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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Outing Gays on the Hill

Here's an interesting issue I haven't entirely made up my mind about. The Washington Blade reports that some gay rights activists are working on outing gay members of Congress and Hill aides in an effort to defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment, which will be coming up for a vote soon. Michelangelo Signorile has taken it upon himself to publish an article outing Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, writing, "The sexual orientation of the forever-unmarried 67-year-old has been an open secret for many years." Not surprisingly, the Barblog has no response to the Signorile article.

"I am not inclined to do it, but I think if the congressman is rabidly anti-gay, it's appropriate," says Barney Frank in the Blade piece. While I am hesitant to bring up people's personal lives unnecessariliy, and I don't think someone's orientation should matter for whether they can be an effective public servant, I do think that if you're a gay person who opposes equal rights for gays you must have some sort of pathological self-hatred (see Roy Cohn). If having to expose that, or at least threaten it, is what it takes to advance the agenda for equality, I guess that's what needs to be done. I would certainly prefer to get there by other means, so that we can first establish legal rights that build a more tolerant America; in time officials will feel no need to remain closeted.

The staff issue is interesting too because it reminds me of Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell:

Never in his 78 years had Powell even met a gay person, or so he told fellow justices at he wrestled with Bowers v. Hardwick. He repeated that claim to a clerk, a closeted gay man.

Bowers, of course, was the 1985 case that said state laws against sodomy were constitutional. That decision was overturned in Lawrence v. Texas last year. If Powell had realized that a clerk of his was a gay man, perhaps he would've decided the case differently. Similarly, if a member of Congress realizes that one of his/her trusted aides is gay, that member may think differently about the FMA vote, especially since polling indicates that knowing someone who is gay makes respondents much more likely to back gay marriage ("Knowing someone who is openly gay or lesbian is the single biggest predictor of tolerance on same-sex marriage"--Newsweek, May 24).

In semi-related gay news, Office of Child Care Commissioner Ardith Wieworka says she's been fired from her post in the Romney administration because of her plans to marry her same-sex partner. The Romney people deny this of course, saying the are firing her based on performance. I have no idea who is right about this, though I do know the Globe's version of the story inexplicably buried the juicy angle deep into an article that ran on an inside City section page today. The Globe also has an editorial today scolding the administration for the firing without mentioning the gay issue--just lots of policy stuff about child care. The lack of sensationalism is killing me! I guess the Herald is good to have around sometimes.

UPDATE: OK, I misrepresented the Mass Child Care Commissioner story a little. Wieworka doesn't say she was fired for getting married (and she did marry recently), she has just raised the question of whether that might have had something to do with it. Her bosses have said she wasn't fired for performance but that they don't think she's the right person for the new job of heading a reconfigured agency in the future. So there it is, I'm accurate now, not that anyone cares.

UPDATE II: Mikulski now says she'll vote against the FMA in a release from yesterday that makes no mention of her orientation. The Sinorile article notes that Mikulski--initially an opponent--had gone quiet on the amendment, not making any statements on it to reporters or anyone else. I guess that's changed now.