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The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, January 22

Jim Burroway

January 22nd, 2013

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Marriage Briefs Due To U.S. Supreme Court: Washington, D.C. Since last month when we learned that the U.S. Supreme Court would take up the appeal of the Prop 8 challenge and one of the challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, you might be forgiven if you thought we were just in some kind of a holding pattern until the court hears oral arguments in March. In fact, lawyers in both cases have been working furiously putting together their written briefs for the court.

In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the challenge to California’s Prop 8, today is the day in which the opening brief from Prop 8′s supporters, the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund), are due. Then the Americans for Equal Rights (AFER), which is challenging Prop 8, will get to file a response brief, which is due on February 21. Then ADF will get to file a reply brief on March 19. Meanwhile, amicius curiae briefs on behalf of Prop 8 supporters are due next week, and supporting briefs against Prop 8 are due on February 8. Oral arguments are scheduled for March 26.

Things are a considerable more complicated in U.S. v Windsor, which challenges the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA. The opening brief from the House of Representatives’ Bipartisan Legal Advisory Committee (BLAG) is due today. But because the U.S. Supreme Court is not convinced that BLAG has standing, the court has asked Law Professor Victoria C. Jackson’s to compose a brief to provide a legal basis to argue that BLAG lacks standing, and that since the Justice Department has agreed with the lower court in finding DOMA Section 3 unconstitutional, the Court lacks jurisdiction. That brief is due on Thursday. A slew of response briefs follow, both on the question of DOMA’s constitutionality and on BLAG’s standing, as well as amicus curiae briefs. Oral arguments are scheduled for March 27.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS:
International Health and Policy Consequences of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts: New York, NY. The first ever United Nations discussion on the legalities, ethics and science behind the movement promoting sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) and its relationship to human rights is scheduled to take place on January 31. Panel experts for the discussion include: Taiko Kleppe, of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; Dr. Jack Drescher, friend of BTB and author of the APA’s position statement on sexual conversion therapy; Sam Wolfe of the Southern Poverty Law Center; Chaim Levin, a survivor and plaintiff in a lawsuit against conversion therapy; and Andrew Marin, of the Marin Foundation in Chicago. (Update: Marin is no longer on the program.) The conference, which will take place at the UN Church Center (777 United Nations Plaza, 8th Floor), is open to the public but RSVP’s are required. Please RSVP at UNuntern@uua.org.

Apply for the Iowa Matthew Shepard Scholarship: Iowa. Applications are now available for Iowa’s 2013 Matthew Shepard Scholarship Program, which is being offered to distinguished Iowa LGBT high school seniors. Applications are available at apply.matthewshepardscholarship.com and due on March 15.

THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
V.D. As Retribution for Illicit Intercourse: 1916. Today’s history item goes to show that the more things change, the more things stay the same. Through much of the first decades of the AIDS crisis, moralistic preachers, pundits and politicians described the fatal disease as divine punishment for what they saw as illicit behavior. In 1983, for example, New York Post Columnist Pat Buchanan wrote, “The poor homosexuals… they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is exacting an awful retribution.” (See May 24)

It’s that phrase — “awful retribution” — which is as ignorant is it is memorable, even some two three decades later. But it’s hardly original. In 1916, Dr. Winfield Scott Hall, professor of physiology at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, published a book, Sexual Knowledge, “for the instruction of young people, young wives and young husbands… on the best way and the best time to impart sexual knowledge to boys and girls.” The book was published under a copyright held by The International Bible House, and it proved to be as ignorant and moralizing as anything Buchanan has ever written. The concern then, of course, wasn’t AIDS, but gonorrhea and syphilis, two sexually transmitted diseases for which there were no easy cures. And so avoiding them in the first place was an important priority. Condoms were known to as an effective barrier to transmission, and there were a variety of other remedies which were marketed as prophylactics. But Hall, in Sexual Knowledge, wrote that the only true prevention was adherence to marriage vows:

Nature has devised a retribution for illicit intercourse in the form of venereal disease. If the parties observe fidelity to their marriage vows, venereal disease is experienced in wedlock only on very rare occasions, and then through some accidental infection, as from contact with some public utensil, as a public water closet, a public towel, or a drinking cup. So rare is this unfortunate accident, however, that we may say that intercourse in undefiled wedlock results normally in pleasure and gratification to both parties; while intercourse out of wedlock, or illicit intercourse, is destined, as a rule, to be visited with retribution.

Mind you, this was a professor at Northwestern University’s medical school, one of the largest and most prestigious institutions in the Midwest. Dr. William J. Robinson, who was a physician, sexologist, birth control advocate, and editor of the American Journal of Urology and Sexology, exploded with fury in the January 1916 edition of his journal. Quoting the first sentence from the passage above, Robinson raged:

I wish I possessed a pen sufficiently sharp and vitriolic and a vocabulary sufficiently rich and varied, to characterize properly this sentence, to brand it as it deserves to be branded.

…It isn’t sufficient to characterize it merely as a stupid falsehood; the injury of such statements is much greater than one would casually conceive; they have a further reaching significance in the fact that they tend to loose, illogical thinking and lead to false ideas about Nature in general. Coming from a scientist such a statement is nothing less than a crime. Just think of what the sentence means: in order to discourage men from illicit sexual relations or to punish them for having indulged in ante-matrimonial or extra-matrimonial relations, Nature has designedly, purposely, created the gonococcus and the spirocheta pallida. So thoughtful, so solicitous is Nature about Man’s morality, so deeply interested is she that men should live in strictly monogamic marriage only (which, by the way, everybody except a Professor of Physiology knows is an institution of only comparatively recent origin), that she has deliberately and purposely devised a retribution in the form of gonorrhea and syphilis for all those who dare to indulge in illicit, i. e., natural sex relations! Any union sanctioned by priest or magistrate is to be blessed, happy and free from any disease or disharmony, any union not s0 sanctioned is to be punished by venereal disease. And this is Nature’s deliberate retribution, and so says a scientist, a Professor of Physiology, who is supposed to instruct and develop the thinking powers of the young!

Venereal disease is Nature’s retribution for illicit intercourse. And what is measles, scarlet fever and diphtheria a retribution for? What is consumption, cancer, heart disease, Bright’s disease, a retribution for?

Robertson was just getting warmed up. To drive home the sheer ridiculousness of Hall’s “retribution” thesis, Robertson demanded that Hall’s statement be brought to its most logical conclusion:

I believe in logic to a finish. If it be reprehensible to teach people the use of venereal prophylactics because such knowledge circumvents Nature and destroys the deterrent effect of venereal disease, then it is also reprehensible, nay even criminal, to treat venereal disease, and every venereal specialist is a criminal, because by his skill in curing venereal disease, which is the direct result of illicit intercourse, he circumvents Nature, minimizes the stings of the punishment and thus directly encourages immorality. I am not joking. I am simply logical. And if we believe that Nature has devised venereal disease as a retribution for illicit intercourse, then it stands to reason that any attempt to cure venereal disease, to free men from Nature’s punishment, is a sin against Nature.

Here is the situation. A man knows that there is such a thing as venereal disease; still, prompted by the imperiousness of his instinct, he takes the risk with the conscious or unconscious thought that if he is unfortunate enough to contract the disease he will go to a specialist who will cure it. But suppose there were no such a thing as a venereal specialist? Suppose the treatment of venereal disease were made a criminal offence? Can’t you see that the fear of venereal disease would exert its deterrent effect in a thousand times stronger measure than it does now? If a man were sure that if he contracted gonorrhea or syphilis or chancroids, that he would have to carry the disease for the rest of his life, that not only would there be no hope of any cure, but that he would get no relief, don’t you agree with me that such a man would hesitate much more than he does now, before subjecting himself to the risk of venereal infection? Of course you do. Q. E. D.

We thus reach the logical, the unassailable conclusion that if Nature devised venereal disease as a retribution for illicit intercourse, then it is not only criminal to teach the use of venereal prophylactics, as is now done so commonly in the armies and navies of the world, including those of the United States, but it is just as criminal, in fact more so, to treat venereal disease in any form. If a man wants to be a criminal and wants to break Nature’s laws against illicit intercourse, then let him bear the full consequences, and every man who wants to save him from Nature’s punishment, or wants to cure him after he has been punished, is accessory to the crime.

How does Professor Hall and those who believe with him like this logically unassailable conclusion?

[ Winfield Scott Hall. Sexual Knowledge (Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co., 1916): 129-130. The passage can be read online via Google Books here.

William J. Robinson. "Venereal disease as a retribution for illicit intercourse." American Journal of Urology and Sexology 12, no. 1 (January 1916): 24-29. Robinson's article can be read online via Google Books here.]

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY:
Elaine Noble: 1944. Before Harvey Milk won political office in San Francisco, there was Elaine Noble in Boston. She won her Massachusetts state House of Representatives seat in 1974, becoming the first non-incumbent “avowed homosexual” to be elected to public office. It was a nasty campaign from beginning to end: her windows were shot out, her car was vandalized, and windows were smashed at her campaign headquarters. As she later recalled, “I was elected in a largely Irish-Catholic town. I was elected in spite of being gay. In the height of desegregation in Boston, I was riding on the buses with children of color. The gay community was just as racist as the straight community. So I had a lot of issues around race… There was a level of animosity in all strata of society against homosexuality.”

Despite that animosity, she won 59% of the vote. She did it by focusing on the things people in her district cared about: crime, health care, housing for the district’s many elderly residents, and the neglect in city services.

But the harassment continued after she took office. “One day, I was walking to the State House and there was a guy, 85 years old, and he walked up and said, ”Rep. Noble.’ And I reached up to shake his hand and he spit on me. And then I turned around and he started doing his diatribe. I walked all the way home, showered and changed my clothes. So, even walking to work or riding my bike to work was not terribly safe.”

She not only had to deal with obscene profanities, she once found human feces left in her desk. But when she stood for re-election two years later, she won with almost 90% of the vote. In 1977, she was part of the first delegation of gay men and lesbians invited to the Jimmy Carter White House to discuss issues important to the LGBT community. Being such an important “first” took its toll on her though, and she decided against running for re-election in 1978:

My phone was ringing constantly from people all over the country who had very frightened voices. There were people all over the country calling and asking if I would come and speak. They’d say, “Well, you have a responsibility to a bigger constituency.” I was pulled in a thousand different ways. It was not going to have a happy ending and I was smart enough to know that. I thought, “Well, I’ve done my best. It’s time for me to move on to the next step in my own life. I’ve paid my dues.”

Since then, with the exception of an occasional interview, she has mostly been living a considerably quieter private life.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

Comments

POST COMMENT | COMMENT RSS 2.0

Ric Booth
January 22nd, 2013 | LINK

I believe Andrew Marin has been uninvited from the UN event (International Health and Policy Consequences of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts). I read about this at Tony Jones blog:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2013/01/17/andrew-marin-caught-up-in-gigliogate/

Ben in Oakland
January 22nd, 2013 | LINK

30 years, not 20. And as far as I can tell, nature has exacted an awful retribution against patsy. He’s gotten, older, uglier, and meaner.

Timothy (TRiG)
January 22nd, 2013 | LINK

That is a beautiful smackdown.

TRiG.

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