues, they don’t have to do anything to get you the other 75% your rights” as a gay and lesbian couple. In other words, this takes candidates off the hook about having to advocate any rights legislation for gays on a Federal level which make up most of the rights to civil marriages!
When you start talking about wanting gay marriage, how do you answer questions people raise? Why You Should Give a Damn is a user-friendly guide, offering answers to nine common arguments against marriage equality, including: marriage being for “procreation only”; marriage having “always been between a man and a woman”; that clergymen will be “forced into performing same-sex ceremonies”; and that “gay marriage will threaten the institution of marriage.” I wish Kotulski had a better response for the argument that gay marriage will “open the gates to legalizing incest, polygamy and bestiality.” In my experience, this is the most common—if illogical—response that opponents of Gay marriage cough up. Her response to this, while funny, is vague and not really helpful to me.
Her book also raises many concerns not addressed in the media and ones that even lesbian and gay couples may not have considered. If, for example, you are traveling away from home and your partner falls ill or suffers an accident and needs medical attention, you are not viewed as family. Legally, therefore, you have no input in your partner’s medical care. Even if you live in a state or city that acknowledges you both as domestic partners, the minute you leave that city or state, you become complete strangers in the eyes of the law. Even if—after having expensive wills and legal documents drawn up—you have durable power of attorney, still the hospital and medical team can deny you any right to being at your partner’s side.
One thing Kotulski reflects on that resonated for me was her comment about us calling our partner “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” A girlfriend, she writes, “is not someone you have been with for 30 years.” She adds that because we are left out of the “adult fraternity” called marriage, we’re unfairly denied the adult responsibilities that marriage would give us. She begs the question: “Is it fair for an entire group of people to infantilized?”
For far too long, we Lesbians and Gays have reflected on our lives according to the way we feel subjectively, not on what the data, statistics, and accurate research can tell us about our culture. Davina Kotulski’s book is another tool to help bring the truth into the light and break down decades of false judgments based on fear.
~Joe Kort MA, MSW, ACSW
A witty, down-to-earth, and valuable new resource…
Christopher Hubble, May 19, 2004‚ as printed in Out Front Colorado
The intricate system of laws that protects heterosexual privilege while denying GLBT people the responsibilities, privileges, and benefits of civil marriage is another form of segregation, but it is made all the more insidious by its apparent invisibility. In her new book, Why You Should Give a Damn About Gay Marriage, Dr. Davina Kotulski, Ph.D., attempts to persuade us that civil marriage equality is an issue we should all “give a damn about.” This task would challenge any writer, given the immense scope of the subject and the skepticism with which this issue is still met by many well-meaning GLBT activists. It is one thing to say 1,349 rights, benefits, and protections are being denied this community, but another entirely more daunting task to list and describe them while also developing a cohesive argument in less than 200 pages.
Fortunately, Dr. Kotulski begins with the most important point of all. Second-class citizenship demeans our integrity; it assaults the liberty guaranteed us by the U.S. Constitution, and the U.S. Supreme Court, it would seem, now agrees with us (just read the fine print of the Lawrence v. Texas ruling). In Dr. Kotulski’s words, “The language of love has power, and we have been given a very slim piece of the pie and asked to stay in our corner of the room and eat it quietly… we live a half-existence compared to our heterosexual friends.”
Dr. Kotulski is at her best when arguing that “Marriage Lite” (domestic partnerships, civil unions, reciprocal beneficiaries, etc.) is GLBT “Fool’s Gold”. These legal arrangements are only valid in their native states. Most of the responsibilities, privileges, and benefits to which we have been denied access are enshrined in federal marriage, tax, social security and inheritance laws anyway. For this reason, incidentally, the argument presented by many of our so-called political allies that this is a “states’ rights” issue is a deceptive way of avoiding taking a position at all. And didn’t the U.S. Supreme Court already determine in 1954 that “separate was not equal”? Dr. Kotulski offers her most compelling evidence when describing the process same-sex couples must endure to register a domestic partnership in California. The process, much more difficult to traverse than obtaining a simple marriage license, is itself demeaning because it reminds the same-sex couple of their second-class status.
The reader should be careful to avoid missing the forest while wandering amongst the 1,349 trees. This book is best read in small portions; the dry subject matter is monotonous and tedious. But Dr. Kotulski has made a cohesive argument and has given us all many compelling reasons to “give a damn” about civil marriage equality.
Christopher Hubble is the author of Lord Given Lovers: The Holy Union of David & Jonathan
Four arguments in favor of same-sex marriages
By DON O’BRIANT
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/25/04
As the battle over same-sex unions heats up in Congress and state legislatures, including Georgia’s, four new books are hitting the stores with surprisingly timely information and articulate arguments for the rights of gays to marry.
Three of the books are from major, mainstream publishing houses: Times Books, Harcourt, and Simon & Schuster. The fourth is being published by Alyson Publications, which specializes in gay and lesbian titles.
No books presenting the opposing view are on the horizon yet, but given the passion and the politics surrounding the issue, it may be only a matter of time.
“It usually takes six to 12 months for publishers to catch up with breaking news,” says Jana Riess, a religion correspondent for the industry trade magazine Publishers Weekly. “It was just fortuitous timing that the gay marriage books are being published now.”
Such books wouldn’t have made a ripple in sales a year ago, says Philip Rafshoon, owner of Outwrite Bookstore, which focuses on gay, lesbian and bisexual communities.
“This is an idea that is quickly gaining momentum,” he says. “Now that gay marriage may be in their grasp, people want to understand more about what they’re fighting for.”
Three of the best-selling books at Outwrite are David Moats’ Civil Wars (Harcourt, $25), Jonathan Rauch’s Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America (Times Books, $22) and Davina Kotulski’s Why You Should Give a Damn About Gay Marriage (Alyson Publications, $12.95 paperback).
Kotulski, who describes her book as “an idiot’s guide to gay marriage,” focuses on the 1,138 federal and state rights same-sex couples are denied.
“There are things you don’t think about,” Kotulski says. “Seventy-five percent of all marriage rights are federal. If I died… my wife of eight years would not receive the $1,800 a month in Social Security that someone in a heterosexual marriage would receive. Neither would someone in a civil union.”
Allowing states to decide the issue creates problems, too, Kotulski says. “In California, I have rights in a domestic partnership, but when I go back to Oregon, where I was born, I have zero rights. This won’t work until you have them in all states.”
Hawaii was one of the first states to bring up the issue of gay marriage when the state’s Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that it was unconstitutional to limit marriage to heterosexuals. And although the Hawaii Legislature later amended the state constitution to define marriage as a heterosexual contract, the court decision sparked a wave of lawsuits and activism.
Evan Wolfson, an activist lawyer who played a major role in the Hawaii suit, presents his argument for same-sex marriage in Why Marriage Matters (Simon & Schuster, $23), a much-anticipated book being launched in July with a 50,000-copy printing and a six-city publicity tour.
Six years after the Hawaii case, the concept of civil unions was implemented in 1999, when the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that denying homosexuals the right to marry was unconstitutional. Subsequently, the state legislature enacted laws granting same-sex couples all the legal rights as heterosexual couples. The rights, however, were valid only within the state.
How a state considered a bedrock of conservatism became a pioneer in gay rights is the subject of Moats’ book, Civil Wars. The Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial page editor of the Rutland [Vt.] Herald focuses on the personal aspects of the battle by telling the stories of the couples who filed the suit, the lawyers who spent years pursuing the case and the one openly gay legislator in Vermont whose impassioned speech won victory for the legislation.
Moats, who is heterosexual, believes the Vermont story ranks not just with the Stonewall riots as a landmark in gay history but “with Birmingham and Selma as landmarks of our growth toward a more complete democracy.”
Moats was not surprised by Vermont’s action in the area of gay rights.
“Vermont has a tradition of equalitarianism,” he says. “It was the first state in the union to abolish slavery. It’s a rural place settled by independent farmers who had to look out for one another and respect each other’s rights. Even though it’s a Republican state, the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln and equality.”
Syndicated columnist Rauch also looks at the issue from a conservative viewpoint in his book, Gay Marriage. The Atlantic Monthly correspondent argues that gay marriage, far from destroying traditional marriage, would strengthen the key values of community and commitment.
“Society wants people to have caretakers, someone who is waiting for you at home and who will look after you,” Rauch says. “If we’ve learned anything from the AIDS crisis, it’s that there’s no substitute for a caring partner. The community has a stake in that and that’s why it gives marriage a special standing.”
While some critics portray same-sex marriages as a slippery slope, Rauch contends it’s a step toward strengthening marriage in general.
“This is not an attack from gays. It’s a fact that heterosexuals are not getting married or not staying married and that’s becoming a serious social problem.”
As examples, he points to a third of births being out of wedlock, a divorce rate of 50 percent and an increase in cohabitation by 70 percent from 1990 to 2000.
“Those are the trends the conservatives and religious right bemoan all the time,” Rauch says. “Now we have a group of Americans who take marriage seriously and who want the rings and the commitment and the service. Marriage is more than a legal arrangement. Marriage is standing in your community. Civil unions are a seat in the back of the bus.”
Setting the Record Straight
BY JONATHAN YOUNG, Buzz Editor
When Britney Spears walked out of the Vegas wedding chapel after her short-living marriage, she immediately had access to more than 1,300 rights and privileges that are not available to gay or lesbian couples. Author and activist Davina Kotulski thinks this doesn’t quite make sense.
In her new book, Why You Should Give a Damn About Gay Marriage, she spells it out in plain English, and tells you what you can do about it. A pioneer in the Freedom to Marry movement, Davina identifies no less than 1,049 reasons why continuing to prevent gay men and lesbians from marrying creates a second-class citizenry in direct violation to equal protection under the law clauses of the Constitution.
Think you are safe living in California? The book points out that our state, although extremely progressive on the issue of protections for same-sex couples, only offers registered domestic partners 15 of the 300 state rights afforded to married couples—and include none of the thousand-plus federal rights. Additionally, you lose all these rights when you leave the state.
The book cuts through all the moralizing, to present a staggeringly succinct argument. For those in the Freedom to Marry fight, it’s a book full of invaluable and insightful resources. If you are not an activist, you will be by the end of reading just the first chapter. It may even open the eyes of even the staunchest foe of gay marriage (we can only hope); if it does not, it will make it drastically difficult to for them to present their arguments.
The 200-page book breaks down the unattainable rights into different chapters, covering topics of taxes, death, employment, parenting, retirement and divorce. Davina even dedicates a chapter to immigrants and transsexual issues. It’s all in here.
Chapter 12 is a great conversation topic. It covers the nine most common arguments against marriage equality. Read this part before you start debating with any gay marriage foe.
The book is an easy read. Davina writes so you can read smooth and quick, and she definitely gets your queer blood boiling in each page. It’s a must-read for anyone in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, questioning and even straight community. The book talks about equality—something everyone should enjoy in this country.