The Daily Agenda for Monday, May 19
May 19th, 2014
Oregon Marriage Decision Expected: Portland, OR. Federal District Judge Michael J. McShane issued a heads up last Friday saying he intends to issue an opinion on pending motions for summary judgment today in a lawsuit challenging Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage. Right now, there isn’t anyone in the court room to defend the ban. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum had previously announced that she wouldn’t defend it, and Judge McShane last week denied the National Organization for Marriage’s request to defend the statute, saying “The attorney general is answerable to voters. NOM is not.” County Clerks have been preparing for what appears to be a strong likelihood that Judge will strike down the ban. Oregon law requires a three-day waiting period between getting a license and getting hitched, but some county clerks have already indicated that they may wave the requirement. Judge McShane’s ruling is expected at noon P.D.T. If his ruling goes as expected, you will likely see marriage licenses going out immediately after.
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In 1964, San Francisco drag performer and LGBT rights activist José Sarria proclaimed himself “Her Royal Majesty, Empress of San Francisco, José I, The Widow Norton,” and established a national Imperial Court System which raised millions of dollars for charity (see Dec 12). But when the high camp movement reached Portland, Oregon, they discovered that a similar Court had already been well established six years earlier. Bartender Duane Frye, who worked at the Half Moon Tavern, remembered:
Sometime around 1958… the first Queen Eugenie I (alias Sam) was self-proclaimed in the Court of Transylvania. This mythical court allowed for a whole plethora of other regal titles to come about including a Lord High Sheriff, and a number of other drag queens including Sr. Mary Wanna (Michael Patrick Dillon, who later got caught in a 1963-1964 sex scandal; see the Oregonian, Oct. 25, 1963, p. 26; Mar. 25, 1964, p. 13). In the back of the bar was erected a throne for the Queen (who would later become known as Empresses). An unbroken line of succession was created to the present day—with the earliest Empresses declared by someone (but who knows who?), and later by community-wide elections held in the city’s bars.
The Half Moon Tavern first opened in 1939 downtown at 72 SW Morrison Street near the Willamette River, although it’s not clear when it became a gay bar. It was probably a popular gay watering hole by 1952 when two male patrons were assaulted by a visitor in what the papers described as an “unprovoked attack.” In 1960, the Half Moon moved a block away to 124 SW Yamhill Street and remained in business through at least the 1980s. In addition to the Court of Transylvania, the Half Moon sponsored an LGBT bowling team. The original Morrison Street location was razed and replaced with a mid-century modern hotel. The Yamhill Street building still stands and today houses a yoga studio.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Oscar Wilde Released from Prison: 1897. This date in history ended a two-year ordeal for Oscar Wilde, which began in 1895 when he was denounced as a homosexual by the Marquess of Queensberry. Wilde, who was involved with the marquess’ son, Alfred Douglass, sued the Marquess for libel but lost the case when evidence supported the marquess’ allegations (see Apr 5). Because homosexual behavior among men was still considered a crime in England, that evidence led to Wilde’s arrest. His first trial resulted in a hung jury, but a second jury in 1895 sentenced him to two years of hard labor (see May 25). Wilde was imprisoned in Pentonville and then Wandsworth prisons in London. The regime consisted of “hard labour, hard fare and a hard bed.” Ill with dysentery and weakened from hunger, Wilde collapsed during Chapel, bursting his right ear drum. He spent two months in the infirmary, and his health never fully recovered.
He was later transferred to Reading prison, where he wrote a 50,000 word letter to Douglass. He wasn’t allowed to send the letter, but he was permitted to take it with him when he was released. The letter, since named De Profundis was published in 1962’s Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde. It reads, it part:
When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realising what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else – the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver – would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.
DC Police Estimate 3750 “Sex Perverts” in Federal Government: 1950. The following United Press article appeared in newspapers nationwide:
3750 Perverts Listed on Payroll
Senate Republican Leader Kenneth S. Wherry said today that Washington police estimate there are 3750 sex perverts in the Government here.
In a report to a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Wherry said police authorities testified that 300 to 400 State Department employees are “suspected or allegedly homosexual.”
The Nebraskan also said that Washington police reported they have uncovered “what purported to be a plan of Communists to sabotage and damage” Washington in case of war with Russia; that a Red Fifth Column is using sex degenerates for subversive purposes; and that “there are 1000 bad security risks” in Washington.
The report gave no details on the purported plot to sabotage Washington.
The New York Times had a more in-depth account, which revealed that Washington Police Lieutenant Roy Blick testified that his estimate of 300 to 400 gays employees in the State Department was based on “a quick guess”:
This, he said at one point, was a “quick guess,” in the sense that it was based upon his experience that arrested persons not connected with the State Department would sometimes say: “Why don’t you go get so-and-so and so-and-so? They all belong to the same clique.”
“By doing that,” Lieutenant Blick added, “their names were put on the list and they were catalogued as such, as the suspect of being such.”
Springfield, OR, Voters Approve Anti-Gay Ordinance: 1992. About three years earlier, Vietnam vet, ex-hippie and born-again Christian by the name of Lon Mabon had formed the Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA) with support from the Oregon branch of Pat Roberston’s Christian Coalition. By 1991, budding firebrand Scott Lively joined the group, where he had quickly earned his reputation for being a loose canon. In October of that year, the photographer Catherine Stauffer attended a church meeting where the OCA was previewing a videotape it had cobbled together in preparation for a campaign in support of a series of local anti-gay ballot measures across the state. Lively forcefully ejected Stauffer from the meeting by physically throwing her against the wall and dragging her across the floor. She sued Lively and OCA. The jury determined that Lively was guilty of using unreasonable force and awarded Stauffer $20,000.
What the OCA was preparing was a series of local ballot measures that would prohibit “promoting, encouraging or facilitating homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism” — restrictions which would, in addition to equating homosexuality with pedophilia, determine such basic community issues as which books could be accepted into the local library and which groups could access city facilities, including streets and parks. They would also institute a double standard: for example, OCA would be allowed to hold meetings in city buildings, while Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) would not.
Those ballot measures found their first success in Springfield, a more conservative working-class suburb of Eugene, where voters approved a proposed city charter amendment, Ballot Measure 20-80, by a 54-46 margin. City Councilman Ralf Walters, was elated. “What this means is that Springfielders have shown their commitment to traditional family values. They want to maintain Springfield as a terrific place to raise a family, and they don’t want their leaders and public institutions to promote as an alternative lifestyle.”
But Mayor Bill Morrisette, an outspoken opponent of the measure, was more cautious. “I think there’s more to the city of Springfield than this particular question of sexual orientation. It certainly would be a mistake for the OCA to think if they win this that they’ve got a lock on the city.” Planning Commission member Tom Atkinson, who helped lead the opposition, said the vote “does stamp Springfield with Hate City USA. I just don’t believe that it’s true about Springfield. The low turnout really makes me believe the real will of the people of Springfield was not expressed tonight.”
Even though a similar vote in Corvallis failed by a wide margin, OCA’s Scott Lively saw the Springfield vote as a prophetic omen for future ballot measures in the state. “The votes in Springfield — and Corvallis, too, even though it failed there — vindicate our position that traditional family values are shared by a large number of people in this state. The attempt by the opposition to equate the simple ‘no special rights’ message with hatred and bigotry was a lie, and the people of Springfield proved it.”
OCA’s victory in Springfield gave Mabon and Lively all the encouragement they needed to propose a state constitutional amendment with language that was very similar to the Springfield measure. They saw Springfield as their testing ground, but it would also prove to be their high water mark. Following a nasty state-wide campaign led by Mabon, Lively and the OCA, Measure 9 was defeated by voters just nine months later (see Nov 2). Meanwhile, Springfield’s new law was challenged in court, and in 1995 the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that a state law passed in 1993 pre-empted local governments on gay rights issues.
[Sources: Jim Burroway. “Lively’s Lies: A Profile of Scott Lively.” Political Research Associates (March 1, 2011). Available online here.
Ann Portal. “Voters approve anti-gay measure.” Eugene Register-Guard (May 20, 1992): 1A. Available online here.
Randi Bjornstad. “OCA issue hinged on ‘special rights’.” Eugene Register-Guard (May 21, 1992): 1A. Available online here.
Paul Neville. “Appeals court deals setback to gay rights foes.” Eugene Register-Guard (April 13, 1995): 1A. Available online here.]
Peter Wildeblood: 1923-1999. In 1954, Peter Wildeblood was a diplomatic correspondent for London’s Daily Mail in 1953, when he was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment for homosexual offenses. In essence, he was convicted of refusing to be ashamed. Wildeblood has one of four men caught up in the so-called “Montagu Case,” named for Lord Montagu (see Oct 20), whose beach house was raided by police on a tip that a homosexual orgy was taking place. Montagu had offered Wildeblood the use of the beach house, and Wildeblood in turn invited two friends from the RAF, his lover Edward McNally and John Reynolds. Montagu’s cousin, Michael Pitt-Rivers, had also joined the group.
Wildeblood later said that the whole affair had been “extremely dull,” while Montague elaborated, “We had some drinks, we danced, we kissed, that’s all. But McNally and Reynolds turned Queen’s Evidence and claimed that “abandoned behavior” had occurred. Wideblood was charged with “conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offences with male persons,” among other charges, and was sentenced to eighteen months’ imprisonment.
After his release, Wildeblood considered his battle only half over. Just as he proclaimed his homosexuality during his trial, he published his audacious, ground-breaking memoir Against the Law, which revealed his experiences during his arrest and trial, and the appalling conditions of his imprisonment. He also described being on the receiving end of popular scorn when news of his arrest hit the papers:
That night, a woman spat at me. She was a respectable looking, middle-aged, tweedy person wearing a sensible felt hat. She was standing on the pavement as the car went by. I saw her suck in her cheeks, and the next moment a big blob of spit was running down the windscreen.
This shocked me very much. The woman did not look eccentric or evil; in fact she looked very much like the country gentlewomen with whom my mother used to take coffee when she has finished her shopping on Saturday mornings. She looked thoroughly ordinary, to me. But what did I look like to her? Evidently, I was a monster.
The following year, Wildeblood came out with another book, A Way of Life, which included twelve essays describing various gay people he had come in contact with. This helped to put a human face on the hitherto faceless “homosexuals.” Wildeblood’s two books also helped to inform the Wolfenden Report, which in 1957 recommended the decriminalization of homosexual acts in Britain. But those recommendations wouldn’t be acted upon for another ten years (see Jul 28).
Wildeblood went on to become a television producer and writer, first for Granada Television, and then CBC Toronto. He became a Canadian citizen in the 1980s, and died in Victoria, British Columbia in 1999.
Mike McConnell: 1942. Growing up gay in Oklahoma wasn’t easy, but the experience quickly made Mike realize that people like him were, at best, second-class citizens. While attending the University of Oklahoma, his friend, Joe Clem, was also gay and rather cautiously open about it, even among his frat brothers. During one bout of drinking, those so-called “brothers” became enraged with Clem being a “faggot,” beat the crap out of him, and drove him out to a deserted road outside Norman and dumped him there. Clem eventually made his was back to Norman, but didn’t dare call the police.
McConnell met Jack Baker at a barn party in 1966 outside of Norman. McConnell was completing his Masters degree in Library Science, and Baker was working as a field engineer in Oklahoma City. Both were 24, and they hit it off. McConnell told Jack his views that gay people were entitled to the same rights as any other Americans. Six months later, Baker proposed to McConnell, and McConnell accepted, on one condition: that they would find a way to marry legally.
In 1969, Baker moved to Minneapolis to study law at the University of Minnesota. Six months later, McConnell was offered a job at the University’s library. Three weeks after McConnell moved to Minneapolis, the pair went to the Hennepin County Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis to apply for a marriage license (see May 18) Their application was denied. Not only that, but a month later, the university’s Board of Regents voted to withdraw its job offer to McConnell.
Those events launched two separate lawsuits: Baker v. Nelson challenged Hennepin County’s denial of their marriage license, and McConnell v. Anderson challenged the University’s withdrawal of McConnell’s job offer. Baker v. Nelson worked its way up the Minnesota state courts, with courts ruling against Baker and McConnell every step of the way. The case eventually made it to the Minnesota Supreme Court in October 1981, which also ruled against them. The U.S. Supreme Court then dismissed an appeal “for want of a substantial federal question,” and Baker v. Nelson was treated as though it were an established precedent for the next several decades.
McConnell’s lawsuit against the University went little better. He got an early victory when the Federal District Judge issued an injunction against the University. He called the couple’s attempt at getting married “rather bizarre,” but found that even a “homosexual is after all a human being and a citizen… He is as much entitled to the protection and benefits of the laws… as others.” But McConnell never did get his job at the University. The judge stayed his injunction pending appeal, the Eight Circuit overturned the lower court’s ruling, and the Supreme Court refused to consider the case.
While the cases were winding their way thought the courts, McConnell and Baker continued to pursue legal recognition of their relationship through other means. McConnell legally adopted Baker in August 1971, which allowed them at least some of the benefits of marriage (inheritance, medical decision-making, even reduced tuition for Baker). A month later, they managed to obtain a marriage license from a clerk in Blue Earth County, Minnesota and were married by a Methodist minister. That license was never officially revoked, and makes them the first lawfully wedded same-sex couple in the United States, even if they weren’t able to get the state or federal government to recognize their marriage.
McConnell later found work in the Hennepin County Library system, and continued working there for the next thirty-seven years before retiring in 2010 as a Coordinating Librarian. In 2012, University of Minnesota president Erik Kaler formally apologized to McConnell fir his treatment forty-two years earlier. They are still living together as a married couple in the suburbs of south Minneapolis, quietly and well out of the spotlight.
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